Listen to Austin 360 Radio

From 'Badlands' to 'Raging Bull,' film series celebrates New Hollywood

The Paramount's annual Summer Film Classics keeps things cool with more than 80 movies through September

Chris Garcia

In came the rebels, the young Turks, with vision and talent to burn and a collective artistic chip on their shoulders. These hankering American (and a couple of British) filmmakers were infected by a new wave of European and Japanese cinema, from Antonioni to Bergman, Godard to Kurosawa, movies that shook up the form like a snow globe filled with mod ideas, boggling invention and radical inspiration.

It's axiomatic that the late '60s through the early '80s was a revolutionary stretch in American movies. Ambitious young directors Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, Hal Ashby, William Friedkin and the slightly older Robert Altman marshaled an exciting avant-garde in Hollywood, ready to address sex, violence and psychological, social and political topicality through a deeply personal, brazenly idiosyncratic lens.

This was the so-called New Hollywood, which amazingly worked within the studio system and produced, beginning in the mid-'60s, game-changers such as "Bonnie and Clyde," "The Graduate," "Rosemary's Baby," "The Wild Bunch," "Midnight Cowboy" and, one of the most influential films of the era, if not ever, "Easy Rider." From there we got "M*A*S*H," "Chinatown," "The Godfather," "The French Connection," "Harold and Maude," "Taxi Driver," "Apocalypse Now" and "The Deer Hunter." (This fecund period is famously chronicled in Peter Biskind's 1999 book "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock ‘N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood.")

The much anticipated Paramount Theatre Summer Film Classics series — starting May 21 with the Bogart double-header "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon," two of the most pleasurable movie entertainments ever made — always offers a robust array of New Hollywood films in its schedule of 80-plus titles. Last summer the series showed "Nashville," "Easy Rider," "The Parallax View," "The Landlord," "Shampoo," "Catch-22," "Annie Hall" and "Jaws."

This year I've tallied 11 movies in the series that fall under that header, spanning 1970 to 1983. I've taken minor liberties, tip-toeing out of the strictest New Hollywood parameters while sticking to its spirit. I believe no heresies have been committed.

Hardly emblematic of the movement is 1977's ‘Black Sunday,' a middling commercial thriller about a terrorist group that wants to bomb the Super Bowl using a blimp. The great John Frankenheimer, better known for '60s corkers such as "The Manchurian Candidate," directs crack '70s character actors Robert Shaw and Bruce Dern. On the same bill, Shaw plays an urban terrorist who hijacks a New York subway for the risibly small ransom of $1 million in 1974's ‘The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three' (which was dreadfully remade last year by Tony Scott and John Travolta). The double feature plays June 13 and 14.

One of the punctuation marks (a grand exclamation point!) of the era is Martin Scorsese's exquisite 1980 ‘Raging Bull,' the bare-knuckled, Paul Schrader-written biopic of boxer Jake Lamotta that won Robert De Niro an Oscar. It plays June 15 and 16 with Scorsese and De Niro's rollicking 1990 gangster saga "Goodfellas." The Ransom Center's Steve Wilson will discuss the making of "Raging Bull" before the June 16 screening. (The Ransom holds the archives of Schrader and De Niro.)

A movie that gets better with each viewing, 1971's ‘The Last Picture Show'limns small-town Texas life in the finest brushstrokes, evoking period and place so strikingly that you know these characters and taste the dust and Coca-Cola. This is Peter Bogdanovich's director's cut, screening June 20 and 21. Co-written by Larry McMurtry from his book, it features an unforgettable cast, including Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman.

Ridley Scott is a Brit, but his second feature, 1979's ‘Alien,'achieved something like Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey": It reinvented the science-fiction film as high art. Don't diminish this movie — the director's cut plays July 2 and 3 — as pulp. Pioneering set design, a cast of top-tier actors and the notion of hostile alien life taken with dead seriousness, "Alien" is the gold standard for all space thrillers since. Watch, and especially listen. The pacing is immaculate, the sound design chilling perfection. A masterpiece.

Martin Ritt's‘Norma Rae' (1979) and Mike Nichols' ‘Silkwood' (1983) show July 8 and 9 under the double-feature rubric "Defying the System," fitting for these rousing agitprop diversions. Sally Field won an Oscar as Norma Rae, an unwavering textile employee who fights for unionization, and Nichols, Cher and Meryl Streep were nominated for Oscars in the true story of Karen Silkwood, a whistle-blower at a nuclear plant.

Bob Fosse isn't typically considered part of the brat-packy New Hollywood gang, but his 1974 Lenny Bruce biopic ‘Lenny,' starring a young Dustin Hoffman, and the 1979 autobiographical, ahead-of-its-time stunner ‘All That Jazz'are landmarks of showbiz demystification. Both movies were nominated for best picture, best director and actor — Hoffman in "Lenny" and Roy Scheider in "Jazz." (July 15 and 16)

In ‘Badlands,'future Austinite Terrence Malick introduced an exotic idiom to American cinema, at once tough and poetic, dreamy and eerily affecting. His 1973 debut stars Sissy Spacek and an alarmingly youthful Martin Sheen as a wannabe Bonnie and Clyde team in 1950s Midwest. Malick's script, which introduced his predilection for lyric voice-overs, is based on a true story of murderous lovers. (July 28)

1970's‘Five Easy Pieces'is one of the defining movies of the New Hollywood, Jack Nicholson's star-making follow-up to "Easy Rider." It's a classic '70s character study, meandering, deep, funny, existential. Bob Rafelson directs and Karen Black, Fannie Flagg and Sally Struthers co-star. It screens Aug. 6 and 8 in a newly restored print (with "Prizzi's Honor").

About all of the above titles are on my personal must-see list this summer. And so are these, a sampling of what else the classic film series has on hand:

Elia Kazan's ‘Wild River'(May 27 and 28); 1927 silent gem ‘Wings,'with live musical accompaniment by Graham Reynolds (June 23); John Ford and John Wayne's big-screen essential ‘The Searchers' (June 28 and 29); Tod Browning's creepy ‘Freaks' and ‘The Devil-Doll'(June 30 and July 1); Hitchcock's ‘Rebecca' (July 10 and 11); Nick Ray's ‘In a Lonely Place,' on the same bill with the exemplary ‘Sunset Boulevard'(July 13 and 14); Boris Karloff in James Whale's ‘Bride of Frankenstein' (July 22 and 23); the Marx Brothers in ‘A Night at the Opera' (July 24 and 25); a restored print of Martin Scorsese's favorite film ‘The Red Shoes'(Aug. 14 and 15); Kurosawa's glorious ‘Ran'(Aug. 14 and 15); and F.W. Murnau's peerless silent ‘Sunrise'in a restored print (Aug. 24 and 25).


Paramount Summer Classic Film Series

When: Thursday through Sept. 12

Where: Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress Ave.

Cost: $7 online advance admission (not available day of show); $9 regular admission (at Paramount box office on day of show); $5 Film Fan Admission (available for Film Fan members at Paramount box office on day of show); $50 Flix-Tix Booklet (10 admissions)

Information: 472-5470 ext. 1,