The 1970s were a pivotal period in both American and global pop culture. It was the decade that witnessed the birth of the “American New Wave,” with helmers including Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola establishing a new filmmaking vernacular and making their indelible marks on cinematic history.
In India, Bollywood was producing such wildly popular films as “Sholay.” It was the year “Jaws” put great white sharks on the big screen while also unleashing the era of the summer blockbuster. The iconic, surrealistic comedy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” graced theaters, directed by first-time feature helmers Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. The “soft sounds” of 1975 were evident in the string of mellow and groovy Yacht Rock chart-toppers, from the Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” which earned the Grammy for record of the year, to Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter in the Rain.” Other easy listening tunes that made their way to the top 10: Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” and Frankie Valli’s “My Eyes Adored You.” On the political front, 1975 was a year of political unrest in Cambodia, with Pol Pot taking over the country and establishing a brutal totalitarian regime that murdered and displaced millions. In 1975, the Helsinki Accords were signed in an effort to melt tension between the Soviet Union and Western bloc nations and in Africa, Mozambique and Angola proclaimed their independence. That July, North and South Vietnam unified as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the Vietnam War, a bloody stain on America’s history, finally came to its official end.
Steven Spielberg’s thriller about a man-eating shark became one of the first feature films to be set in the ocean — in rocking boats, over thrashing waves — and established “Get out of the water!” as a clarion call for shark-infested beaches. Based on Peter Benchley’s novel and filmed partly on location in Martha’s Vineyard, “Jaws” won Oscars for sound, film editing and music, original dramatic score for John William’s forever memorable and ever-ominous “Shark Theme.” The film, a nominee for best picture, starred Roy Scheider as the local police chief, Richard Dreyfuss as an ichthyologist and Robert Shaw as a seasoned ship captain who go in hot pursuit of the killer beast, spawning the famous line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Best of Bollywood
In an epic year for Hindi films, the one that dominated was “Sholay,” Ramesh Sippy’s all-star hit. The pic, based loosely on “The Magnificent Seven,” was peppered with zippy dialogue that is still quoted. Even though it was toplined by mega-stars Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Hema Malini and Jaya Bhaduri, a previous unknown called Amjad Khan stole the show as the villain. And yet the year found space for other delights from “Julie,” a daring remake of a Malayalam film about an unwed mother, to Gulzar’s “Mausam” centering on a father (Sanjeev Kumar) who finds the daughter of his long-lost love only to discover she is a prostitute (a delightful Sharmila Tagore).
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Milos Forman’s critically hailed adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel would dominate the Academy Awards, becoming the first film in 41 years to sweep the major categories of best picture (which went to producers Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz), director, actor, actress and screenplay. Nicholson took home an award for his lead role as R.P. McMurphy, a Korean War vet and convicted criminal who is admitted to a mental institution and makes it his mission to dethrone the brutal and cruel Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher, who won for supporting), who operates a dehumanizing tyrannical-like regime on the mental hospital ward.
Born to Run
Bruce Springsteen’s third studio album reached No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and went to on to sell more than 6 million copies in the United States. The album was both a commercial and critical hit, its two singles “Born to Run” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” helping to establish the Boss as a mainstream rock ’n’ roll musician. The album’s “Thunder Road,” “She’s the One” and “Jungleland,” with myriad critics calling it one of the greatest albums of all time, became instant classics, songs that continue to be set-list high points at Springsteen’s legendary three-plus hour concerts. In November 2005, a 30th anniversary remastered box set of the album was released that included two DVDs: a production diary film and a concert movie.
Dog Day Afternoon
Al Pacino further established himself as a major star in Sidney Lumet’s classic crime drama. The film revolves around Sonny, a first-time crook, (Pacino) and his friend (John Cazale) Sal who rob a Brooklyn bank to pay for Sonny’s lover’s sex reassignment operation. Sonny and Sal hold the bank customers and workers hostage, and the FBI lands on the scene. The film, based on a real-life crime story, garnered six Academy Award nominations; Frank Pierson won the Oscar for screenplay. “Dog Day Afternoon,” notable for its anti-establishment theme, is also the third big screen pairing of Pacino and Cazale, who also starred together in “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II.”
Blood on the Tracks
Recorded both in New York City and Minneapolis, Bob Dylan’s 15th studio album was initially met with mixed reviews. In his review for the March 13, 1975 issue of Rolling Stone, critic and music producer Jon Landau wrote, “The record itself has been made with typical shoddiness. The accompanying musicians have never sounded more indifferent.” But fans and critics alike would later fete “Blood on the Tracks” as one of Dylan’s greatest albums, and a preeminent example of the confessional singer-songwriter craft. In 2003 Rolling Stone would rank “Blood on the Tracks” as No. 16 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 2004, Pitchfork ranked the album No. 5 on its list of top 100 albums of the 1970s. Containing such classics as “Tangled Up in Blue,” “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” and “Shelter From the Storm,” the album was rumored to have been inspired by his marriage to then-wife, Sara. Dylan has denied any autobiographical link between his real life and the songs on “Blood on the Tracks,” but at the time the album was being recorded, the pair were estranged. Their son, Jakob, has described the album as “my parents talking.” In 2015, “Blood on the Tracks” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.