Billy Jack and Clarence at the Movies in 70’s

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On occasion, when I find myself in a pensive mood, I often reflect upon situations and life experiences that have shaped me. As the title of this blog suggests, lately I have been thinking about movies from the seventies and the great affinity I have toward films of that era.

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What prompted me to write this you might ask? Well, it was just the other day when I was talking to a friend about historic buildings in this little town where I am presently residing after a long absence. Having grown up here, I thought I was able to expound upon his query as it pertained to the old Theatre building. The Theatre in question was called The Strand. The Strand you see, was a place where I went religiously throughout the late seventies to watch all the latest offerings from Hollywood. Without getting too far along in explaining the history of this former landmark – I’ll save that for a future blog –  I think it suffice to say that the theatre operated from 1938 through until sometime in the eighties. It was at that moment in our conversation – while trying to nail down the exact year – that we engaged in some lively discussion. After about twenty minutes of bantering, we just both agreed to disagree.  Shortly thereafter, however, I made a beeline to the library to seek out the definitive answer. Upon arriving, I went immediately to the help desk and asked the attending librarian, a gal I went to school with,  if she knew. Although she suspected, as I did, it may have been the early eighties, she couldn’t say for sure. It was then I was hit with the notion to resolve this mystery once and for all! If not to appease our suspicion, then for posterity then. With that, she retrieved all the archives they had of the local paper, starting with the year 1980. Now I know that you’re probably asking yourself,  ” I thought this blog was supposed to be about movies from the seventies? ”  Well, it is! I can assure you!

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You see…what happened next was…I spent a good part of that afternoon and the next day taking a walk down memory lane as I perused each and every issue whilst taking note of all the movies I had seen at the Strand throughout the eighties. So pleasant was my  journey through the eighties, that I spent the next couple of days researching the movies of the seventies too! It was upon my investigation into the movies of the seventies that I realized how much the movies of the seventies played a large part in imbuing my great appreciation for the art and science of filmmaking. Moreover, after haveing this epiphany, I further reflected to determin my first recollection of what might have been “THE” pivotal moment that made me want to set upon a path toward a career in film. Well it didn’t take long, because it hit me! So far as I could see, I would have to say that that moment occurred when my father once brought home a 16mm projector that he had borrowed from the local Indian Friendship Centre.  In any event, the movie that my father had in tow with this behemoth thing of a projector was Billy Jack. I remember the excitement I felt, along with my siblings, when we learned that we were going to have a film- right there – in our very own living room! The year was 1971 and this had to be the “moment” when I realized the magic of celluloid! I still remember the magic of opening the canister labeled “Billy Jack” and revealing the reels therein. I still remember the whirring of the motor warming the internal light bulb. I remember my father placing the reel onto the projector and threading it. Then came the distinctive clicking sound the film made as the perforated film made it’s way through the projector transport system.  Finally, what I remember most is the moment the movie started and seeing the specs of dust in the air illuminated by the projection of the movie onto the screen. Pure magic! What I took away most that day was the indelible memories regarding the message the film purveyed. Today I am still amazed that someone of my tender age could fathom the premise of the film in its efforts to address the plight of the Native Americans. In regards to that, I think it’s important to put this era into context. I think if one recalls that it was only a couple years earlier the Alcatraz occupation took place – an event in Native American history that acted as a springboard for Indian activism that many claim began because of that event in 1969. Keeping that in mind, I think this particular clip speaks well to the flagrant discrimination toward Indians at this time. Just wanted to put things into context prior to viewing!

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Billy Jack

Assuming now that you have viewed the clip, I think it is important to explain my purpose in including this clip. Aside from having already noted its affect on me as a very young person, I think the clip is a clear indication how a film can greatly expose inherent flaws in our collective thinking as a society. Thus, there is great responsibility that accompanies the creativity of the filmmaker. It is because of my own experience that I have come to know the power of the film. I have come to respect film as a medium that not only entertains, but does have the ability to attune us to accept change, mold new perceptions, and hopefully – with a well crafted storyline – helps us replace archaic paradigms that divide us. I know of no other activity where one might find themselves seated next to a complete stranger of  different race, religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation etc…well you get the picture…and yet we are able to forget our difference… and soon we both – ourselves and our neighbor – are championing  the same outcome by what is provoked by the events on screen.  If I can be a bit self-indulgent here, I have come to know the elements of every good movie. I think every good movie has one thing in common. That being a despicable antagonist! It’s even better when that antagonist exhibits some of the traits that we possess – hopefully a lesser degree. 🙂 Thereby, in recognizing those negative traits in the antagonist, we then vicariously live through the protagonist agenda to eliminate, or at the very least, change the ideals of the “bad guy”!
Moreover, the “good guy” also needs to have faults too in order for us to sympathize for his/her plight!  So, it goes to reason then, that in every good story, the protagonist has to come to recognize his/ her faults and alter them whilst vicariously defeating the “bad guy”. I hope that makes sense to you! However, I think it is more eloquently expressed and summarized by the American Mythologist, Joseph Campbell in this quote from his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

“We have not even to face the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time, have gone before us: the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god, and where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence, and where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the World.”

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So, after having considered all that, and after having recently watched the  Billy Jack DVD release, I can pretty well say with certainty that actor/ writer, Tom Laughlin, read and applied the Hero archetype “to the letter”, as explained in Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces. Now I’m not saying Billy Jack is the best execution of this “formula”, but it certainly spoke to me as a kid. In fact, an even better example would be George Lucas’ Star Wars. Lucas, it is said, totally lifted the storyline for Star Wars after having reread Hero With A Thousand Faces. Thus, the origin of Star Wars was born!

This brings me now to my conclusion! As mentioned before, the movies of the seventies served as an inspiring decade that pushed me to possibilities of maybe considering a career in film. I think even Hollywood was growing up with the activism and liberal thinking of that decade, and luckily, I was along for the ride!  It was a decade many fundamental ideals were challenged unlike any other decade I can recall. The movies of the seventies opened the floodgates to allow once taboo subjects to be offered and debated. Take Vietnam hangover movies like The Deer Hunter or Apocalypse Now for example. OR movies on the domestic front that reflected feminist thinking of the time like Kramer vs Kramer. Now I’m not affluent enough in my knowledge of the movies of that era that spoke to all the issues of the decade, and besides remember, I was just a kid. I was so happy having grown up in this decade because I was thoroughly challenge in my thinking and entertained! Wouldn’t have missed it for the world! The seventies, were certainly in my opinion, the best decade of filmmaking!

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Finally with that being said, I have to tie up some loose ends regarding my trip to the library. In my exploration, I found the the Strand Theatre closed its doors on February 23, 1986. The last movie shown at the Strand Theatre was Rocky IV, thus ending an incredible 48 year run that was sadly ended in part to the the proliferation of cable television and the advent of VHS movie rentals.  Further to my investigation at the library,  I spent an entire two days thumbing through the stacks of 1970 issues of the local paper. It was quite the adventure reviewing all them issues and I was astounded at the amount of movies I seen throughout the 70s. Here is just a glimpse of some of the finer entertaining moments I recall.

Billy Jack 71 – The Poseidon Adventure 72 – Enter the Dragon 73 – The Towering Inferno 74  – Jaws 75 – The Reincarnation of Peter Proud 75  – Rocky 76 – The Omen 76 – Airport 77 – Smokie and the Bandit 77 – Up in Smoke 78  and Apocalypse Now 79.

In closing I hope to include a more comprehensive list when I publish my memories of the Strand in a future blog! Until then…I tip my hat to the seventies…and yes… to you too Billy Jack!

Hmm? Kinda makes you want to rush out and get your own Billy Jack Hat!

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And as a final homage, I’ve included this video that sort of encapsulates the movie. The song by Coven served as the theme song. It’s entitled One Tin Soldier.

Go ahead and hate your neighbor; go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven; you can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowin’ come the judgment day
On the bloody morning after, one tin soldier rides away

SALUTE!

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