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Sunday Reading: A Cultural Review of the Seventies

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It’s been nearly fifty years since the nineteen-seventies began—and yet the touchstones of that decade, from Watergate to the denim jumpsuit, seem more relevant than ever. This week, we’re bringing you a selection of pieces about the art and culture that helped define the era. In “Cookie, Oscar, Grover, Herry, Ernie, and Company,” Renata Adler explores the creation of “Sesame Street” and its impact on children’s programming. (“When a seven-foot, yellow-feathered bird who is subject to depressions attempts to seat himself upon the letter ‘h’ and fails, it is no longer simply an event in children’s television, or even in the media. It is part of the intellectual history of a generation . . .”) In “A Crack in the Greasepaint,” Michael J. Arlen traces the evolution of “Saturday Night Live” and its young cast. Pauline Kael reviews Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s “Carrie” and Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece, “The Godfather.” (“[Marlon Brando’s] Don is a primitive sacred monster,” she writes of the latter film—one of “those old men who carry never-ending grudges and ancient hatreds inside a frail frame.”) Ellen Willis considers Joni Mitchell’s innovative album “Blue,” and Richard H. Rovere reviews “All the President’s Men,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s chronicle of the Watergate scandal. Jervis Anderson explores the meaning of Alex Haley’s best-selling novel “Roots,” from 1976, and Greil Marcus examines the themes of race and identity in Alice Walker’s novel “Meridian.” Finally, in “The Biggest Event This Year,” George W. S. Trow describes the lavish wedding of the soul musician Sly Stone and Kathy Silva, which was held before twenty-one thousand fans, at Madison Square Garden. We hope you enjoy this trip to a past that’s still shaping our present.


“ ‘The Godfather’ offers a wide, startlingly vivid view of a Mafia dynasty. The abundance is from the book; the quality of feeling is Francis Ford Coppola’s.”


“At five hundred and eighty-seven pages—the product of twelve years’ work—Alex Haley’s ‘Roots’ is a prodigious labor of love and personal necessity.”

Still Travelling

“Joni Mitchell’s fourth album, ‘Blue,’ converted me from a well-wisher to a fan. I had always liked her, but we had never really connected.”

Cookie, Oscar, Grover, Herry, Ernie, and Company

“No one but a few educators and one English TV program director has taken very strong exception to ‘Sesame Street’ yet.”

 . . . And Nothing But the Truth

“ ‘All the President’s Men’ is a carefully drawn account of developments in an unprecedented series of events in American history.”

The Curse

“ ‘Carrie’ looks like a piece of candy: when director Brian De Palma is most distinctive, his work calls up so many junky memories it’s pure candied exploitation—a funny archetypal nightmare.”

A Crack in the Greasepaint

“ ‘Saturday Night Live’ ’s format consists of a familiar assembly of skits, songs, and monologues, but the spirit of the material is in opposition to conventional show business—especially to the rituals of mass-entertainment television.”


“Alice Walker‘s second novel, ‘Meridian,’ appears twenty-five years after Albert Camus‘s ‘The Rebel,’ a book that grew from Camus‘s conviction that in the modern world every political act leads directly to murder.”

The Biggest Event This Year

“By Thursday, May 23rd, it had been decided that Sly Stone would indeed marry Kathy Silva in Madison Square Garden before his concert, to be held on June 5th.”

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