Kurt Vonnegut Hunter Thompson Norman Mailer Tom Wolfe William Burroughs Jonathan Miller William Burroughs Jr Jacob Bronowski Robert Hughes Bob Woodward Carl Bernstein Peter Maas Germaine Greer Ray Connolly Geoffrey O’Brien Pauline Kael Grover Lewis Leonard! Bernstein!
“There was a point in ’73 where I knew it was all over,” David Bowie told Mojo, July 2002. Ziggy Stardust was the least of it. A decade dropped through a trapdoor, and what I wonder is, which one?
Historians talk of long decades because we don’t remember them 0 to 9; we associate times with trends. Historians, being storytellers, spin a thesis out of the yarn of lifestyle choices and political shenanigans to make time seem coherent — even inevitable.
Historians make the present so inevitable that a reactionary trend of virtual history now mines the potential buried under closure. The only optimism to be had is revisionist nostalgia. This isn’t the past idealised. It returns to the crossroads where the future had options. Even in the cross-hairs of a telescopic sight: what if he’d missed?
Asked less, except of Hitler, What if someone hadn’t?
The future is a closed system now: sold off. Nostalgia is where hope goes when it has nowhere to turn.
Like a long summer the long Sixties might span 1959-1973. The Sixties ended according to that kind of talk with an Arab-Israeli war, oil crisis, recession. It puts the Sixties in bloom before a Seventies winter’s discontent. See what the family Addams is reading for Publisher’s Weekly, 27 August 1973.
What if there’d been no Arab-Israeli conflict that year, no oil crisis or recession or Watergate? With no pretext for stopping the Sixties in 1973, how long would they run? I’ve read two or three times, John Lennon’s murder ended it: in December 1980? And then what: curtail the Seventies to synchronise our watches with the end of the century?
Where does the century end? If a decade lasted fourteen years, might the 21st century be stalling for time till 2040?
These markers, being situation-specific, are geographically variable. It’s not automatically sunshine. ‘The American century’ plausibly went down in 1973, maybe 1968. Once decades get flexible, long and short centuries follow. Are we in a new millennium yet?
This contrivance reminds us that decades are artificial anyway. Take away the 0s and 9s and we are in freefall. We don’t like that, academics especially; it suggests we don’t know which way is up. We talk of decades the way psychiatrists talk of compartmentalising. It fends off breakdowns.
The Sixties were this historian’s short pants years. School assembly sang ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’ We didn’t know Pete Seeger, didn’t know Ewan MacColl though he once lived up the road. But for about 2 minutes 10 seconds we felt smarter than governments. “When will they ever learn?” Before naiveté was passé, teachers and pupils sang like angels.
Some people’s Sixties didn’t start until 1963. American Graffiti presumes so: a film about the Fifties set in the early Sixties. By the time it was shot in 1973 some said the Sixties was three years dead; four according to Joan Didion; five according to Eric Hobsbawm; six years dead said Hunter Thompson. You can find references in (((1973))) in the latest hard copy of Film International, which, unlucky for some, mostly humanity, is Volume 13, Number 3.
“A deserted Centurian tank and a ‘dummy’ tree upturned in a ditch provide the first bizarre indications that we’ve arrived.” New Musical Express location report, 29 March 1969: Ringo Starr in The Magic Christian: ‘WE’RE NOT MOP TOPS ANY MORE.’ “Ringo is the Beatle they cling to for reassurance as the flack of shattered images falls about their heads.” Let’s say the Sixties ended there, like that.
The Seventies started divorce proceedings against the Sixties, lost custody of the past, and left themselves wide open to a repossession order by the Eighties. The biggest rift in the century since the Second World War.
Trade unions ≠ Students. Marxists ≠ Feminists. Hell’s Angels ≠ Hippies +Anti-war demonstrators. Folk ≠ Rock. Activism ≠ Meditation. Civil rights ≠ Black Power. RFK ≠ Sirhan Sirhan.
∴ 1974 < 1968. Fractured coalitions notwithstanding 7 Golden Vampires 6 Pythons 5 Byrds 4 Goons 3 Apollo astronauts back from the Moon Peter Cook & Dudley Moore 1 Lew Grade and the Partridge Family.
The literary event of the decade: The New Journalism anthologised a revolutionary trend in journalism over the last ten years in 1973. Tom Wolfe’s long introduction on what New Journalism meant had the pizzazz of Twenties Paris cafés, Fifties Greenwich Village bars, and the praise-be of the New Jerusalem. New York magazine, an outlet for New Journalists, first ran the proclamation in 1972.
Hack detractors of The New Journalism imitated Tom Wolfe’s style to show how easily anyone could do it:::: and witlessly demonstrated, with no finesse, no eye for detail and nothing original to say, ¡the shortfall!
Many commentators thought Wolfe invented the genre; sharper ones cited Gay Talese on Floyd Patterson in 1962. Hardly anyone mentioned Norman Mailer’s account of the Democratic National Convention for Esquire, November 1960: that’s what started New Journalism and maybe the Sixties too. Forties and Fifties Beat writers tipped off the New Journalists of the Sixties and Seventies, and Mailer made the transition.
Room for one more inside. You could hop off a bus and hop on another without waiting on a machine to regulate your passage back when boarding put a spring in your step, before automation clipped your rhythm, and so Mailer hit the ground running.
An earlier bus delayed between the Wars drove the Lost Generation through the Jazz Age. Via Hemingway Mailer caught the last stop of that one too, and so did Beat. You wait an age and three show up. Jack Kerouac, embattled by editors, told them in 1957, “Hemingway went thru the same trouble in the early 1920s and had he succumbed to the ideas of the editors there would have been no ‘Hemingway style’ at all and nothing great about the literature of the Lost Generation.”
Kerouac owed more to James Joyce, got fan mail from Henry Miller, and was out in front: “My business is not to write like in the 1920s but to make a new literature, which I’ve done. You wouldn’t have a Ken Kesey today without somebody breaking the ground and springing personal storytelling loose from ‘fictional’ devices.”
Yet he couldn’t get with the Sixties and never made the Seventies. “Fuck Norman Mailer he’s trying to get in the act. Why wasnt he a hipster when it counted?” Though Kerouac came around — “Read Norman Mailer’s brilliant ‘Papers’ where I dont believe in his personal attack on Kennedy person but the ‘Essay on Waste’ a Pope-Baconian classic and also piece on Liston-Patterson fight” — and though Hunter Thompson owed as much to Kerouac as Kerouac owed Joyce — and since Tom Wolfe was an “ass” and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test “junk” — after Beat, Allen Ginsberg was the mediator with the new literature, the counterculture and the East. And Bowie took Burroughs intravenously and cut up the Seventies.
Said William Burroughs in 1969, “Sometimes, as in the case of Fitzgerald and Kerouac, the effect produced by a writer is immediate, as if a generation were waiting to be written.”
Swing to bop to rock — Liquor to dope up to speed — Paris out of Los Angeles to New York via San Francisco — Stream of consciousness: Spontaneous prose: Gonzo — Novel turns Memoir goes Parajournalism — what astonishing momentum behind 1973.
That fifty-year lineage of New Journalists, Beat and Lost Generations — 20s/30s…40s/50s…60s/70s — like a Hammett or Hemingway ambulance on the Front Line — plunged off a cliff in a blackout.
I have no explanation. I’ve grown old waiting for a bus.
(((This Route Has Been Discontinued)))
It’s obligatory for reviewers to call New Journalism nothing new, to pose with Dickens and Defoe. Even Kurt Vonnegut said so, citing Thucydides, after writing the most innovative New Journalism, then withdrawing, leaving even anthologists oblivious to his contribution. The truth is, through that long decade a remarkable wave of reportage equalled any New Wave in cinema for ground-breaking techniques. And film criticism and scholarship and most house styles wanted nothing to do with it.
For writers seeking excellence and art in their craft, The New Journalism and its range of styles remains a book of revelations, yet it’s an epitaph. 1973 was ripped with epitaphs, in journalism, politics, cinema. The New Jerusalem had been and gone.
In 1973 — thirty years after Ginsberg met Kerouac which was twenty years after the last generation got lost — Hunter Thompson, envy of political reporters everywhere because he suppressed nothing, made a book of his serial coverage of the 1972 presidential campaign. Ephemeral reportage morphed into literature.
But the biggest news story throughout 1973 was covered not by New Journalism but investigative reporting. (((1973))) tells the difference.
It’s a moot point now. So is the whole piece. Freedom of the press finally came down to free newspapers which owe their readers nothing.
(((1973))) says: the Seventies did happen but foreclosed in 1974.
One of those crossroads. Cinema’s progress seems so miraculous that future historians will have a hard time explaining to a backward population how it ever happened. Talkies were barely over forty years old: a tremendous film catalogue of ingenious scope by 1973 — heading for that cliff, same blackout.
E. F. Schumacher had something to say in 1973: Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. Too little too late. Blockbuster economics carpet-bombed the West heading East. The American New Wave now seemed an apprenticeship to bigger budgets that conferred graduation. Jaws told us you’re going to need a bigger queue and corporate convergence was the co-opting zeitgeist for cinema, theatre, the art market, town squares and the human mind.
Ego was corporate convergence on the head of a pin. Tom Wolfe, who thought we never had it so good, identified The Me Decade without realising the consequences. Society became nothing-to-do-with-me. When the Seventies ceased trading, the future wasn’t up to us. So people did what every sheep-herded class has done ever since when the lesson plan has nothing to say: paired off. Double Fantasy. Why don’t we take off alone?
David Bowie in Berlin: lost between the Seventies and the Twenties — but between 1976-78 he synthesised the Eighties ahead of the game: New Wave; automatic clipped rhythm. Punk was slippage, an after-shock for the hard-of-hearing from early-Seventies venues from New York to Detroit and since they found that out, it’s retrospectively called proto-punk from 1968 until the Stooges split in 1974.
In England Tony Wilson and Factory Records wanted nothing to do with the Seventies, though Factory’s foundation — ‘All our bands have the freedom to fuck off’ — was elementally Seventies. And the Eighties plunged The Young Ones over a cliff on a bus. I have no explanation. Disco, music to dance you away from protest, would replace the band with a DJ, then hip, hop and rave over one transient pill. Scratching records on twin turntables to stutter and repeat the b-b-beat-the-beat-beat-beat turned every DJ into Elmer Fudd just as current events snagged on one d-d-decade.
The Eighties are a continuity error, starting in 1974 and never ending. We’re locked in still; a century in freefall; the decade rigged by crooked croupiers. We keep losing everything we’ve got but we can’t seem to get off the wheel.
You must have noticed how hollow were the new millennium celebrations sixteen years ago. That’s because it was a hoax: there was no new millennium. If you were part of the crowd cheering the clock, I’m sorry, but how could you not know?
“Does it say something for this age of ours that he could only make it big by fakery?” Orson Welles was speaking of a couple of forgers in 1973 but professed experts, he suspected, were made of the same stuff, and dare I tell you what he thought of theme-spotting film criticism. That monkey’s been on my shoulder before on Film International’s website.
Let’s cite Flannery O’Connor instead. She was a storyteller whose Southern voice communed with the Mysteries, but on this day, around the Fifties, she was addressing writing students and talking about symbolism and misreadings: “They approach it as if it were a problem in algebra. Find x.”
So when we meet Orson Welles in a railway station and he says about a key, “It was not symbolic of anything,” I think of Flannery O’Connor. She nails many a senior scholar in film and literature with this: “Many students confuse the process of understanding a thing with understanding it.”
“I hoped F for Fake would be the beginning of a new language that other people would take up,” said Orson Welles ten years on.
One essayist called a 1938 station-hopping collage of announcements, interviews, musical intermissions and radio silence “the first true creation of what Robert Brustein has called ‘news theatre’.” War of the Worlds became headlines next day because panicked listeners took it as hard news last night — sampled as history in the news collage F for Fake.
They call it an essay film. Who does? Essayists, that’s who. At least the misnomer acknowledged a Welles patent; so then Welles spoke of essay films too. But what essay has this transparency, verve, cubist perspectives, characterization, storytelling, author presence?
No essay on Welles. Conformist disquisitions on a nonconformist turn a blind eye to a howling discrepancy. Welles scholars analyse by routine rhetoric a director who scorned academic interpretation. Just as Vonnegut scholars can’t deal with Vonnegut’s dismissal of literary criticism as irrelevant,  it’s too destructive to contemplate the contradiction: an overhaul really is that unthinkable.
“The value depends on opinion; opinion depends on the experts; a faker like Elmyr makes fools of the experts; so who’s the expert?” Scholars in jeopardy of only seeming to know what they’re talking about hang on to that semblance in the fossilised grasp of rigorous text, in rigor mortis house style. “Who’s the faker?”
The Humanities pass for white lab coats in an autopsy; on the slab, art. If not fabricated, the latest University Press output is prefabricated. Its template is akin to bogus objectivity and tramline methodology in conventional reporting, imputed by The New Journalism in 1973.
F for Fake was the cinematic mirror of New Journalism.
It was the most inventive film of 1973, so original it had no genre. Some nominate The Wicker Man for that same reason. But F for Fake was prophetic.
In 1987 Sotheby’s faked a transaction, where The Most Expensive Painting in the World, always a good soundbite for the art market, was never sold. A millionaire investor borrowed millions to buy it — from Sotheby’s, now a money-lending racket too, who found the big shot didn’t have a real bean to his name. That’s bad for the art market, so there were no soundbites about that. When the investor sent The Most Expensive Painting in the World on tour, the frame was insured for $50,000. The content had no insurance: what toured, it turned out, was a print.
How Elmyr would have laughed had he lived. Then scowled. The transaction was fake, the tour was fake, the press asleep, and Welles, dead now, saw it coming. Which painting was it? That’s a dumb question.
It’s such an Eighties story, and so very Nineties, and very now.
“It may be that Picasso’s death in 1973 marked the end of a period in Western art.” Writing of “the worst decade in the history of American art,” Robert Hughes says in 1990, “We will not be out of the Eighties for years, because few of the social conditions that fostered the decade’s cultural traits have changed or seem ready to.”
History ceased as a public service. Redevelopment flattened the future as well as the past. Hughes warned the inane smile of positive thinkers, those propaganda optimists behind every news desk like fake figurines on a cheap mantelpiece, minds all bubbled as snow globes, “We are all conditioned by the art market and the decadent myth of modernist progress into thinking that there is no such thing as a slump in cultural history. But slumps do happen, and we are in one now.”
My generation was nothing to shout about, in our nondescript thirties in the Seeming Nineties. I was standing in a crowded town square one Seeming Nineties New Year’s Eve. All craning up at the clock-tower at a minute to midnight. We might have been waiting for extraterrestrials, our only saviours since humanity betrayed itself. A minute later it was one minute to midnight. Earthlings silent, waiting for chimes. It slowly dawned on the best and the brightest in the crowd that the Town Hall clock had stopped. Some lone soul started cheering anyway if only to break the tension, and then so did everybody else. Happy New Year — I forget which.
A decade walks down the street: it says, Why am I just like the other ones? Why am I just like the others when the rest of my life is so hard?
How do the Eighties manage this never-ending roll-over with diminishing returns? The casino is run by corporate economics and the crooked croupiers are for the most part you and me. Practically the only job to be had manufactures suffering, as much as the market will bear; requires the holder to cheat himself out of a life, keeping the wolves from the door. We are accountable to psychopaths.
And psychopaths mean business.
Robert Hughes’s alarum was low-key. Not me and Nostradamus: Some slumps sag whole civilizations into the abyss — Mayan, Aztec, Greek, Egyptian — Nero twitters while Rome burns — and history finds it inevitable and no one sees it coming.
Five years ago in 1968, Allen Ginsberg pissed against the wind like so:
“Try to break the money-property-power men of their habits and they’ll act just like junkies — lie, steal, scream, rob, live in your house and swipe your last Tibetan tanka in order to sell it to the pawnbroker and buy themselves some more real estate, sell the ground from under unborn feet, cut down forests, raze hills, make uninhabitable box houses.”
Mix that with what they used to call “the population explosion” and, “We’ve got about thirty years left to get straight — or else. The sickness may even be irreversible already; Burroughs thinks it is. It’s an ecological cancer.”
Ginsberg was just back from the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, so he knew politics wouldn’t rescue a kitten up a tree. “Since we’re in an apocalyptic situation, the old historical dialectics no longer apply.” What remedy remained? “Exorcism.”
Soylent Green was the most important film of 1973. Unless The Exorcist was allegorical.
“London is a much better deal than Paris believe me. The best thing I ever did was to get out of Paris and move here,” William Burroughs wrote Brion Gysin, 1960. Thirteen years later: “There’s a TV series on called Is London Cracking Up? The answer is yes. They can’t or won’t pay enough to keep the miners, transport workers, garbage collectors, firemen and power workers on the job.”
Burroughs fled in 1974 with the timing of a serial cliff-hanger.
Terry Gilliam stuck it out.
“…So we don’t go out anymore,” Peter Finch announced, more prescient than even Network knew in 1976, as Eighties as Wall Street. It was all about the usurpation of the Seventies. “We sit in the house, and slowly the world we live in gets smaller, and all we ask is, please, at least leave us alone in our own living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my hair-dryer and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything, just leave us alone!” Add wi-fi if you want: it doesn’t put a dent in the truth of it.
“Something changed forever in the 1980s, as the networks and their news divisions were absorbed into larger conglomerates and wrung for every penny,” says Dave Itzkoff of The New York Times. Writing about Network, forty years on he’s tracing cables and satellites back to source: monolithic empires with shapeshifting mergers that pass for diversity.
The law said that was illegal, so the Eighties changed the law. “When journalists entered the industry after this point, they joined up accepting fundamental truths that would have horrified previous generations.”
Between a female prime minister and a black president, the Eighties co-opted anything including the kitchen calendar. Around the time time ran out, as AIDS eroded our immune system, something similar bombarded our capacity for scepticism, leaving the blank stare of global village idiots.
Log on, tune out and switch off. The Internet, Timothy Leary’s last gee whiz of evolution, suppressed awareness and dispersed voices by random information overload and skewed repetition bribed by sponsors. Oblivion: facsimile of a world, of paint and print; a counterfeit culture where semblance matters most and substance doesn’t exits. An extension of ‘contracted out’ Eighties infrastructure, the Internet contracted out of the planet: virtual communities under surveillance while political sociopaths carve up the real world unchecked. Your world just got smaller.
I’ve been to the Internet and there is no oxygen there, no trees, no dimension, no solution to Soylent Green. Adding an external hard drive did not, it turned out, address the planet’s overpopulation, and a mountain range on your screensaver was in no way environmental. It was neither here nor, in fact, there.
Scholars want references: .
A man doesn’t walk down the street: he’s weightless in cyberspace, driven out of reality, quarantined like a microbe, but never more than a username away from being somebody. There could be a military curfew outside and he wouldn’t know it, not unless it happened in the virtual world. Actually it’s a buzzsaw with some prick on the end of it proving a prick is taller than the trees by levelling the land but he doesn’t know that either.
Meanderthal Man can have his ephemeral say today on anything and nothing changes, more gone-tomorrow than a Sixties underground newspaper blown in the wind; as democratic as invisible ink. Thinking is whatever passes for a twittering soundbite. Credibility isn’t a matter of reflection but a hit-rate: the numerology of blockbusters. Everything valuable has been taken away from him; he’s caught up in the World Wide Web instead, which feels empowering. The citizen as emoticon.
I can publish and change alter the wording and the only reason I can tell the truth is that none of it matters counts.
Writing at 11:07 pm, December 31st, Protest — focus — encounters — understanding — going gone… I clock another digit.
“I’m not talking about a few thousand records that would represent a hit today, but millions,” Tony Bramwell, record promoter, wrote in 2004 about the Sixties.
Mass media fragmented into multi-media. What truncheons and tear gas once did best is done by cable and Internet rerouting. Babylonian networks disperse anything disseminated down the bolt-holes of virtual addresses over dissipating distances — multiple streaming — effacing updates — bludgeoning spam — Citizen Emoticon’s concentration broken to bits by serial hard-sell that yanks the head around and pushes your buttons with no space to think so no chink of light gets through and have you ever noticed the media talks faster when it has nothing to say till truth resorts to silence?
Writers lost momentum and readers lost their place.
Top-down, upscale business runs the other way: wolfish mergers converge on diversity but still masquerade as folksy companies faking name-recognition. And one bestseller sweeps a hundred authors’ earnings off the shelf.
Overpopulation is more manageable than bureaucrats imagined. Ten times the population and less than a tenth of the audience. Ten times the revenue for less than a tenth of the takers. Determinism is man-made, mathematics won’t apply, the books are cooked. Long division tallied by cardsharps with longer sleeves. The exponential recoil is loaded every time it doubles.
Our progress narrative comes down to a yoyo on a loop after infinity itself has quit. Decline doesn’t describe it. It’s defenestration — throwing the future out the window.
I’d seen two decades come and go by the time I turned thirteen but only one other ever since; ever since, half the population knows only the decade they were born to die in.
Decades are out of date. Decades won’t do any more to track society. On the slab, history. And when a century collapses after seventy-three years, the discrepancy between that and mathematics is untenable.
We need a longer measure with no expectation things will change any time soon and no sign of a renaissance.
It’s like waiting for forty acres and a mule in Reconstruction. “You can’t depend on the train from Washington,” sang Gil Scott-Heron in 1980, “It’s one hundred years overdue.” He was talking about the broken promise to freed slaves; I mean any Happy New Year you care to name in the last forty years, and every resolution come to nothing.
I am so old I can remember the British film industry. “A lot of us went from film to film to film and knew each other,” William Franklyn remembered The Satanic Rites of Dracula cast, 1973. “That kind of camaraderie existed in films a lot in those days because we had a film industry.” Directors emerged through sound stages and cutting rooms in real film studios. Now, in the Eighties, they come schooled through looky-here advertising.
You can revisit the evidence, on DVD, if you can get past four or five corporate take-over logos eight or ten times all announcing they are winning WWIII and threatening your liberty for copyright infringement and disclaimers that corporations can ever be sued for anything. Collaborators’ credits now roll faster than the eye can register down the end titles in broadcasting, and corporate logos fronting the titles take that much longer.
Britain, one bent casino, its future asset-stripped by gorging executives, throws its people down the gutted mine shaft of a bottomless decade. Having wrecked its renaissance and pathologised its welfare state, its well-being is brokered by protection rackets, sacrificed to sociopaths. Decades don’t get the measure of the freefall. Call the geologists.
Something to measure entropy: something meaningful to cliff-dwellers, which is what we are, that we may notice the erosion of civilization falling into the surf.
If you breathe, need nature, feel enlightened by art and depressed by injustice, you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Humanity, without the loyalty of a dog, is in the doghouse. Your attention span is micro-managed by mobile apparatus. People are the accessories. Generations have lost their definition: the last two so cloned from plastics I have to wonder about The Origin of Species and what all that fucking and birthing was for when all that ‘Oh God oh God oh God’ and ‘Yes! Yes!’ sounds as hollow a chorus as, yes, ‘Happy New Year!’
Luckily Darwin said we are paragons of adaptation. Adapting today means not caring, not noticing: keep your head down and move on, nothing to see here: nothing to report.
I’m a frightened man. And when I see you aren’t, I’m frightened most of all.
Contempt and alarm are hard to write well without sounding contemptuous and alarmist. I’m no good at it. The duty is always first to calm the passengers and make life-jackets a fun exercise before announcing the plane is going down without undercarriage, or lights, or runway, or a pilot.
Aren’t you glad to hear none of this is in the hard copy (((1973)))? This is just the rationale; a commentary; this is the excuse.
Instead you’ll hear Wolfman Jack Jerry Goldsmith Michel Legrand Lalo Schifrin Elton John John Williams Paul Williams Paul Giovanni David Bowie David Essex Alan Price Any quarter of The Beatles The Faces The Sweet Bob Dylan Gil Scott-Heron Pink Floyd Anthony Greville-Bell Marvin Hamlisch Miklos Rozsa Nino Rota Henry Mancini Dizzy Gillespie Leonard! Bernstein!
Much of what you’re looking at in films of 1973 is 1972, when many of the scenes were shot. Here’s one intelligent film, nicely crafted, that my article plum forgot:
Paper Chase, a more elite coming-of-age than American Graffiti, was set in Harvard law school and shot in November-December ’72, mining a 1970 novel. It finds widescreen merit in two blackboards in a lecture theatre where John Houseman lives. That’s the drama’s cauldron: a forum for legal argument. Education matters so much that romance is sublimated and nobody has a gun. Timothy Bottoms, fresh and unassuming, takes the time to connect dialogue and thinking, the studious quietude that William Hurt and Kevin Kline would play ten years later, with the same moustache.
“This film does not age,” producer Robert Thompson said thirty years later.  That’s because it says nothing about current affairs and notices no trends; its ascetic undergraduates abstain from their own decade.
What passes for adventure and half-hearted espionage uncovers hallowed archives of research: “This is the ageless passing of wisdom.” John Williams scored this scene-for-two-flashlights with similar wonderment that two years on scored a maritime night search in Jaws. Prolific as he was, John Williams valued silence but even hushed, his timbre had specific voice, a lost knowledge now among the lost arts.
Paper Chase shares a tacit understanding with American Graffiti that this generation can never return to this crossroads. Foundations laid here will underpin a lifetime. This was the year the draft ended, the Vietnam War wound down, and protestors remembered their careers. Hoover was dead and buried last year.
So Gordon Willis wasn’t lighting conspiratorial ambiance this time. No corruption, no villains, just one or two smart-asses. But by its premier in September 1973, one point of law never broached in the case study dialogue of Paper Chase was a monolithic topic in the national press: constitutional law and the articles of impeachment that might evict President Nixon. Ex-Attorney General John Mitchell was on trial and jail loomed for Nixon’s administration.
Paper Chase surprisingly triggered a TV series and a late acting career for producer John Houseman — “Pomposity is his basic characteristic” — nemesis of Orson Welles since their Mercury Theatre bust-ups. Houseman was acclaimed for never rescinding his disdain and pushing emphatic authority through one key word in any line of dialogue like punting a boat. It became a great performance because his pronouncements implied as much. Four years on John Houseman played Attorney General John Mitchell, more or less, in Washington: Behind Closed Doors: it was the Paper Chase law professor.
Timothy Bottoms gets an ‘A.’ The End. It didn’t have any kick in it, so Paper Chase consulted the Seventies after all to spike the end with irony. His hero-professor has already forgotten his name in the faceless turnover of Harvard high-achievers and our graduate makes a paper aeroplane out of his notification down on the beach and flings it and that’s it.
But it’s not like burning a draft card, this posturing ambivalence. Only superficially Zen, he knows damn well what counts on his cv is the grade he’s chased all through the film. Interpreted another way, have paper will fly.
“It’s worse than that,” Peter Tonguette wrote: it’s inconsistent with the paternal student-professor relationship that Tonguette imagines as director James Bridges in thrall of John Houseman, “and therefore contains no element of rebelliousness or discontent.” And we liked the film.
Paper Chase really didn’t want to commit to the Seventies disillusion that had Robert Redford win an election last year as The Candidate with the last hopeless dialogue, “What do we do now?”
Caught short, the Seventies themselves were lost for an ending because they didn’t think they would end so soon. And Paper Chase couldn’t think how the Eighties might end it, the way the kids from Fame might, say.
It does pose the question what value academic achievement but doesn’t ask what’s the alternative. But the beach looks great in the end and the breakers suggest a bigger picture even if there is none.
I write in (((1973))), “TV was serving five-to-ten behind new releases, priming the next generation of cinemagoers.” That’s how I was introduced to Roman Polanski though he was in-between films at the time. A lot of years compounded then, the dividends of cultural investment. And so 1967 was still in circulation, a hallucination now but still triggering a communal event, as Dance of the Vampires was broadcast six years past its premier: and how that film enchanted, enchants me still as a work of art. Kryzysztof Komeda: out of this world: I’ve never heard a better score since.
Film as spectacle, even on TV, which no DVD can replicate: where high definition came from rarefied awareness that thousands were watching at once. It could make a film iconic overnight and for the rest of your life. Did you see it! At school, between three channels and a quadrangle, we marvelled at this odd snowscape, this gothic echo, expanding the mind like a moonstruck lunatic: a magical, quaint and savage sleigh-ride.
1974, next year, I’d marvel at my first Polanski release at the cinema, Chinatown; at how this same fellow could imagine such diverse films and make them both brilliant.
We didn’t know Jack MacGowran died in 1973. His doddering Professor Abronsius in Dance of the Vampires had more folkloric character than lines, written for him by Roman Polanski after directing him in Cul-de-Sac. Avuncular Jack MacGowran made slapstick introspective: Einstein by way of Willy Wonka via Charlie Bucket’s grandfather — more eccentric and professorial still in Wonderwall, on Polanski’s recommendation in 1968.
Samuel Beckett: “Jack was like a brother. I didn’t have to talk to him; I didn’t have to direct him. He just knew.” We didn’t know. His stage work — Waiting for Godot at the Royal Court, perfect for him, inspired Polanski in the audience  — was lost on us, now barely within living memory. But not beyond imagination once you saw Dance of the Vampires. 
Tara MacGowran tells of the apocryphal last straw that propelled her father from disgruntled insurance clerk to actor in Dublin, 1947. The boss told Jack how to handle claimants: “ ‘You have to get them before they know their rights.’ The family lore is that he then walked out of the office, crossed the street and joined the Abbey Theatre.” Says Tara MacGowran, “I suspect that’s not one hundred percent the truth of it, but it’s a nice story.”
To be sure. Thirty years prescient, Jack MacGowran was walking out on what the Eighties would make mandatory. Then with symbolic timing in 1973, the actor exited before the Eighties brought the curtain down on everybody’s rights.
Cul-de-Sac: Dance of the Vampires: Wonderwall: you find connections between the perforations because 1966 was still in the air when 1967 imbued 1968. Every year had somewhere to go, and something to come back to. Our primary years: the sedimentary unconscious of teens like me when the Seventies dumped it all.
(((To measure the history, compare why Gene Hackman in The Conversation takes his apartment apart, in 1974, with Jack MacGowran dismantling his in Wonderwall.)))
“And every time I even talk about it, even now as you are asking me, all I remember are the positive images of us and the people around us. It was the time of great expectations and great changes in the society.”
Roman Polanski had to move his crew out of MGM Borehamwood and into Elstree to finish Dance of the Vampires. MGM had no more free slots — because in 1966 Stanley Kubrick was already filming the new millennium on every available sound stage.
What wheels within wheels. It’s not only drugs that open your perception, friends and neighbours. When culture closes down so do your synapses, and drugs become exclusive eye-openers and dampeners and when that happened, the Eighties blamed crack for the cultural lapse and not the other way round.
I was lucky my formative years hatched when culture was lively, which I pass on retrospectively to you.
Along with bad tidings. As far as I can see, the future is flat all the way to the edge of the world.
History. You carve a year out of a decade, a decade out of a century and make something out of it, a precipice this time. Had I picked 1965 we might be going some place. This time you don’t have to pack a thing. Just a parachute.
All historians have an axiom to grind, which grinds out volumes. In (((1973))), 26,000 words come clean in juvenile memoir and freeform advocacy channelled from the ghosts of dead New Journalists. It’s still like grinding lenses, and the polishing went on after the journal was printed. So this web piece introduction is what DVDs call an Extra by way of what newspapers used to bark as the LATE FINAL. None of it appears in the hard copy but some of it belongs there.
When British cinema was gamely going down the pan, Hammer Films was given the last Satanic Rites, where extreme wide lenses urbanized Dracula where Christopher Lee didn’t want to be. Hammer cued the publicity drive, and it was all they could do to shut Christopher Lee up. “I’m doing the next one under protest. I just think it’s fatuous. I can think of twenty adjectives — fatuous, pointless, absurd…”
Principal photography wrapped The Satanic Rites of Dracula fifteen years to the day, 3 January 1973, since Hammer wrapped Dracula, and that was that.
“England’s Hammer Films has by now about drained the life out of this genre,” wrote People magazine in 1973, but what did they know? “I think we all knew it was the last one, really,” said Joanna Lumley, who was in it. “We all felt it was scraping the bottom of the barrel.” Well, okay.
Books on Hammer tell of props and fixtures dumped when no one considered these films classics. Historians who can’t see past Sotheby’s consider the irony that trashed talismans would fetch big bucks now. Look deeper: the telling irony was an assumption that Bray Studios would always make these films: that’s what made relics disposable. Memorabilia became valuable when that craftsmanship and output perished.
In this blend of cinemagoing memoir and film-theatre-literary criticism, I now ask the reader to turn copy editor, would you? Tear out this LATE FINAL story and paste it on Page 10 of the hard copy:-
The title (((1973))) parodies the parenthetic reflex of hundreds of thousands of articles and books that automatically note the release year of any film mentioned in any context without consideration for relevance or fluency. Unthinking convention makes writing comatose. Out of the Forties, (((1973))) has the following pick-me-up for all your prose problems:
Oop bop shabam, a klook a mop.
Most films illustrating (((1973))) were released in 1973; treble brackets in the title stand in for multiple instances omitted from the piece. Fair enough?
Explanations are never so enlightening as descriptions, anecdotes, metaphor. So let’s drop this and test the value of illustration over explanation, and turn to (((1973))) on paper.
Here’s how it works. Every other sentence is Bad News. Every sentence in-between is a slug of gin. Composers call it punctuation.
Think of films from 1973, the number of them, some of their qualities, and ponder, if this was the Seventies in recession, where are we now? It’s not enough to google them, this isn’t list-journalism — no, instead you’ll encounter Martin Scorsese Sidney Lumet Sydney Pollack Peter Bogdanovich Lindsay Anderson Lindsay Shonteff John Frankenheimer John Huston Douglas Hickox Mike Leigh Mike Nichols Nicholas Roeg Terrence Malick Terence Fisher Richard Fleischer Richard Lester Franklin Schaffner Freddie Francis Frederico Fellini William Friedkin Robert Altman Robert Aldrich Robert Fuest Jerry Schatzberg Hal Ashby Mark Rydell Clint Eastwood Don Siegel Sam Peckinpah Paul Schrader Brian De Palma George Lucas George Roy Hill Roy Ward Baker Stanley Kramer Norman Jewison Tony Richardson Oliver Stone Woody Allen Orson Welles — and so watch, reflect on how prolific was the traffic at the crossroads of (((1973))).
You’ll see for yourself: you’ll see, and you’ll know and you’ll say, why, what in the world happened? and when?
(((This Route Has Been Discontinued)))
Gary McMahon wrote Camp in Literature and Kurt Vonnegut and the Centrifugal Force of Fate (2006; 2009: McFarland); and, in Film International 73, Vol. 13, No. 3: “(((1973))).”
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