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Tribeca Takes: Keith Bearden

In honor of his leading lady (Kim Cattrall), the writer/director of Meet Monica Velour (TFF 2010) highlights five neglected films from the 70s, his favorite decade.

Keith Bearden
entertained us endlessly last year when he came to Tribeca with his debut feature, Meet Monica Velour. As the film, which stars Kim Cattrall, makes its ways into theaters, we asked him to round up a mini-festival of films from the decade that inspired him: the 1970s.


(Learn more about Keith in his Faces of the Festival interview from last April.)



Tobe (Dustin Ingram), the teenaged lead character in my film Meet Monica Velour, gives a speech early on in the film about his love for classic things, things that have stood the test of time, despite his friend’s urging him to like “normal stuff.” One of his lines is, “The best movies are from the 70s.” Well, if you’re talking about creative American cinema, social satire, philosophical and political subtext in film, drive-in movies, adult film, color horror films, the original blockbusters—I’d have to agree.


Everyone knows all the biggies (Altman, Scorsese, Coppola, etc), so here are some ones I love that you should hunt down if you can.



Cold Turkey
Dir. Norman Lear (1971)
Norman Lear is one of my heroes. His hit TV shows like All in the Family and Maude mixed big comedy and stark drama in a way that few dared before or since. (One of the episodes of All in the Family had a lead character being held at bay by a rapist for 30 minutes, for Christ’s sake!) He only made 2 features, and this is his masterpiece. You know a comedy is dark when Dick Van Dyke plays an unsympathetic character and Bob Newhart is an outright villain. A depressed town in Iowa will get $25 million and world fame if they all give up smoking for 30 days. Naturally, the whole place goes bananas—Tea Party types turn the town into a police state, relationships crumble, children are abused.


It’s a rare USA satire that’s actually funny, full of amazing faces (remember when fat and ugly people were in movies?) and look at this cast! Paul Benedict (Waiting for Guffman), Vincent Gardenia (Moonstruck), Bob & Ray, Jean Stapleton, Barnard Hughes, on and on. I have a script that is a bit of a tribute to this movie called Reel Amerika that I hope to get made one day.



Taking Off
Dir. Milos Forman (1971)
Milos Forman’s first USA production is a great counterculture time capsule piece with some unforgettable bits: Vincent Schiavelli’s (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) how to smoke pot class, Ike and Tina Turner rockin “Goodbye, So Long”, the “Camptown Races” sex dance, and all the wonderfully real auditions from young singers at a Broadway show open call, which include a young Kathy Bates, Carly Simon, and Jessica Harper.



Dark Star
Dir. John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon (1974)
I’m sticking my neck out here, but Dark Star is a better film about the Vietnam War than Apocalypse Now, and at a tiny fraction of the cost. John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon’s sci-fi student film at USC is super cheap (the space suits have muffin tins for chest plates!), but it’s funny, inventive and really gets at the futility of modern war. Three US GIs spend 20 years in space trying to locate unstable planets (read “governments”) and blow them up before they become “dangerous.” All they get in return is decreasing support (and generic encouraging messages) from the government, in-fighting, and brain-frying boredom. Cool country (!) theme written by Carpenter as well.



Dir. Waris Hussein (1971)
I think you have to be Japanese (they worship it), over 50, or a lucky UHF watcher (like me) to have seen Melody (aka S.W.A.L.K., written by Alan Parker). Two 10-year-olds are in love and want to get married. Nobody lets them, so they plan a war against adults. Sort of a ‘tween version of  If…. A rare film that treats children as fully formed beings, possessing physical beauty, will and destiny, romantic desire and complex emotions. Choice use of 60s-era Bee Gees Bee Gees tunes as well.



Space is the Place
Dir. John Coney (1974)
True psychedelic art didn’t arrive for white people, much less black people, but avant-jazz pioneer Sun Ra’s sole feature film is pretty close. It starts in outer space, a place of “altered destinies” where African-Americans “can see what they can do with a planet all their own, without white people around.”  Switching to Earth, Sun Ra battles for the future with The Overseer, a rich black gangster who lives the white man’s dream, and dispenses more far-out images and spiritual/racial philosophizing than you can absorb on one viewing. And if that’s not enough, Jack Baker from Kentucky Fried Movie and New Wave Hookers is in it! This movie changed my life. Let it change yours. Can you spot the tribute to this film in Meet Monica Velour?


Meet Monica Velour opens Friday, April 8.


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