“They’re always going to remember you on the note you go out on.” That statement is why one of the best things a movie can do for itself is to have a strong ending, one that kicks the viewer straight in the ass. My friends and I have a general term for one such kind of special ending; The 70s Ending. Now as anyone who was a part of the CHUD Board’s 70s Draft will tell you, I’m far from an expert on 70s cinema, so pardon if the term isn’t entirely accurate. Precisely true or not, it is a phrase that organically grew between us as we watched more and more films from the decade that “do that goddamn thing,” where they “end all of a sudden.” It’s our throw-around term for abrupt or unexpected endings.
It can, of course, be applied to endings outside of the 70s. Hell, what is likely the most quintessential example, and the one that probably led to the trend in the first place? Easy Rider. Even this last year, 2007, contained some very huge endings in the movie, TV, and literary worlds between oil execs, Texas sheriffs, mobsters, and teenaged wizards. A couple of those endings could qualify for the term, and one could even count as a deconstruction of the idea itself.
70s Ending as we first used it, was a very general term without much of a definition. As we discussed more and more of these abrupt endings, I developed my own idea of what the term actually meant;
An ending that occurs near or at the literal moment that defines the end of a story. This typically occurs immediately after the climax of the narrative, and involves little or no traditional denouement/falling action.
This kind of ending is not uncommon, and can be used to great effect. I find that if the conclusion in question follows the rules of the definition above, it can be very powerful. While I would rather use a film that is actually from the fucking seventies, An American Werewolf in London is the movie I watched most recently that would qualify. As the title would suggest, this movie sets itself up very quickly and very simply to be the story of an American tourist who becomes a werewolf. We follow him through his story until (SPOILERS) it comes to a very sudden end. We see his dead body, and we see his love-interest begin to weep. The end. This is the perfect opportunity for this kind of ending because the story was so entirely rooted in this character that once he is gone, there is nothing else for us witness. We have no more connection to any further events. The one connection that he has made in the film, with Nurse Alex, is handled with her tears. Their connection (while passionate) was still new and lacking any real depth, so her tears are enough. So in essence, he’s dead, she’s sad, and we’re done. It’s a beautiful use of economy, and a great way to get out of the story while the gettin’s good. This tactic works best with simple and straightforward stories, but is not limited to them. There Will Be Blood is far from a simple or straightforward film, but it sets up a clear conflict between two of it’s characters and makes it the emotional war that drives the film. Once that war has a victor, that’s it. He’s finished, and so are we.
Of course, you can also be abrupt or nontraditional without classifying as a 70s Ending. No Country For Old Men (in my eyes) uses it’s sudden ending to emphasize it’s bleak thematic conceit. Saw I and II (and I assume III, IV, V, VI, and VII) use their sudden endings to make audience member’s declare “Awww shit, dawg!” David Chase used the mid-shot ending of The Sopranos to baffle his more linear-minded viewers, and to entirely reject the idea of “ending” something that was less a narrative story and more of a window into the lives of dozens of people. Looking at The Matrix without anchoring it to it’s comparably weak sequels, the ending turns the whole movie into a prologue for a revolution of thought and perception that (until May 2003) was magic to imagine.
There are also a few films that I have seen and believe qualify as having Hyper-70s Endings. Actually, there are exactly 2 films; Bug and United 93. Both end precisely on the moment of absolute climax, the very second the story is over, and I love each one.
I’m not going to do any clever bullshit like end this blog mid-sentence, but I will quit before I’ve written a proper conclusion. I’d call it a 70s ending, but I’m just fucking lazy and want to hear what some of you think!
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BONUS: Renn’s One-Word Movie Review
Good / Bad / Neutral
August 8th, 2008 : : Naked Lunch - Neither
Past One-Word Movie Reviews
July 29th, 2008 : : The Hitcher  – Rutger!
July 8th, 2008 : : Lou Ferrigno’s Hercules – Spacey
July 1st, 2008 : : WALL-E – Tender
June 27th, 2008 : : Addio Zio Tom (Goodbye Uncle Tom) - Evil
June 22nd, 2008 : : You Don’t Mess With The Zohan – Jocular
June 17th, 2008 : : The Happening – Embarrassing
June 14th, 2008 : : Kung-Fu Panda – Thin
June 12th, 2008 : : Run Lola Run – Reckless
June 9th, 2008 : : Day Watch – Upgrade
June 8th, 2008 : : The Amateurs – Endearing
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Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey