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Post-Classical Hollywood

Post-Classical Hollywood: Film Industry, Style and Ideology since 1945

Barry Langford
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Post-Classical Hollywood
    Book Description:

    At the end of World War II, Hollywood basked in unprecedented prosperity. Since then, numerous challenges and crises have changed the American film industry in ways beyond imagination in 1945. Nonetheless, at the start of a new century Hollywood's worldwide dominance is intact - indeed, in today's global economy the products of the American entertainment industry (of which movies are now only one part) are more ubiquitous than ever.How does today's 'Hollywood' - absorbed into transnational media conglomerates like NewsCorp., Sony, and Viacom - differ from the legendary studios of Hollywood's Golden Age? What are the dominant frameworks and conventions, the historical contexts and the governing attitudes through which films are made, marketed and consumed today? How have these changed across the last seven decades? And how have these evolving contexts helped shape the form, the style and the content of Hollywood movies, from Singin' in the Rain to Pirates of the Caribbean?Barry Langford explains and interrogates the concept of 'post-classical' Hollywood cinema - its coherence, its historical justification and how it can help or hinder our understanding of Hollywood from the forties to the present. Integrating film history, discussion of movies' social and political dimensions, and analysis of Hollywood's distinctive methods of storytelling, Post-Classical Hollywood charts key critical debates alongside the histories they interpret, while offering its own account of the 'post-classical'. Wide-ranging yet concise, challenging and insightful, Post-Classical Hollywood offers a new perspective on the most enduringly fascinating artform of our age.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4321-9
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    The Hollywood film industry compels and receives universal attention, and for obvious reasons: for most of the last 100 years, Hollywood has set the terms of global film culture, and while that pre-eminence has frequently been criticised it has – notwithstanding the many other worldwide centres of cinematic excellence, some of them extremely successful – yet to be seriously challenged. Indeed, as I will repeatedly have cause to note in this book, an important dimension of Hollywood’s enduring success has been its facility in adopting and adapting the attributes and the technical and stylistic innovations of its competitors, from pre-World...

  6. Part I: Hollywood in Transition 1945–65

    • Introduction to Part I
      (pp. 3-10)

      Friday, 30 August 1946: the first peacetime summer in five years draws to a close and the long Labor Day holiday weekend beckons. Filmgoers strolling through downtown Columbus, Ohio, on this balmy Friday (temperatures approaching 74°F) faced a wide range of moviegoing choices typical of the nation as a whole. Columbus boasted four major first-run theatres, ornate ‘picture palaces’ constructed in the silent era, each capable of holding some 2,000 spectators, in a city with a population of just over 300,000).¹ As in all the principal urban markets in North America, these showcase cinemas were owned by one or other...

    • CHAPTER 1 The Autumn of the Patriarchs
      (pp. 11-44)

      As everyone knows – scholars, journalists, novelists, poets, pundits and most certainly filmmakers – ‘Hollywood’ is a myth. The subsumption of the American commercial film industry as a whole beneath the name of a Los Angeles suburb has in some measure always been simply a universally convenient shorthand that obscures a great deal of what it denotes. It is a metonym: the use of a part to designate a larger, and certainly in this case a much more complex, whole. In fact, the metonym is doubled, for just as ‘Hollywood’ blurs or brackets the relationship between what Leo Rosten called...

    • CHAPTER 2 The Communication of Ideas
      (pp. 45-71)

      The conventional image of the USA from the end of World War II to President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, is of two febrile periods of heightened Cold War tensions, nuclear paranoia and domestic turbulence bookending a somnolent, self-satisfied and insular phase of conformity, commodity culture and conspicuous consumption. Two eventful Democratic administrations, Harry S. Truman (1945–52) and Kennedy (1960–63) bracketed the two ostensibly placid terms of Republican former Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose own buttoned-down, golfing, bridge-playing persona seemed to epitomise the suburbanised, conservative culture over which he presided. One could plot Hollywood’s...

    • CHAPTER 3 Modernising Hollywood
      (pp. 73-96)

      At the end of World War II, Hollywood moviemaking was typified by a distinctive style that had, over some three decades, proven itself durable, efficient and trustworthy. The specific attributes of what film scholars subsequently came to call – with varying degrees of enthusiasm and consensus – ‘the classical Hollywood style’ were influenced both by the (evolving) structure of the film industry and by social and cultural factors dating back to the silent era. Its stylistic priorities were to communicate narrative information effectively and clearly, and as an aid thereto to maintain the coherence and legibility of onscreen time and...

  7. Part II: Crisis and Renaissance 1966–81

    • Introduction to Part II
      (pp. 99-106)

      By the second half of the 1960s, as measured from movies shown in downtown Columbus, decline was harder and harder to disguise. The old downtown theatre district had started to fall into decay; while on Labor Day, 1965, the modish comedy What’s New Pussycat? and the Cinerama Western The Hallelujah Trail, both United Artists releases, continued long runs at the Ohio and Grand, respectively, the closure of the Broad in March 1961 had reduced the old picture palaces to just three. In early 1969 both the Ohio and the Grand would fall dark – the Ohio would only narrowly escape...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Changing of the Guard
      (pp. 107-131)

      In 1965 the film industry stood on the threshold of yet more far-reaching changes. Some of these bore directly on outdated industry practices and could have been foreseen; others related to seismic cultural shifts that Hollywood was as slow to recognise as the rest of America. In any event, in the mid-1960s Hollywood seemed more becalmed than in crisis. The new post-Paramount order had established itself; the studios were not generally in financial meltdown, although much was staked on each year’s crop of big road-showed blockbusters; the influx of TV talent – most recently Sam Peckinpah, whose second film Ride...

    • CHAPTER 5 New Wave Hollywood
      (pp. 133-156)

      Around thirty minutes into The Graduate, 1967’s top-grossing film, shortly after Benjamin Braddock’s (Dustin Hoffman) first sexual encounter with the predatory Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft), director Mike Nichols introduces an effectively self-contained six-minute sequence intended to communicate Ben’s state of lassitude and alienation. An abstract pattern of light and colour resolves itself into the play of sunlight on the water of Ben’s parents’ swimming pool, and we cross-fade into a wordless montage scored to the melancholy commentary of two Simon and Garfunkel songs, ‘The Sound of Silence’ and ‘Tuesday, Come She Will’. We see Ben and Mrs Robinson together directly...

    • CHAPTER 6 Who Lost the Picture Show?
      (pp. 157-180)

      1968 was a year in which America appeared almost to be coming apart. In January, TV news footage from Vietnam of hand-to-hand combat between US forces and Communist Viet Cong within the US embassy compound in Saigon and streetfighting in cities throughout South Vietnam shocked Americans who had believed the repeated promises of President Lyndon Johnson and his military commander in Indochina, William Westmoreland, that victory was at hand. The Tet Offensive (in strictly military terms a major setback) was a huge propaganda triumph for the North Vietnamese and contributed to a hardening of opinion against the conflict among middle...

  8. Part III: New Hollywood 1982–2006

    • Introduction to Part III
      (pp. 183-189)

      In the late summer of 1985 one of the biggest hits of the previous year, Joe Dante’s horror-comedy Gremlins (WB 1984), was given a limited re-release in markets including Columbus – perhaps to offer moviegoers a more acidic counterpoint to the affectionate spoof of suburban life in that season’s all-conquering hit Back to the Future. In Gremlins, when the affectionate mogwai Gizmo (something like a cross between a koala bear and one of Star Wars’ Ewoks) comes into contact with water, numerous smaller, and decidedly less benign, mogwais – the eponymous Gremlins – are parthogenetically generated from his own squirming...

    • CHAPTER 7 Corporate Hollywood
      (pp. 191-218)

      1982 marked the end of an era for the film industry, in more ways than one. Coca-Cola’s purchase of Columbia Pictures (which had narrowly escaped Kirk Kerkorian’s fatal clutches¹) for $692 million, following oil tycoon Marvin Davis’s $725 million acquisition of Twentieth Century-Fox the previous year, saw the last of the old majors pass into corporate ownership. In the twenty years since MCA’s takeover of Universal in 1962, all of the seven surviving members of the studio-era ‘Big Eight’ had been absorbed into larger conglomerate entities. Only Walt Disney Productions,² with its once unique (but soon to be widely emulated)...

    • CHAPTER 8 Culture Wars
      (pp. 219-243)

      ‘The imaginary relationship of individuals to lived historical reality’ was Marxist political philosopher Louis Althusser’s description of ideology in general. It also seems apposite to the specific case of the politics of Hollywood cinema since the 1980s. Overall this was a period typified by a retreat from the kinds of critical – if often confused and ambivalent – engagement with social and political issues that characterised the Hollywood Renaissance of the late 1960s and 1970s. As a suitable emblem of this transition, consider how Chinatown’s Watergate-era account of Los Angeles history was rewritten as animated comedy in Who Framed Roger...

    • CHAPTER 9 Post-Classical Style?
      (pp. 245-267)

      Here, Scott Bukatman argues that the special effects-driven science fiction films of contemporary Hollywood are the leading edge of a shift away from the traditionally narrative-focused models of classic Hollywood and towards an immersive hyper-textuality in which the film as such is merely one part of a seamless mesh of ‘collective, immersive experiences’ including theme park rides and virtual reality programmes, in all of which narrative codes are ‘swept away in an aural and visual crescendo’.² Science fiction itself surrenders its traditional role as the proponent of rationalist, technological solutions to new and initially terrifying situations (in which regard it...

  9. Conclusion: ‘Hollywood’ Now
    (pp. 269-284)

    This book began by noting that the identification of the American commercial film industry with ‘Hollywood’ has always been a convenient shorthand masking a complex network of institutions, practices and conventions. As we have seen in subsequent chapters, that network has changed radically over the past seven decades. So it might be helpful to conclude this study by asking what ‘Hollywood’ means today.

    There is a temptation to say that, if the confusion of ‘Hollywood’ with the American film industry as a whole has always been simplistic, today it is plain wrong. If only as a provocation, one might come...

  10. Appendix
    (pp. 285-286)
  11. Further Reading
    (pp. 287-294)
  12. Index
    (pp. 295-302)