Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The 1990s: technical advances

The early 1990s saw the rise of a commercially successful independent cinema in the United States. Although the box office was increasingly dominated by effects-heavy films such as Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) or Titanic (1997), films like Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies and videotape (1989) and Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs (1992) enjoyed significant commercial success both at the cinema and on home video.

The major studios would begin to create their own "independent" production companies to finance and produce such films. One of the most successful independents of the 1990s, Miramax Films, was bought by Disney the year before the release of Tarantino's runaway hit Pulp Fiction in 1994. The same year marked the beginning of film and video distribution online. Animated films aimed at family audiences also regained their popularity, with Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. 1995 saw the first feature length computer-animated feature with Pixar's Toy Story.

In the 1990s, cinema began the process of making another transition, from physical film stock to digital cinema technology. Meanwhile, in the home video realm, the DVD would become the new standard for watching movies after their standard theatrical releases.

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The '80s: sequels, blockbusters and videotape

The shift that occurred in the 1980s from seeing movies in a theater to watching videos on a VCR, is a move close to the original concepts of Thomas Edison. In the early part of that decade, the movie studios tried legal action to ban home ownership of VCRs as a violation of copyright, which proved unsuccessful. That proved fortunate, however, as the sale and rental of their movies on home video became a significant source of revenue for the movie companies.

The Lucas-Spielberg combine would dominate Hollywood cinema for much of the 1980s, and lead to much imitation. Two follow-ups to Star Wars, three to Jaws, and three Indiana Jones films helped to make sequels to successful films more of an expectation than ever before. Lucas also launched THX Ltd, a division of Lucasfilm in 1982 [2], while Spielberg enjoyed one of the decade's biggest successes in E.T. the same year. American independent cinema struggled more during the decade, although Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980), After Hours (1985), and The King of Comedy (1983) helped to establish him as one of the most critically acclaimed American film makers of the era.

British cinema was given a boost during the early 1980s by the arrival of David Puttnam's company Goldcrest Films. The films Chariots of Fire, Gandhi, The Killing Fields and A Room with a View appealed to a middlebrow audience which was increasingly being ignored by the major Hollywood studios.

While the 1970s had helped to define the modern blockbuster motion picture, the way Hollywood released its films would now change. Films, for the most part, would premiere in a wider number of theatres, although, to this day, some movies still premiere using the route of the limited/roadshow release system. Against some expectations, the rise of the multiplex cinema did not allow less mainstream films to be shown, but simply allowed the major blockbusters to be given an even greater number of screenings. However, films that had been overlooked in cinemas were increasingly being given a second chance on home video and later DVD.

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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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The 1960s


The 1960s saw the increasing decline of the studio system in Hollywood. Many films were now being made on location in other countries, or using studio facilities abroad, such as Pinewood in England and Cinecittà in Rome. Hollywood movies were still largely aimed at big family audiences, and it was often the more old-fashioned films that produced the studios' biggest successes. Productions like Mary Poppins (1964), My Fair Lady (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965) were among the biggest money-makers of the decade, but American films were losing the creative impetus to British and European film makers. The growth in independent producers and production companies, and the increase in the power of individual actors also contributed to the decline in traditional Hollywood studio production.


There was also an increasing awareness of foreign language cinema in this period. The late 1950s and 1960s saw the emergence of the French New Wave with films like Les quatre cents coups and Jules et Jim from directors such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Italian films like Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, and the stark dramas of Sweden's Ingmar Bergman were also making an impact outside their home countries.


In Britain, the "Free Cinema" of Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson and others lead to a group of realistic and ground-breaking dramas including Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, A Kind of Loving and This Sporting Life. Other British films such as Repulsion, Darling, Alfie, Blowup and Georgy Girl (all in 1965-1966) helped to break taboos around sex and nudity on screen, while the casual sex and violence of the James Bond films, beginning with Dr. No in 1962 would turn the series into a worldwide phenomenon.


Africans had been denied the right to make movies for decades. In the sixties, however Ousmane Sembène produced several French- and Wolof-language films became the 'father' of African Cinema.


In Latin America the dominance of the Hollywood model was challenged by many film makers. Fernando Solanas and Octavio Gettino called for a politically engaged Third Cinema in contrast to Hollywood and the European auteur cinema.


In documentary film the sixties saw the blossoming of Direct Cinema, an observational style of film making as well as the advent of more overtly partisan films like The year of the pig about the Vietnam War by Emile de Antonio.


By the late 1960s however, Hollywood was beginning to claw back some of the creative impetus with films like Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Graduate (1967), Midnight Cowboy (1969), and The Wild Bunch (1969). Bonnie and Clyde is often seen as the beginning of the New Hollywood.

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