In the mid 1970s, I worked as an exchange teacher in a Los Angeles high school. It was an exciting and formative year for me and my family. 1976 was the bicentenary of American independence, and signs and flags everywhere announced “Spirit of ’76”. There was a palpable feeling of optimism. The Vietnam war was over, the Viking mission to Mars was a success, and the social and technological future looked bright. Driving the open freeways (justifiably celebrated by the British architect Reyner Banham) to the beautiful beaches of southern California, we felt endowed with an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
But we knew we were fortunate. The difference between the standard of living in our Orange County suburb and that of neighbouring communities was obvious. School districts were still segregated, and minority rights remained a political issue.
Coming from the UK, we were also struck by the alien religiosity of American life: the city where we lived had far more churches than bars.
The land of the free seemed remarkably unequal, and the separation of church and state required by the Constitution seemed to have amplified rather than reduced the power of religion.
I had brought with me to California my vintage (made in 1939) clockwork powered Bolex 16mm movie camera, so I began to record my impressions. As a visiting educator, I was encouraged to visit schools in other communities, and I took my camera with me. In those pre-video days, movie cameras did not usually record sound, so I recorded on tape a good deal of music and talk radio. When I returned to the UK, I put my visual and audio impressions together so as to try to convey my mixed feelings. The result, The spirit of 77 in Los Angeles, has an upbeat drive culminating in an orgasmic Disneyland firework display, but the scenes of urban poverty and deprivation have a counterpoint of commercial and religious radio.
I entered the movie for a film festival in 1978, where it was judged to require an “English voice” to explain the content – an aesthetic choice I had specifically rejected. I showed it to family and friends as often as I dared try their patience, but for many years the film remained in a can – until the advent of YouTube. I uploaded a digitised version in 2012.
To view Spirit of ’77 in Los Angeles, click here
In the last eight years, the film has been viewed 160,000 times. Currently it is receiving about 800 views a day. The 900 published comments suggest the reasons for this popularity. One recent post has caught what I was trying to express:
What a powerful look back at a time when people actually had hope for a brighter future. The overexposed shots really add to that 70’s vibe. The juxtaposition between rich/poor and the middle class…brilliantly done! The pop culture references really were great! I really felt like I was experiencing life in ‘77. Reality is that much uglier now.
Many responders compare life as depicted to the present:
Everyone is skinny or fit in this video. Processed food wasn’t as rampant as is today. Obesity wasn’t even a thing
No computers, no mobile phones — a lot of time to spend with family and friends and trying to find interesting things to do during the summer breaks. The 70’s and 80’s sure was different and i loved them decades for it.
Many blame technology for reducing social and family interaction:
How great our life was in the 70´s! we didn’t have all this technology and that gave us great opportunities to meet other people face to face, not like today. I simply loved this clip!
ahh… the good times, when people were outside and kids playing because there was no social media. everyone is stuck on electronic gadgets. shame
Nostalgia for a better past is frequent:
Beautiful. Wish I could step into the screen 🙂
A wonderful time capsule of an America long gone.
don’t know why I am such a nostalgic person but I feel an extreme nostalgic and dreamy feeling towards this I guess I will just imagine and enjoy my time
However, many comments stress the negatives as well as the positives of the 1970s:
Society as a whole was not simpler in the 70’s. The Vietnam conflict defined the culture, and in the early 70’s we had airline hijackings every other week. Alcohol and tobacco advertisements were unfettered and everywhere. But if you were a kid growing up in the middle class, it was a good time.
All seems idyllic until you see the poverty-stricken areas of South Central L.A. Meanwhile, the denizens of Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Malibu & other tony spots of SoCal were blissfully unaware of such poor areas in existence.
The 70’s were great, one minor glitch, segregation, school busing, racism, cop beatings, and just plain hatred. And the pollution!
Some responders attempt to find political and economic reasons for the difference between life today and in 1977:
It was a time when we loved ourselves and every one around us, and people genuinely believed that the government’s main purpose was to govern ‘for the people.’ We watched as American citizens from all walks of life would openly, candidly, express their opinions, and make a difference that you could see in action.
Back then, people were happier and healthier…corporate greed has ruined this country.
I wasn’t even alive in 77 but I would love to go back to LA between 1950-1970s… any of those times would have been the best time to live in LA, cause I would have bought a house and held on to it.
More alarming are the frequent comments that draw on the narratives associated with Make America Great Again. The many racist remarks are astonishingly ignorant of history, and I frequently have to delete offensive comments that have evaded the YouTube censor.
Before California became a part of Mexico 😃
back when whites ruled and wasn’t invaded to death
They didn’t start out ‘poverty stricken’. They moved poor blacks from Alabama & Mississippi to the area and made it that way.
But one recent commentator had a better grasp of history:
4:27 – “A resolution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict.” Now 40+ years later, it’s worse than ever. TWO MILLION Palestinians locked up in the open air prison called Gaza.
Many blame liberal ideas for the decline:
The days before 9/11. The days before the satanic deep state takeover. The days before identity politics. The days before SJWs [social justice warriors].
The Left have destroyed yet another once beautiful place.
This is right before Southern California (including the suburbs) became a holding tank for illegals, gangs, drugs and liberal indoctrination.
Some posters merely recite anti-democratic slogans:
Cultural diversity ruined LA
Let’s Make America Great Again
Liberal progressive infestation
These respondents don’t understand that the agony of contemporary American life is not down to immigration or democratic ideas, which have both been fundamental to the US from the beginning. Economic and political policy over the last 30 years in both the US and the UK – since Reagan and Thatcher – has enriched the corporate, financial and media oligarchies at the expense of the people. To these centres of power, Trump is a useful tool to incite populism and direct the fury of the masses against minorities, “libtards” and “snowflakes”.
I’ll leave the last word to a recent commentator.
I see a video of white ppl enjoying LA’s fruit while living comfortably keeping minorities away from the same American dream. Even with all that said it look like great times no matter the economic and social climate.