Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American '70s

Charles Taylor's first collection of film essays exudes energy, persuasiveness and a deep knowledge and love for movies and pop culture. He writes with a passion and unbridled enthusiasm that rivals Pauline Kael. Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You (so entitled because most '70s exploitation films opened midweek, rather than on Fridays) is a love letter to some lesser-known American B-movies that came out in the 1970s. "Some are good, solid pieces of moviemaking, and some are shrewdly put-together junk," writes Taylor. "All the films in this book share an air of disreputability."

Each essay starts off focusing on one or two films but Taylor always brings a fascinating historical context to each film or genre. His appreciation of Coffy and Foxy Brown ("Has any movie goddess ever done more with less than Pam Grier?" he asks) blossoms into an analysis of blaxploitation films, the "role model" characters that straight-jacketed much of Sidney Poitier's career and the current dismal landscape of roles for black, middle-aged women in films. Other films spotlighted include Eyes of Laura Mars ("A celebration of sleaze as high chic."); Robert Aldrich's ultra-violent western Ulzana's Raid; Sam Peckinpah's studio-ruined Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia; Walter Hill's Depression-era boxing film Hard Times; Jonathan Demme's goofy Citizen's Band; and the oddball JFK assassination conspiracy comedy Winter Kills (featuring Elizabeth Taylor, Jeff Bridges and Toshiro Mifune).

Opening Wednesday is an intelligent, opinionated and fascinating introduction to some great lower-profile 1970s films. Film buffs will find Taylor's guide illuminating and indispensable. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

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