Blowing out the '70s

It seems as if the '70s became a joke around, oh, January 1, 1980. The things we associate with the decade -- from leisure suits to avocado-green appliances to John Travolta -- went quickly out of vogue when the '80s began; free love turned into harsh ridicule. But in the early 1990s, the '70s were reborn: Presumably, we realized that, as creatures of the '80s, we didn't have a right to make fun of anything. Suddenly, the '70s had traded in its status as an untenable time period -- yes, you did wear that -- for a sort of camp cachet, "hip" delivered with an annoying wink-wink.

Now, many of us could prepare a reasonable argument that the decade's renaissance has lasted too long. Retro silliness has partly moved on to the '80s, but the last days of disco, it appears, have yet to come; the revival of the decade may last longer than the decade itself. Recently, though, we have things of a little more substance to remind us of the Carter administration than disco nights and muscle cars and KEOM-FM (88.5). Fox-TV's That '70s Show and several recent films (including The Last Days of Disco, Boogie Nights, and 54) aim to depict pre-AIDS America in a positive light -- if not glorifying, at least sentimentalizing the '70s. Art and design trends from that decade are experiencing a resurgence. And while most people associate disco with the period, '70s rock has also begun to be rediscovered (like it ever really disappeared).

Beginning Monday, the artsy cable network Bravo will pay its tribute to the era of Farrah Fawcett hair with a weeklong festival they call Tales of the Seventies. Catering to our fascination with the pop culture of the period, it will feature musical profiles on ABBA, David Cassidy, and the Bee Gees. But the '70s film festival will remind us that the decade produced some fine, lasting cinematic pieces that accurately reflect their time without making it laughable. Included will be Mike Nichols' character study Carnal Knowledge, Alan J. Pakula's political thriller The Parallax View, Paul Schrader's directorial debut Blue Collar, and Sidney Lumet's riveting Dog Day Afternoon. Jesus Christ Superstar will also be shown (those who have dismissed the musical should tune in), along with '70s aficionado Spike Lee's Crooklyn.

There's much good viewing to be had in this tribute to the decade we all love to act like we hate, so put on your bell-bottoms and turn on the tube, and you might come away with a new perspective. You didn't think we'd discuss the '70s without mentioning bell-bottoms, did you?