Here's an example of one of our shorter write-ups in the book. These start with "Now Showing" information and a seventy-character "Preview" (always exactly seventy characters). Then come the essay's title and a 400-word discussion, followed by an "Added Attraction" that supplements the main movie with some extra list or further analysis.

NOW SHOWING: Diary of a Mad Housewife (August 1970)

Director: Frank Perry

Stars: Carrie Snodgress, Richard Benjamin, Frank Langella

Academy Awards: One nomination (Best Actress-Carrie Snodgress)

PREVIEW: Ignored and berated by her husband, a wife has an affair that leads to more problems.


In Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970), Carrie Snodgress gives a mesmerizing, career-defining performance as Tina, an intelligent well-to-do Manhattan woman who goes from mad/"loony" (her term) to mad/livid. Before the opening titles we see her smug, pretentious husband (Richard Benjamin) being so ludicrously cruel to her that the movie starts like a comical satire. He berates her body, "God-awful hair," habits, cooking, and general inability to meet his expectations, all in the first five minutes. Meek and accepting, Tina finally speaks her first words -- "I'm sorry" -- and then dutifully does the chores Jonathan has dictated. For most of the movie he's a narcissistic jerk, ignoring her, insulting restaurant workers, and talking about himself. Tina is so thoroughly defeated, even her two obnoxious daughters challenge her. She calls herself a "coward through and through."

Tina's backbone strengthens during her affair with George, a smoldering writer played by young Frank Langella in his movie debut. Indulging in a loveless "straight sex thing," she finds some temporary solace (the movie's quietest moment comes during their unhurried four-minute sex scene). Unfortunately, George turns out to be just another condescending jackass who insults and complains the way Jonathan does. Viewers waiting for her to react finally get some satisfaction when she flings a dinner plate at home and stands up to (and slaps) George. There's no fantasy escape, however, as there will be four months later for the unappreciated wife in Up the Sandbox (1970); Tina lands in therapy where, once again, there's no real support, just people who criticize her without understanding her. Still relatively early in the era's surging women's-lib movement, the filmmakers could show her frustrating situation, it seems, but couldn't yet resolve it.

Director Frank Perry, an Oscar nominee for David and Lisa (1962), keeps the focus on Tina. She's in virtually every scene, and everything is filtered through her perspective. For the tender confessional scene near the end, he has Tina and Jonathan take turns speaking directly into the camera, a technique that Mike Nichols will use effectively in Carnal Knowledge (1971). Then, with her therapy group (including Peter Boyle!) yelling chaotically, Perry presents a fascinating final close-up of Tina as her eyes drift around the room and settle on us before she smiles enigmatically. Viewers will have different interpretations of this allusive moment, but everyone can agree that Diary of a Mad Housewife is a significant, memorable movie.

ADDED ATTRACTION: Real Music Groups in 1970-1974 Movies

Twelve minutes into Diary of a Mad Housewife, the Alice Cooper band, on the brink of stardom, performs live at a rowdy party. Below are six more early-'70s feature films (not documentaries or concert films, such as 1970's Woodstock) that show real rock bands performing.

American Graffiti (1973): Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids

C.C. & Company (1970): Wayne Cochran and the C.C. Riders

The French Connection (1971): The Three Degrees

Taking Off (1971): Ike and Tina Turner

200 Motels (1971): The Mothers of Invention

Zachariah (1971): Country Joe and the Fish


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