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The 70s thrillers that captured a political era

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21 November 2017

With four exciting films soon to hit our screens as part of HOME's States of Danger and Deceit season, we caught up with Dr Andy Willis to find out what makes the political thrillers of the 1970s so special...


Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

I am a Professor of Film Studies at the University of Salford and a Senior Visiting Curator: Film at HOME in Manchester. That's a bit of a mouthful, basically I talk about films, write about films and programme film seasons and events.   

For the uninitiated, what's so special about European political thrillers produced in the 1970s?

Across Europe in the 1970s there was a highly charged political climate. May '68 in France, The Red Brigades and the so called 'years of lead' in Italy, the Baader Meinhof group in West Germany, Carlos 'the Jackal' all over the place. There was political violence on the left and right and a mistrust of those in power everywhere. The thrillers in this season are a response to these, and significantly in a form accesible to audiences. Basically they were exciting films that were engaged in the politics of the decade. 

"...they were exciting films that were engaged in the politics of the decade."

How do these films resonate with the times we live in?

Growth in young peoples' mistrust of those in power, disillusion with 'the system', a polarisation of those on the left and the right, increased political violence - all these things describe the 2010s as much as they do the 1970s. Therefore these films - or rather the filmmakers' responses to these things - offer stories that can still resonate today. The films also offer models of how films might talk about these complex political issues in forms that audiences are interested in watching.  

 "...the filmmakers responses to these things - offer stories that can still resonate today."

Can you sum up each of the four films in our States of Danger and Deceit season in one sentence?

Z - a taut, brilliantly constructed, committed film that responds to political events (here a political assassination and subsequent investigation) that can now be seen as perhaps one of the most influential political thrillers of all time.

The Day of the Jackal - Will the Jackal kill French President De Gaulle? This is another brilliantly constructed film, that manages to create tension at every turn. Politics may only be a backdrop here, but without doubt one of the best thrillers of the 1970s.

"...manages to create tension at every turn."

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion - A powerful police commissioner commits murder and leaves clues at the scene that implicate him. A sly, stylish, bravura piece of filmmaking that dissects power with great aplomb.

The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum - a brilliant performance from Angela Winkler drives this unflinching examination of the paranoia of the time and the power of the tabloid press to destroy lives.

Finally, what's your favourite film of all time?

This is a difficult one - it changes so often depending where my thoughts are at any given moment. After years of saying John Ford's The Searchers, these days I do find myself returing to Alex de la Iglesia's Day of the Beast quite often. Given my work on the season my mind does drift to The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum and Costa-Gavras' State of Siege


Our selection of films from the States of Danger and Deceit season screens at DCA over two weekends, 25 - 26 November and 2 - 3 December, bringing gripping political thrillers to the big screen for all to enjoy.

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