American Independent Cinema

American Independent Cinema: An Introduction

Yannis Tzioumakis
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r1xn9
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  • Book Info
    American Independent Cinema
    Book Description:

    This introduction to American Independent Cinema offers both a comprehensive industrial and economic history of the sector from the early twentieth century to the present and a study of key individual films, filmmakers and film companies. Readers will develop an understanding of the complex dynamic relations between independent and mainstream American cinema.The main argument revolves around the idea that independent American cinema has developed alongside mainstream Hollywood cinema with institutional, industrial and economic changes in the latter shaping and informing the former. Consequently the term ‘independent’ has acquired different meanings at different points in the history of Hollywood cinema, evolving according to the impact of changing conditions in the American film industry. These various meanings are examined in the course of the book.The book is ordered chronologically, beginning with Independent Filmmaking in the Studio Era (examining both top-rank and low-end independent film production), moving to the 1950s and 1960s (discussing both the adoption of independent filmmaking as the main method of production as well as exploitation filmmaking) and finishing with contemporary American Independent cinema (exploring areas such as the New Hollywood, the rise of mini-major and major independent companies and the institutionalisation of independent cinema in the 1990s). Each chapter includes case studies which focus on specific films and/or filmmakers, while independent production and distribution companies are also discussed in the text.Films, filmmakers and film companies examined include:*Cagney Productions and Johnny Come Lately, Blood on the Sun and The Time of Your Life*The Charlie Chan series*Lomitas Productions, Stanley Kramer and The Defiant Ones, On the Beach and Inherit the Wind*Sam Katzman and Rock Around the Clock*Roger Corman and The Wild Angels*

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-2728-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ANALYTICAL TABLE OF CONTENTS
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xi)
  5. List of Case Studies
    (pp. xii-xii)
  6. List of Figures
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  7. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
    (pp. xiv-xviii)
  8. INTRODUCTION: PROBLEMS OF DEFINITION AND THE DISCOURSE OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENT CINEMA
    (pp. 1-16)

    American independent cinema has always been a notoriously difficult concept to define. This is primarily because the label ‘independent’ has been widely used since the early years of American cinema by filmmakers, film critics, industry practitioners, trade publications, academics and cinema fans, to the extent that any attempt towards a definition is almost certainly destined to raise objections.

    For the majority of people with a basic knowledge of American cinema, independent filmmaking consists of low-budget projects made by (mostly) young filmmakers with a strong personal vision away from the influence and pressures of the few major conglomerates that control tightly...

  9. Part I American Independent Cinema in the Studio Years (mid-1920s–late 1940s)
    • 1 INDEPENDENT FILMMAKING IN THE STUDIO ERA: TENDENCIES WITHIN THE STUDIO SYSTEM
      (pp. 19-62)

      During the studio era the American film industry was dominated by eight companies, the Big Five (Paramount, Loew’s [MGM], 20th Century-Fox, Warner Bros and RKO) and the Little Three (Columbia, Universal and United Artists). The Big Five were vertically integrated companies: they produced their films at self-owned studios; they developed a network of offices in the United States and around the world to market their films and deliver them to the theatres; and they owned a relatively small number of theatres in the United States and in key European countries where they exhibited their own (as well as each other’s)...

    • 2 INDEPENDENT FILMMAKING IN THE STUDIO ERA: THE POVERTY ROW STUDIOS (1930–50s)
      (pp. 63-98)

      The above statement by the once president and chief executive officer of Poverty Row outfit Monogram Pictures represents an appropriate introduction to a different form of independent filmmaking during the studio years: low-end independent production, which, in Broidy’s analogy, is represented by the phrase ‘stale bread’. The analogy seems apt. If one accepts that the films of top-rank independent producers and the studio prestige productions represent American cinema’s ‘cake’, and the standard studio film production corresponds to its ‘bread’, then films from studios like Monogram, Republic, Grand National, PRC and a large number of other smaller companies certainly represent American...

  10. Part II The Transitional Years (late 1940s–late 1960s)
    • 3 INDEPENDENCE BY FORCE: THE EFFECTS OF THE PARAMOUNT DECREE ON INDEPENDENT FILM PRODUCTION
      (pp. 101-134)

      The second period of the history of American independent cinema commences with the Paramount Decree of 1948, a consent decree the Big Five and Little Three studios signed when the US Supreme Court found them guilty of applying monopolistic practices that restrained trade and eliminated competition. The decision had a seismic impact on the structure of the American film industry as it forced the studios to divest themselves of their theatre chains and therefore lose control of exhibition, one of the three foundations upon which vertical integration depended. Although the studios found alternative ways to retain control of the film...

    • 4 AN AUDIENCE FOR THE INDEPENDENTS: EXPLOITATION FILMS FOR THE NATION’S YOUTH
      (pp. 135-166)

      While the major studios were trying to cope with the effects of the Paramount Decree, but mostly with the impact of the economic recession, the Poverty Row studios had to deal only with the latter. The US Justice Department had concentrated its efforts strictly on the Big Five and the Little Three, leaving all other companies out of the lawsuit as their position in the industry was marginal and their collusion with the Big Five minimal. The recession, however, hit companies like Allied Artists (former Monogram Pictures), Republic Pictures and other smaller outfits in a more forceful manner than the...

  11. Part III Contemporary American Independent Cinema (late 1960s–present)
    • 5 THE NEW HOLLYWOOD AND THE INDEPENDENT HOLLYWOOD
      (pp. 169-191)

      If the Paramount Decree and the post-World War II recession ushered American independent cinema towards its second major phase, the factors that led to its further evolution in the late 1960s were once again economic, though changes in American society and culture played also a significant part. The end of the 1960s was one of the most volatile periods in the history of the country, characterised by civil unrest in the streets of major American metropoles like New York and Chicago; assassinations of extremely influential political figures such as Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X; the escalation of...

    • 6 AMERICAN INDEPENDENT CINEMA IN THE AGE OF THE CONGLOMERATES
      (pp. 192-221)

      As the phenomenon of the Hollywood Renaissance was underway in the late 1960s, a very different development had been taking place in the American film industry at approximately the same time. After almost fifty years of self-ownership, almost all major ex-studios were in the process of becoming subsidiaries of conglomerates, ‘diversified companies with major interests in several unrelated fields’¹ or in the process of becoming conglomerates themselves, through a programme of aggressive diversification. Starting with Paramount, which was bought out in 1966 by Gulf & Western (a company that held interests in such fields as automobile bumpers, sugar, real estate,...

    • 7 MINI-MAJORS AND MAJOR INDEPENDENTS
      (pp. 222-245)

      As the conglomeration of the film industry was in full swing in the late 1970s, the development of new technologies such as cable and pay-cable television, home video and (during the 1980s) satellite television created new lucrative markets for the exploitation of the feature film. Gradually, the theatrical run became only one – though still extremely important – avenue for the commercial exploitation of a film, before it found its way to the other ancillary markets. With the commodity already produced, the only expenses involved would include new marketing campaigns tailormade to the particular demographics the new exhibition technologies served, and the...

    • 8 THE INSTITUTIONALISATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENT CINEMA
      (pp. 246-280)

      Orion’s fall and eventual bankruptcy demonstrated to the other independents that economic survival depended heavily on ‘cooperation’ and ‘symbiosis’ with the conglomerated majors, the only companies with the power to release a product in every possible exhibition outlet and therefore maximise its profitability. Furthermore, the conglomerates also had the financial muscle to absorb any losses at a time of box office dry spells like the one Orion experienced in the late 1980s/ early 1990s. The symbiosis between majors and independents has primarily taken two forms. First, it has taken the form of corporate takeovers, whereby independent companies were bought out...

  12. EPILOGUE: FROM INDEPENDENT TO ‘SPECIALTY’ CINEMA
    (pp. 281-284)

    Throughout the decades of the twentieth century the discourse of American independent cinema has expanded and contracted to include a wide variety of production and distribution practices, a diverse array of aesthetic strategies and an immense range of films: from the top-rank films distributed mainly by United Artists in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s to the Poverty Row quickies; from the high-budget independent films of the hyphenate filmmakers of the 1950s and 1960s to the cheaply produced youth-oriented genre films of the same period; from the New Hollywood films of the 1970s to the exploitation fare of companies like AIP...

  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 285-292)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 293-302)