American filmmaking in the 1970s is fondly remembered as being one of the most creative decades in motion picture history. Talent, industry trends, and personalities converged in that decade to change the shape of filmmaking forever. Meanwhile, Technicolor played a major role in the industry’s evolution at that time through its ability to reinvent itself, while at the same time, supporting those creative visionaries that took over the industry…filmmakers like Francis Coppola, Warren Beatty, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas.
There is a classic photograph from that era, shot by famed LA photographer Douglas Kirkland, from early in the 1970s that illustrated that decade of change. Shot in super wide angle, Kirkland captured filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas with their American Zoetrope posse, taken on the roof of Zoetrope, high above North Beach, with San Francisco Bay wrapping around them. It very accurately represented the arrival and attitude of a new generation of filmmakers who came to prominence in the decade – and in the specific case of Zoetrope, Coppola’s successful escape from the confines of Hollywood. Famed film editor Walter Murch, in a recent issue of Cineaste Magazine, talks about Coppola’s move from LA, the reason that which clearly signaled Zoetrope’s intent to march to the beat of its own drum.
Zoetrope photo by Douglas Kirkland and reprinted with permission
American “independent filmmaking” was not a new concept – it had been around from the start of Hollywood, and was made emblematic by the founders of United Artists in the early 1920s. If there was one filmmaker who espoused those “indie” sensibilities that grew out of the 1960s, it was Francis Coppola – who throughout his career continually subverted the limitations of the industry and was embraced as something of a “de facto” leader of the emergent movement. This extended to much of the technological thinking that the industry currently enjoys.
The 60s may have witnessed the demise of the traditional Hollywood studios (or so the story goes) but the industry didn’t go quietly into the night. There remained a very closed-door attitude and practice as it related to this emergent generation. But like generations before, those obstacles only deepened this group of filmmaker’s collective resolve to break-through.
The decade witnessed the rise of young directors as the “stars” of motion pictures. The 70s’ generation of filmmakers was (on balance) also very much an outgrowth of the movement that had matriculated from film schools in LA and New York: UCLA, NYU, USC, Columbia University, and The American Film Institute. That generation had also been weaned on the films from the masters of “world cinema”: the French New Wave, led by Truffaut, Godard, and many others who had first worked as film journalists at Cahier du Cinema; the Italian masters like Fellini and Antonioni; master filmmakers from Japan; Ingmar Bergman, who presented his dark, Nordic sensibilities; and a generation of Brits who grew up watching the films of Michael Powell, David Lean, Richard Lester, Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, and many more.
For Technicolor, that decade represented the last true vestiges of IB dye-transfer theatrical release printing – that by 1978 ceased operation at Technicolor Rome. While there was a definite sadness to the demise of dye transfer, Technicolor couldn’t rest on its laurels, needing to reinvent itself again… for a dramatically changed entertainment landscape. By decade’s end, home video had emerged as one of the industry’s major financial drivers. And by decade’s end, the new model of theatrical distribution became dominant after the first wave of “bulk” release printing, the nascent model being piloted for Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, and George Lucas’ first installment of Star Wars — day in date release of 600-800 prints. However quaint that number may seem today, it was a major disruptor of its time – but also an even bigger opportunity for Technicolor who responded to the increase in demand by fostering new innovative lab processes to accommodate bulk theatrical release printing.
During the 1970s Francis Coppola directed four of the most important and critically regarded classics of the decade and motion picture history: The Godfather; The Conversation; The Godfather 2; and Apocalypse Now. Technicolor labs in Los Angeles, New York, and Rome were integrally involved with these stunning achievements.