Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The 'New Hollywood' or Post-classical cinema

'The New Hollywood' and 'post-classical cinema' are terms used to describe the period following the decline of the studio system in the 50s and 60s and the end of the production code. It is defined by a greater tendency to dramatize such things as sexuality and violence, and by the rising importance of blockbuster movies.

'Post-classical cinema' is a term used to describe the changing methods of storytelling in the New Hollywood. It has been argued that new approaches to drama and characterization played upon audience expectations acquired in the classical/Golden Age period: chronology may be scrambled, storylines may feature "twist endings", and lines between the antagonist and protagonist may be blurred. The roots of post-classical storytelling may be seen in film noir, in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and in Hitchcock's storyline-shattering Psycho.

The 1970s saw the emergence of a new generation of American film makers, like Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Brian de Palma. This coincided with the increasing popularity of the auteur theory in film literature and the media, a development which gave these directors far greater control over their projects than would have been possible in earlier eras. This led to some enormous critical and commercial successes, like Coppola's The Godfather films, Spielberg's Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and George Lucas's Star Wars. It also, however, led to some inevitable failures, including Peter Bogdanovich's At Long Last Love and Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate. The latter almost single-handledly brought down its backer United Artists following its release in 1980.

The disaster of Heaven's Gate is generally seen as marking the end of the "New Hollywood". The phenomenal success in the 1970s of Jaws and Star Wars in particular, lead to the rise of the modern blockbuster, with the Hollywood studios increasingly intent on producing a smaller number of very high budget films with massive marketing and promotional backing. This trend had already been foreshadowed by the commercial success of earlier films such as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno.

The mid-1970s had also seen a big increase in adult cinemas and the legal production of hardcore pornographic films in the U.S. Deep Throat and its star Linda Lovelace became something of a phenomenon and lead to a spate of similar sex films throughout the decade. These would finally die out with the introduction of VCR technology in the 1980s.

The early '70s also alerted English language audiences to the new West German cinema, with Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Wim Wenders among its leading exponents.
The end of the decade saw the first major international interest in Australian cinema. Peter Weir's films Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave and Fred Schepisi's The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith gained critical acclaim, while George Miller's violent futuristic actioner Mad Max was a substantial hit in 1979 and marked the beginning of Australian attempts to target the international market.

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