Then there are the choices of what sorts of films and directors are looked at. Is the ridiculously overrated Bogdanovich really a more important filmmaker from the 1970s than the never even mentioned George Romero? How about Melvin Van Peebles, Elaine May, Mike Nichols, or Alan Pakula? Of course, these inclusions and exclusions are subjective, and the film cannot run forever. And it does get some props for mentioning the godfathering effect Roger Corman had on the careers of actors like Bruce Dern and directors like Scorsese and Coppola.
But, overall, it is sea spume that never gets into the deeper currents of the art, nor even the vast undercurrents of the times (although the usual off the rack clips of Vietnam, Women’s Lib, Black Power, the Iran Hostage Crisis, and Watergate are recycled).
As example, we hear Coppola talk about his 1974 film The Conversation being influenced by Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 Blowup, but we never get a comparison of the two films — not even a scene or discussion of the tangential points. A critic like Kenneth Turan or Roger Ebert would likely have remedied those sorts of shortcomings. But, as with many possible fruitful avenues it could have gone down - such as viewing the decade through the lens of a dozen or two key films, and analyzing scenes for what they meant and how they expressed their points - the whole film fails. It lacks the substance and edginess that it claims for its very subject matter, even though some good insight is provided by, of all people, the British actress Julie Christie.
Other flaws in the film are the assumptions it makes about the decade. Yes, overall, better films were made in the 1970s than are made today — a quick comparison of the nominated Oscar films ends that discussion. But the bulk of the films - and certainly the bulk of the top box office hits - were more of the same crap that we see today. Yes, Jaws and Star Wars accelerated, or, indeed, started the trend toward mindlessness, but it was there with Love Story, A Star Is Born, and The Exorcist. And Blaxploitation films, the X rating, and Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson revenge thrillers (Dirty Harry and Death Wish) were more the norm. Goofy Burt Reynolds comedies were also huge hits, yet comedy is one of a few key genres of film that is never discussed, save for Mel Brooks and Woody Allen.