Life in the United States was a challenge in 1977.The national debt stood at $706.4 billion, the average household income was $13,572, and New York City was plunged into not one, but two, terrifying events: the random murder spree of the "Son of Sam" and an all-encompassing power failure that lasted 25 hours in July.In 1977, computers were so massive that they took up an entire floor of a building, which might seem impossible to a kid today rolling along on his skateboard with a laptop stowed over his shoulder in a backpack.Thirty years ago, shopping malls began to replace department stores, and the multi-screen cineplex gradually killed neighborhood movie theaters.But back then, Americans slipped into their bellbottoms and platform shoes and became the audience for a new era in the film industry.People needed an escape from their everyday lives, and fortunately, the movie-industry obliged by producing some of the most influential, ground-breaking and hilarious movies of the decade."Star Wars," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Saturday Night Fever," "The Goodbye Girl," "The Gauntlet," "Slap Shot," "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Annie Hall" caused such a collective revolution worldwide that the word "blockbuster" became overused.
"These movies are an example of people being insulated from reality and their need to live their fantasies at the movies, and they still do," said retired Plattsburgh State Film Professor Dr. Philip Reins."The movies of 1977 were much like Anna Nicole Smith — superficial glamour and containing a certain beauty," he said. "Once you get that come-hither look, you're seduced into something that doesn't exist."American cinema then was glitzy and full of violence and reflected the very worst and the very best of society.""Looking for Mr. Goodbar" for the first time explored the gritty, seedy side of singles bars and one-night stands while "I Never Promised You A Rose Garden" looked at psychology and mental illness in teens."The Turning Point" had rival ballerinas fighting old and new battles through real issues for women such as growing old, motherhood and sacrifices made because of career choices."And there were men just like Woody Allen in 'Annie Hall,' trying to find their place in the world," Reins said.
Cultural changes that came about because of these films were also remarkable.The world did a fashion about-face the minute movie-goers saw Diane Keaton didn't lose a bit of her sensuality or femininity when she donned a hat, necktie and several layers of men's clothes to bring Annie Hall to life in style.And we have the disco era and "Saturday Night Fever" to thank for the glut of outfits with sparkly sequins and rainbow-colored suspenders, halter dresses with handkerchief hems and men wearing multiple thick, gold chains buried in thatches of chest hair peeking out from shirts unbuttoned to the navel.Americans went from heavy, well-built and roomy passenger cars to pint-sized models like the Pacer, the Gremlin, the Grenada Ghia and the Vega hatchback.And attitudes were continuing to change where the nation was no longer staring at its collective belly button for inspiration and instead began looking toward yoga and health food and ultimately, the stars."One great movie was 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind,'" Reins said. "That was a certain kind of science-fiction film that had a great impact on the country."I've always suspected that that movie was sponsored way in the background by the U.S. government because they were trying to tell us something," he said.
"There was also a distinct change in America, and the space program took off like never before," he said."Couple 'Close Encounters' with 'Star Wars' and then later the first 'Alien,' and you see a change from the benevolence of something out there that's superior to us yet our friend to the violent, most horrifying science-fantasy creature."Hollywood is a reflection of our society at its best and at its worst," Reins said."It can show how depraved we are and how romantic we are. We went to the movies in the '60s and into the early '70s with the mindset that everyone had the right to be happy."The films are exaggerated, and the heroes are exaggerated. The American hero can fight better and shoot better. And Americans were so self-assured."We are willing to see all kinds of disaster movies as long as the good guy wins, no matter what.
"'Smokey and the Bandit' was one of the movies during the first part of that rebellion," Reins said. "And Clint Eastwood in 'The Gauntlet' was another where he had the gun and was going to bring in the only witness before a judge even though the government was against him."In the 1970s, everything was before us, and everything was behind us," he said. "We were being led by an ideal and everybody had faith that we could conquer the world."But that feeling of optimism faded as the '70s passed into the '80s and beyond.The overwhelming success of these larger-than-life movies caused the decline of the film industry and seeped into television where reality shows and unimaginative or over-the-top situations are the rule of the day.Producers opt to dumb down their product or raise the body count in order to embrace the lowest-common denominator and have substituted bathroom humor for original comedy as if the two were interchangeable."Once box-office receipts became most important, the quality of acting became an afterthought, and money became what it was all about," Reins said. "What mattered more than if it was good was if it made money."The feeling became if a film didn't do well, it was worthless, which is nonsense," he said.