I have a theory about decades. In terms of style and spirit, decades don’t start in the ’00 year but only halfway through. And they last until the middle of the next decade. So what we think of as “the nineties” actually only started in 1995 and lasted until 2005. Similarly the seventies as we know them, only really started in 1975.
Sunset is set in 1972. So, according to my theory, it takes place in the style and spirit decade of the sixties, not the seventies. And we have definitely embraced that in the game.
In 1972, there was no punk, there was no disco. We listened to crooners, soul and psychedelic rock. The Beatles released their last album in 1970. And Diamonds Are Forever was the most recent Bond movie in 1972. Pong was released in 1972. And LCD screens had just made their appearance on the first digital watches. The wide-body Boeing 747 jet airliner with its glamorous upper deck had only been around for a few years. And the VW Beetle was the car that everybody wanted. Cassettes and video tapes had just been invented. But vinyl records were all the rage.
1972 was the year the first Godfather movie was released, and Cabaret, and Deliverance, and Solaris, and Last Tango in Paris, Hitchcock’s Frenzy, Fellini’s Roma and Godard’s Tout va Bien. And of course also Super Fly, with the wonderful soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield (Pusherman! Freddie’s Dead!). Star Wars did not exist. And the first Emmanuelle film would only be released 2 years later.
In architecture and design, the cool sixties still reigned supreme, with a touch of space age and a love of gadgets. Designers were fantasizing about multiple tv sets, remote controls, video intercom systems and even mini-computers that would control the lighting from central control panels hidden behind the seats of your sunken living room with wall to wall shag carpet.
But the eclecticism that the seventies would become known for had already started, premonitioned in 1968 in Vadim’s Barbarella and Kubrick’s Space Odyssey. So next to your plastic phone and your dropped projection screen, you would have a baroque chair and an African statue.
And if you had money you’d combine this with modernist paintings and Art Deco furniture, as Yves Saint Laurent did in the apartments that very much inspired Sunset.
Sex and Race
The revolutionary spirit of the sixties was still alive and well in 1972, despite of the commodification of hippie culture. Angela Davis was finally released from jail in 1972, only to be followed by Assata Shakur the year after. Nixon visited China in 1972. Right before the Watergate scandal. Pinochet took power in Chile in 1973. The Vietnam War was still going on.
This tension between the sneaky authoritarian elite with its conservative morals and a new generation that wanted to see the much touted ideals of liberty and egality realized for all was also very apparent in two phenomena that are incredibly confusing to our present-day “with us or against us” mentality. And therefore endlessly fascinating to us: blaxploitation and objectification.
The summer of love had left 1972 with an ambiguous relationship between the genders. On the one hand, we were all each other’s sex objects. But on the other it was mostly women who were presented as sexy and attractive. This still very much fit within the centuries-old equation of beauty with femininity. But it got a raunchy edge and the behavior of James Bond towards his Bond girls or Derek Flint’s women flatmates is on the verge of intolerable to our contemporary morality. Yet women didn’t seem to mind and played along gladly. Jane Birkin did not appear to be suffering under her relationship with Serge Gainsbourg. And Pam Grier triumphs in every one of her movies, even if she flaunts her impressive bust in the process.
Which brings us to blaxploitation. On the one hand, it’s a sheer delight to see films where black people are not thrown in as tokens to teach kids to “not be racist” but where everyone just is black and flaunts their blackness. But our modern minds can’t help but feel a bit uncomfortable laughing at the silly jokes about stereotypes, knowing that the source of this humor is actual everyday racism that still exists in reality and gets people gunned down in the streets, even today, because of the color of their skin.
But no matter how complex and ambiguous, I think it is worthwhile to make an effort to enjoy, both beautiful women and cool Black Americans. Much better than to pretend that we don’t see the difference, which I fear often leads to in-difference (and the hiding or ignoring of problems rather than addressing them). Vive la difference!
— Michaël Samyn.