Platform shoes, leisure suits, fondue, 'fro picks. What used to be cool is now the stuff of comedy. When it comes to period comedies, the...
NEW YORK — Platform shoes, leisure suits, fondue, ‘fro picks. What used to be cool is now the stuff of comedy.
When it comes to period comedies, the ’70s are the equivalent of Victorian-era costume drama. While serious-minded filmmakers are forever reaching back to the time of royalty clad in waistcoats and dressing gowns, comedians are more likely to cull from the less halcyon days of disco and sideburns.
Will Ferrell is again mining the decade with “Semi-Pro,” a movie about a fictional ABA basketball team, otherwise realistically set in the ’70s. Ferrell earlier traveled back to the “Me Decade” for 2004’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.”
Ferrell is far from alone. In 2004’s “Starsky & Hutch,” Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson returned to when a Ford Gran Torino could be an object of pride. Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” (2000) captured the ’70s through music.
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On the tube, the eight seasons of “That ’70s Show” proved far more successful than its spinoff, “That ’80s Show,” which lasted for just a season. Though it takes place in 1980 and 1981, the cult-classic series “Freaks and Geeks” was largely imbued with ’70s culture, like laser light shows and proms with Styx blaring.
Even without the period clichés, the particular vibe of the ’70s is especially suited to comedy. If the decades are characterized stereotypically, the ’50s were uptight and fearful, the ’60s were turbulent and optimistic, and the ’80s were crass and commercial. The mood of the ’70s is often viewed as a period of cynicism and languor: both innate qualities of comedy.
“Anchorman” director Adam McKay, 39, recalls the ’70s as a “very bipolar decade” of grim reality and rich fantasy. Vietnam ended in failure, recession and gas shortages spread across the country — all while disco ruled the airwaves and drug-fueled parties raged.
“The reality of the change of the ’60s was coming into place, and a lot of the time, it was pretty funny,” said McKay. “The ’60s were what legitimately brought in a lot of social change, but the ’70s is when some of it seeped into the actual day-to-day living patterns of most Americans.”
That films set in the ’70s continue to proliferate isn’t just a coincidence; that’s when many of the comedians now currently dominating the scene came of age. It’s only natural they would return to what all comedians perpetually contemplate: adolescence.
“There was a melancholy feel to the ’70s,” said the 40-year-old Ferrell. “I was so into the bicentennial. No joke. I bought a Liberty Bell necklace that was pewter. It was like a prized possession.”