It's Hard to Be a Saint in 1973 [1973 Week]

It’s 1973 week! Another theme week! Finally, we have a week that is set before 1980, the first one from a time before I was born. This definitely puts a spin on it, although it’s still not that far away from 1980 week as there are still a couple of decades left (I set my limit at 1930). What can we expect from 1973? It’s not the 60s anymore, so the disillusion and darkness might creep in already. I think it’s a very interesting year, especially because most upheavals had happened already. It’s a time where people got used to seeing the world with different, more critical eyes, but also with less hope than in the 60s. Anyway, I’m, as always, excited!


Peace is officially reached in the Vietnam War, ending America’s nightmare (well, theoretically). Roe vs. Wade grants the right to abortion, ending any controversy about that topic (I know). Israel shoots down a Libyan passenger plane, killing over 100 people. Native Americans occupy Wounded Knee, causing unusually high news coverage for tribal people’s protests. Over a million workers in the UK strike for one day. The governments of Uruguay, Chile, Greece and Rwanda are overthrown, to be followed by dictatorships or military rule. There is a revolution in Thailand, too. Yom Kippur War starts, as does the first oil crisis. Watergate rages on, including the Saturday Night Massacre and Nixon’s no-crookedness. The Spanish Prime Minister Luis Carrero Blanco is killed by ETA. The American Psychiatric Association doesn’t consider homosexuality as a mental illness anymore. Lyndon B. Johnson, Bruce Lee, Pablo Picasso, J.R.R. Tolkien and Salvador Allende die.

I left out more crashed planes. Apart from that, it’s really a mix of (failed) revolutions and protest, some cultural and political changes, kidnapping, strikes and war. It’s not necessarily a year that stands out with one huge event of worldwide repercussions, apart from the end of the Vietnam War, the bloody end of Allende’s Chile and the realization that oil has become very essential to our culture’s lives. It reads like a violent, dark, upsetting time. I really wonder how that will be reflected in movies and music.


Some of the most popular songs from that year are Angie by The Rolling Stones, The Ballroom Blitz by The Sweet, Killing Me Softly With His Song by Roberta Flack, The Jean Genie and Life on Mars by David Bowie, The Joker by Steve Miller Band, Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye and Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple.

There were notable albums released in 1973, among them Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., The Stooges’ Raw Power, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, the eponymous debut albums of New York Dolls and Queen, Elton John’s Yellow Brick Road and The Who’s Quadrophenia. Musically this year is something of a blind spot for me. None of these albums have any resonance for me, some I know, but none of them were special for me. Some of them I never really listened to, but always planned to get into them, but there is just too much music.


Even less for me to know here. Kojak and The Six Million Dollar Man debuted, Bonanza ended and the Watergate hearings were broadcast.


Now, movies are a different story. After hearing so many people lament now that the last golden age of movies was in the 70s (and everything’s apparently going down franchise-hill), you can see some of that in 1973. So many movies by acclaimed directors that probably would never have been made this way today. Sidney Lumet’s Serpico, Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Terrence Malick’s Badlands, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, Federico Fellini’s Amarcord, Franklin J. Schaffner’s Papillon, Fred Zinneman’s The Day of the Jackal, George A. Romero’s The Crazies, George Lucas’ American Graffiti, George Roy Hill’s The Sting, Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail, Marco Ferreri’s La grande bouffe, Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon and Richard Fleischer’s Soylent Green. Look at this list of movies! I haven’t seen all of them, but that’s certainly a lot of influential movies. It feels too bad I only have three movie slots per theme week, because there is a lot of interesting things to watch. I had a hard time picking three movies here, but it worked out fine. And I can always get back to more movies whenever I want. Anyway, this list is also dark, really dark and violent and disturbing, without happy endings, which seems telling.

The most successful movies at the box-office were The Sting, The Exorcist, American Graffiti, Papillon and The Way We Were. Can you imagine a top 5 at the box office like that nowadays? Even if we look at the Top 10, there are only two sequels (Magnum Force and Live and Let Die) and one animated movie (Robin Hood).

My favorite movies of this year are: Papillon, Sisters (by Brian de Palma), The Exorcist, The Long Goodbye (by Robert Altman), Don’t Look Now, Mean Streets, Soylent Green and Sleeper (by Woody Allen).


There’s not much for books for me here either. I couldn’t find a book from that year that I have read, neither J.G. Ballard’s Crash, William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, Graham Greene’s The Honorary Consul, Tim O’Brien’s If I Die in a Combat Zone, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow or Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast for Champions, although I’ve read other books by most of these authors. I might have read Michael Ende’s Momo, but I doubt it. Still, those are many books I would like to read at some point in the future.


This was not a special year for comics. Apart from the fact that Gwen Stacy died that year, not much else happened that seems significant. DC published Plop! and Prez for the first time, Marvel offered Dracula Lives! and War Is Hell, but, you know… I’ve read some of the early Swamp Thing from that year, which was okay, and some Avengers, which was mostly not good.

Overall, except for movies and a troubled world, not much to focus on. But I’m still intrigued by the political and cultural situation of that time and how it must have influenced artists. But it’s a theme week, so I’ll always be excited. See you tomorrow, back in 1973.