The sixties and seventies find L.A. to be a tableau upon which young filmmakers shoot their films. The backdrop of this sprawling suburb-like city is used to establish a very American Southwest look of definitive All-American cinema. So, here, now, are the films of the sixties and seventies that feature directors and their creatively complicated industry lives.
David Holzman's Diary (Paradigm, 1967) Writer L. M. Kit Carson stars as a young filmmaker who takes life very seriously. So seriously that he turns his camera inward to shoot his own life in an early example of cinema verite. Some viewers have watched this piece and called it self-indulgent, angst-ridden, and boring, especially when the lead is going through a romantic breakup. However, it is important to understand that this is one of the first fake documentaries and it is meant to be a mockery of student films. This film was produced on a very low budget and was considered "underground" for its time. (Think of Blair Witch Project and its success. This will give you an idea how important this film was in the late sixties — at least to young filmmakers — and how it was kept under the radar of any of the big studios; that fact alone gave it some cache.) The grainy black-and-white mise-en-scène only adds to how well constructed this project is — it is even shot like a student film. This is the effect that director Jim McBride wanted in this one-of-a-kind "little" film that captures the energy of the late sixties in America.
Targets (Paramount, 1968) Ed Wood latched on to Bela Lugosi in Bela's twilight years. Director Peter Bogdanovich does the same thing in Targets, his directorial debut, which features a plot that echoes the outbreak of violence within society during the late sixties. In it, he portrays Sammy Michaels, a young filmmaker who convinces aged horror star Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff) to star in his thriller.
Michaels pursues and eventually persuades this once-important elderly actor to be part of his film. What Michaels doesn't know is that Orlok has a stalker who has been planning to attack him for some time. As Michaels begins production on his film, Orlok cooperates and agrees to being Michaels's star. Orlok foreshadows the plot with a twist of irony when he delivers the line "No one's afraid of a painted monster anymore . . ." after watching a convenience-store killing.
Michaels' production is underway. At the same time, Orlok's stalker, himself a victim of the violent society he lives in, begins his random killings. Bogdanovich sets out to make a statement when he presents a scene
between Orlok and the sniper. The deranged sniper thinks Orlok is an old monster (in this case, a Frankenstein type, as Karloff was the original Frankenstein's monster). The sniper's intention to kill is thwarted, because this delusion frightens and confuses him.
Film buffs often find Bogdanovich's first film to be masterfully executed and admire it for revealing the effect of on-screen violence upon everyday violence. To many first-time viewers, much of the action of this film looks campy, as if it were straight out of the Batman television series. As an example of the director's job in Hollywood, it does show the character of Michaels and his determination and grit. He sets out to get his film made, and does just that. For that reason, Targets is worth a look-see. It is also a filmed document of the late-sixties era and filmmaking of that time.
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