Judging from the films that the decade produced, the 1970s were truly a paranoid time. (Of course, 2015 is a paranoid time as well, which is probably why so many of the classic films of the 70s still feel incredibly relevant.) Some weekend, you should watch a marathon of 1970s films and I guarantee that, by the time Monday rolls around, you will be looking for lurkers in every shadow and automatically distrusting any and all authority figures. The 1970s were a good time to be paranoid.
And it’s really not surprising at all. The previous decade was a time of turmoil and upheavel, a time when some people feared protestors and some people feared the establishment but, ultimately, everyone was afraid of someone. When you think of the 1960s, you think about all the leaders who were violently assassinated — John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy, and more. (And that’s just in America!) And then the 70s came along, with Watergate and the revelations about the CIA partnering up with the Mafia to try to kill Fidel Castro.
The 70s were a good time to be paranoid and the films of the 70s reflected that fact.
Take for instance, 1974’s The Parallax View. The Parallax View opens and ends with assassination. In both cases, the victims are U.S. politicians who are running for President and whose ambitions have caused concern for the shadowy and rarely seen leaders of the established order. In both cases, the official story is that the assassin was a lone gunman, a nut with a gun and absolutely no political or religious motivations. Of course, both accused assassins were apparently involved with the shadowy Parallax Corporation and, over the course of the film, anyone who knows anything about Parallax ends up dying. Reporter Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) goes undercover to investigate the group but, as he does so, he grows increasingly paranoid and unstable, until finally it’s easy to mistake him for any other paranoid madman, ranting in the street and, in many ways, indistinguishable from the accused assassins that he’s been investigating. In many ways, Joe becomes like a character in a H.P. Lovecraft short story who, upon laying eyes on Cthulhu, is driven mad as punishment.
It’s a good film, one that’s enhanced by Gordon Willis’s trademark shadowy cinematography and the convincing desperation of Warren Beatty’s performance. In the film’s best scene, Frady applies for a job with the Parallax Corporation. As a part of his job interview, he’s taken a dark room and he’s told to watch a short film. His reactions will help to determine what role he could possibly play at Parallax.
Needless to say, The Parallax View feels just as relevant today as it did when it was first released. We still live in paranoid times and hints of conspiracy are still everywhere to be seen. Perhaps the only thing that has changed is that, back in 1974, conspiracies could still take people be surprise.
Now, we just take them for granted.