I watched the Academy Awards in March, 1977 with a deal of remorse. By that time we were out of business, the St. George shuttered, the dream over. But on our small screen at home, there were more than a few of the sixty-three movies we had run on our giant grape-soda-stained movie screen, competing for gold statues. Two of my favorites for the year, All the President’s Men (Hoffman and Redford as Woodward and Bernstein, a post-Watergate cocktail), and Taxi Driver (DeNiro as the infamous war vet, Travis Bickle), were up against Rocky (which won, launching Sylvester Stallone’s career). Bound for Glory (a romantic but not entirely accurate biopic on the life and times of folksinger Woody Guthrie), and Network (the ultimate condemnation of the corporate establishment and television) were the other contenders. Of these five, only Bound for Glory would not eventually find its way to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." That selection really means something, that, twenty or thirty years after the fact, so many Oscar contenders from a single year would have such lasting power. (If you look to the following year’s Oscars, movies nominated were Annie Hall — winner, The Goodbye Girl, Star Wars, The Turning Point and Julia. Only two of these, Annie Hall and Star Wars, were in the decades to come, deemed culturally significant enough for the Library to set aside.
1976 had been a pivotal year: in Hollywood, in the movie exhibition end of things, and in America. Vietnam was over and so was Watergate; as the recession tailed off, working class heroes everywhere needed to believe in a rags-to-riches story, and Rocky, the best picture winner, would do well enough. Hollywood released 148 films in 1976, more than in previous years, but since movie screens were proliferating virally, lowly “buck fifty” exhibitors, like ourselves, were hard-pressed to get our desperate little hands on anything new, or nearly new. Yet we occasionally did. From IMDB’s list of the ten most popular movies of 1976, we ran the top three and two more besides.
1. Taxi Driver*
2. All the President’s Men*
5. A Star is Born
6. King Kong
7. Logan’s Run*
8. The Omen*
9. The Enforcer
Our booking agent, while he lasted, had some chops.
Memories are fragmentary: I recall only bits and pieces of Carrie, which, as a feminist, I had a lot of objections to. Besides, it was February and too cold in the auditorium, since the landlord had turned the heat off, in what would finally be a successful campaign to close us down. But the warm months had been a sweet time. Earlier in the season, I’d relished every beloved frame of All the President’s Men, Watergate still fresh in memory. As for Taxi Driver, I watched it obsessively over and over again, burning the popcorn bag down to its grannies. It wasn’t just my crush on De Niro; Scorcese really had seventies New York down cold. Times Square, especially the porn district where at least once I’d gone to borrow carbons for our aging projectors, was right there on our screen, gritty and dangerous and, of course, never boring. On those forays to Times Square, if only I’d had cab fare — Travis Bickle might have had his light on...
Afterthought 1: De Niro actually took a few shifts as an NYC cabbie, just to get the feel of the role, so what if I'd hailed him?
Afterthought 2: I mentioned that some of the movies we ran at the St. George became cult classics: Texas Chainsaw Massacre comes to mind first. Cooley High, The Omen, and the absurdly misnamed Don’t Open the Window (aka The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue and Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) have their own followings. The Dragon Dies Hard, a posthumous tribute to Bruce Lee, goes without saying.