Have you ever had one of those days that were so bad that you desperately needed a night at the ice cream or candy store? The 1970’s was that really bad day, while the night of self- indulgence was the 1980’s. Americans love to escape from our daily stress, and of all the products that allow us to do so, none is more popular than the movies. Movies are key cultural artifacts that offer a view of American culture and social history. They not only offer a snapshot of hair styles and fashions of the times but they also provide a host of insights into Americans’ ever-changing ideals. Like any cultural artifact, the movies can be approached in a number of ways. Cultural historians have treated movies as a document that records the look and mood of the time that promotes a particular political or moral value or highlights individual or social anxieties and tensions. These cultural documents present a particular image of gender, ethnicity, romance, and violence. Out of the political and economic unrest of the 1970’s that saw the mood and esteem of the country, as reflected in the artistry and messages in the movies, sink to a new low, came a new sense of pride in who we are, not seen since the post-World War II economic boom of the 1950’s. Of this need to change, Oscar Award winner Paul Newman stated,
“There is this acceleration of change, and we’re much more affected by that. People want to be entertained. They don’t want to be bombarded by emotions or questions. I hope it gets better. I don’t know whether it will or not.”
During the mid and late 1970’s, the mood of American films shifted sharply. People needed to get away from such negative memories as the Vietnam War, long gas lines, the resignation of President Nixon, and the hostage situation in Iran. They wanted to feel safe, go back to living the American dream, and most of all they wanted to laugh. Unlike the highly political films of the early 1970’s that offered a tragic or rebellious view on America, like The Godfather, were replaced by more upbeat films, especially comedies featuring such actors as Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, and Chevy Chase. The most popular films moving towards the 1980’s were blockbusters that people could escape to including movies like Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). These movies featured spectacular special effects, action, and simplistic conflicts between good and evil or inspirational stories about the determined American spirit, like Rocky (1976).
Despite this trend towards escapism type films, important social issues continued to be addressed through film. Many films focused on problems of romance, family, gender, and sexuality. These are all parts of life radically changed by the social revolution of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Old fashioned screen romances and Cinderella stories like an Officer and a Gentleman and Flashdance, respectively tried to avoid these...