Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s

Entire books have been written about the revolutionary wave of American cinema in the 1970s — most notably Peter Biskind’s seminal Easy Riders, Raging Bulls — but New York-based journalist Charles Taylor isn’t interested in rehashing those stories of the walloping impact and lasting legacy of The Godfather, Jaws, et al. Instead, he casts his critical eye to the pictures that fell through the decade’s cracks, curating for delicate dissection 15 choice B movies — some forgotten, others still admired, all sharing “an air of disreputability.”

The slim, comfy volume that results, Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s, is the year’s most rewarding film read thus far.

Transcending mere reviews, Taylor provides full-fledged essays that cut right to the heart of the film in question, whether the freewheeling disillusionment of Richard C. Sarafian’s Vanishing Point, the superior talent of Pam Grier in comparatively inferior works like Jack Hill’s Foxy Brown, or the sad “death poem” of Sam Peckinpah’s tragically maligned Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. In prose that shimmers and brims with intelligence, Taylor forces the reader to examine these films with new eyes and due respect, even if you’ve never seen them before now (and if that is the case, his discussions will make you want to remedy that immediately).

A couple of essays find the author easing his way into the film by way of wrestling with something else entirely, yet making it work like the final two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. For example, the chapter on actor Robert Culp’s lone feature as director, Hickey & Boggs, which found him reteaming with I Spy co-star Bill Cosby, is focused as much on the pleasures of that groundbreaking television series as it is the movie, the tone of which was so whiplash-different as to disappoint audience expectations and taint the picture’s immediate reputation. For another example, the response to the Rolling Stones’ disco-inflected album Some Girls deftly — almost imperceptibly — segues into all that’s right with Irvin Kershner’s Eyes of Laura Mars.

There’s not a single page within Opening Wednesday that fails to remind you of cinema’s power. The directors of these films harnessed it, and Taylor matches it with mere words. As critics of the art form go, he’s up there with David Thomson and James Wolcott as our Western world’s brightest. His only fault is that we don’t hear from him enough. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

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