Back to the 70s

The new print edition of The Atlantic includes an article by Ross about Hollywood’s return to the paranoid style of the 1970s (I can’t find a link online). He aptly contrasts the cultural and political ferment of the Vietnam era to today’s relative tranquility.

The best exhibit in favor of Ross’s case, though, is one he doesn’t mention: John Avildsen’s (Rocky, The Karate Kid) 1970 exploitation flick Joe in which an alienated ad executive descends into the hippie underworld after his wayward daughter Melissa (played by Susan Sarandon). Along the way he meets and bonds with the eponymous Joe (Peter Boyle), a fellow WWII vet and “hard-hat” who seethes with the leftist actor Boyle’s imagined version of counter-countercultural rage. The two of them head upstate to track down the daughter, end up dabbling in drugs and free love, and blow away a bunch of flower children. This movie, the first “legitimate” (if you get my drift) picture produced by its studio, was a cultural phenomenon in its day.

It might be possible to make a contemporary version of Joe, but I doubt it would be the smash hit that the original was. The paranoid style always needed more than just government skullduggery to really thrive — it exploited those cultural fissures that killed off the heroes of Easy Rider and made the 1970s such a generally queasy time, and which, fortunately, are not as raw today. Maybe this is because we have healed those divisions, or maybe it’s because Phillip Rieff’s anti-culture has killed off both culture and counterculture. Either way, we’re unlikely to see another Joe anytime soon.