A lot of 1970s cinema was a reflection of the decade itself: grim, cynical, violent, with very few happy endings. It was also the era when I started going to the pictures seriously — meaning without parents and not to see some Disney or Ray Harryhausen movie — so my initial grown-up cinematic education was in films like Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, Eraserhead, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I first saw all of those in my late teens, mostly at late-night showings in small art-house cinemas with my schoolmate Martin who had an old Mini that made coming home from the movies at 2am a lot easier.
Our favourite haunt was the Paris Pullman cinema in Fulham (long closed now) which showed a late-night double bill of cult movies every weekend that attracted the sort of night-owl crowd of punks, hippies, insomniacs, film nerds, and other reprobates who you imagine would be up for seeing both The Exorcist and Dawn of The Dead after the pubs had closed. It was a shabby but friendly little place and, despite the “No Smoking” sign on the wall, the air was always thick with the smoke of cigarettes and other, um…substances. If we didn’t fancy what was showing there we usually ended up at the Scene cinema on Wardour Street (also closed) which showed a double bill of Taxi Driver and Midnight Express that must have run for about 10 years. We never got tired of going to that.
Like most young men with pretentions and a sense of intellectual superiority we loved these films because they were edgy and gritty, often taboo and morally murky, which at that age you think is more “real” and meaningful than mainstream culture which seems fake and plastic — and not cool — in comparison. Plus, there was violence and the occasional naked woman, that’s always good.
Now you can pretty much see any film you want, whenever you want, in the comfort of your own home, there’s no need to check Time Out every week to see what’s on and then sit in a musty, dark room with a bunch of strangers. But that convenience probably won’t give you the same illicit thrill I had as a teenager being in a little fleapit cinema in the wee small hours watching Robert DeNiro shoot some guy’s hand off, Linda Blair doing obscene things with a crucifix, and whatever the hell was going on with those baby chickens in Eraserhead.
I lost count of the amount of times we saw Taxi Driver back then and it’s the defining film of that era for me, not least because of its terrific Bernard Herrmann soundtrack with that gorgeous saxaphone which just reeks of seedy urban jungles and late nights in dark rooms.
Download: Main Titles – Bernard Herrmann (mp3)
Download: I Still Can’t Sleep/They Cannot Touch Her (Betsy’s Theme) – Bernard Herrmann (mp3)