In his brilliant new essay collection, “Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s” (Bloomsbury, 208 pp.), the film critic Charles Taylor draws on 15 undersung B-movie gems to assemble a vivid and expansive cultural history of that tumultuous decade. Among the titles lovingly examined here are Michael Ritchie’s slaughterhouse mob thriller “Prime Cut” (1972), the Pam Grier blaxploitation vehicles “Coffy” (1973) and “Foxy Brown” (1974), Irvin Kershner’s serial-killer chiller “Eyes of Laura Mars” (1978) and those 1971 open-road cult faves “Two-Lane Blacktop” and “Vanishing Point.”
Taylor never loses sight of (much less condescends to) these movies’ gritty, visceral pleasures, but he also calls attention to their largeness of spirit, the glimmers of tenderness and melancholy they managed to conceal within their seemingly routine genre frameworks. Ten of the 15 titles will screen at the Billy Wilder Theater in August, giving audiences a chance to test Taylor’s superbly argued thesis for themselves.