SME5011 North American Cinema
Many of the Hollywood studios were being merged into new conglomerates, something which continues to this day. For the first time, filmmaking was not necessarily the most important source of revenue for the parent company.
The New Hollywood prospered at a time when youth culture and the counterculture were prominent partly due to the baby boom. Consequently, rock’n’roll, sex and drugs are themes for some of these films; other films mediate the context of Vietnam and the civil rights era. New levels of violence were present in films like Bonnie and Clyde and The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969). Critics like Robin Wood (see further reading) have argued that New Hollywood narratives were more critical of the dominant ideology than previous Hollywood films in recent times, sometimes through their very ‘incoherence’ (as Wood argues).
New Hollywood is often seen as coming to an end with Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) and Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977). The blockbuster era popularised action/adventure and ‘high concept’ movies aimed at a more mainstream, perhaps younger market. Thomas Schatz (module reader) argues that there is considerable overlap between the New Hollywood and blockbuster eras.
Week 5: New Hollywood
The New Hollywood or Hollywood Renaissance is generally dated from 1967 or so, when Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) and The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967) did well at the box office (eventually) and received various Oscar nominations. Mark Harris’s Scenes from a Revolution details this year and its implications for US cinema.
Hollywood had been reliant on historical and biblical epic cinema and big-budget ‘roadshow’ musicals. The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965) was one of the biggest hits of the decade, well after the heyday of the classic MGM musicals such as Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen, 1952). However, Hollywood failed to replicate this success with a succession of costly flops.
Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate were noticeably more ‘mature’ narratives, stylistically and thematically more challenging than earlier films in the decade. One reason for this would be the breakdown of the Production Code in the sixties. The code, in place since 1934, laid restrictions on sex, violence, criminality, language and other elements and these were gradually challenged as the sixties progressed, until a system of film classification was introduced, a variant of which persists today.
New Hollywood introduced a generation of new directors, actors, producers etc to the public eye, many of whom remain famous, such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. Many of these directors and producers had risen through film school, perhaps working on exploitation movies for Roger Corman, before themselves working in productions outside the studio system but financed and distributed by the major (and minor) studios. Many of them were inspired by international cinema coming from Europe, including the New Waves coming from France and (to a lesser extent) the UK.
SME5011 North American Cinema
Reading (Module Reader)
• Schatz, T. (1993) ‘The New Hollywood’ in Collins, J., Radner, H. & Preacher Collins, A. (eds) Film Theory Goes to the Movies, London & New York: Routledge
Further Reading
• Biskind, P. 1999, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex ’n’ Drugs ’n’ Rock ’n’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood, London: Bloomsbury
• Bordwell, D. & Staiger, J. 1998, The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960, London: Routledge – see chapter 30, ‘Since 1960: the persistence of a mode of film practice’
• Cook, P. & Berninck, M. 1999, The Cinema Book, London: BFI
• Dixon, W.W. & Foster, G.A. 2008, A Short History of Film, London: I.B. Tauris, – see chapters 9 and 10
• Harris, M. 2008, Scenes from a Revolution: the Birth of the New Hollywood, Edinburgh: Canongate
• King, G. 2002, New Hollywood Cinema, London; New York: I.B. Tauris
• Kramer,, P. 1998, ‘Post-classical Hollywood’ in: Hill, J. & Church Gibson, P. The Oxford Guide to Film Studies, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press
• Kramer, P. 2005, The New Hollywood: From Bonnie and Clyde to Star Wars, London & New York: Wallflower
• Langford, B. (2010) Post-Classical Hollywood: Film Industry, Style and Ideology Since 1945, Edinburgh University Press
• Neale, S. 2000, Genre and Hollywood, London & New York: Routledge, pp.242–55 ‘The post-studio era’
• Wood, R. (2002) Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan – and Beyond, New York: Columbia University Press, chapter 4, ‘The Incoherent Text: Narrative in the 70s’
Seminar Discussion Topics
• How was the Hollywood studio system breaking down in the 1960s?
• Identify some of the stylistic and thematic aspects of the New Hollywood.
• How did this cinema challenge previous modes of production and the mainstream ideology of the movies?
• How does Bonnie and Clyde work at the level of a) genre, b) narrative and c) representation of the characters? Try to compare and contrast it with previous films on the module.