The Sensational 70s
starring Richard Nixon, Patty Hearst, the Son of Sam
MPI Home Video
Before the advent of VH-1’s hip nostalgia programming, Americans under the legal voting age were forced to learn about previous decades via boring documentaries screened in their high school history classes. The Sensational 70s is one such documentary. In fact, I’m fairly certain I watched at least part of this 10-hour epic when I was in high school. You don’t realize how vital Michael Ian Black’s snark is until you’re forced to endure a history lesson without him.
There is little information on the box, or in the press release accompanying it, about who originally produced The Sensational 70s. I can tell you it was made in 1980, although the picture and sound quality suggest the creators were using equipment from 1960. The whole affair is painfully pre-MTV; often, minutes of raw footage go by without an edit or narration, and clumsy musical montages pad out the fluffier news items (they really build you up to the hair singing trend, let me tell you). Adding to the aggravation is how certain intriguing stories, such as the mystery of D.B. Cooper, are merely glossed over in favor of the aforementioned fluff. Hearing fashion pundits weigh in on the “death” of the miniskirt is amusing, but why does it get more time than the greatest skyjacking in American history?
If this documentary holds any relevance or interest in today’s world, it’s only because of the brief person-on-the-street interviews seemingly culled from local newscasts and cut into the otherwise-dull proceedings. Joe and Jane Average sound off on every hot ’70s issue; you’ve got college kids trying to imagine combat in Vietnam, old fogies complaining about busing, and third graders waxing philosophical on Watergate (“[This] proves that the President is not holy,” says one tot). As usual, it’s these unrehearsed bits with the non-newsmakers that provide the most entertainment. None are quite as witty as Stuart Scott, but you can’t beat their honesty.
There are no extras on this four-disc set, which is just as well. Ten hours of poorly executed “Me Decade” rehash is enough to kill whatever bored high schooler is left inside of you. Your eyes will be wandering up to the clock on the wall as you tap your pencil, wondering when the damn bell will ring so you can go to lunch and ask Jenny if she asked Kate to find out who her sister Mary is going with to the dance so you can think about maybe asking her already so long as she’s not still with that jerk Steve — that is, if you don’t drift off into sopor first and start drooling on your desk.