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Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan... and Beyond

Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan... and Beyond: A Revised and Expanded Edition of the Classic Text

Robin Wood
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 480
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  • Book Info
    Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan... and Beyond
    Book Description:

    This classic of film criticism, long considered invaluable for its eloquent study of a problematic period in film history, is now substantially updated and revised by the author to include chapters beyond the Reagan era and into the twenty-first century. For the new edition, Robin Wood has written a substantial new preface that explores the interesting double context within which the book can be read-that in which it was written and that in which we find ourselves today. Among the other additions to this new edition are a celebration of modern "screwball" comedies like My Best Friend's Wedding, and an analysis of '90s American and Canadian teen movies in the vein of American Pie, Can't Hardly Wait, and Rollercoaster. Also included are a chapter on Hollywood today that looks at David Fincher and Jim Jarmusch (among others) and an illuminating essay on Day of the Dead.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50757-8
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Prologue (2003) Our Culture, Our Cinema FOR A REPOLITICIZED CRITICISM
    (pp. xiii-xlviii)

    I am a critic. As such, I see my work as in many respects set apart from that of theorists and scholars (though it is of course frequently dependent upon them). The theorist and the scholar are unburdened of any necessity to engage intimately and on a personal basis with any specific work; they can hide behind their screens of theory and scholarship, they are not compelled to expose the personal nature of their work because they deal in facts, abstract ideas, and data. Any critic who is honest, however, is committed to self-exposure, a kind of public striptease: s/he...

  5. 1. Cards on the Table
    (pp. 1-8)

    This book is not a survey: it does not pretend to cover every trend, every genre, every cycle—let alone every film—in the period (roughly 1970–1984) with which it is concerned. It is not, in the usual sense, a history, though the ordering of the chapters is generally chronological, with occasional flashbacks: the reader will find little of the factual information of which our histories are typically composed. It is not exactly a thesis (though it contains one): the argument is not clearly linear, starting from “This is what I shall prove” and progressing to “This is what...

  6. 2. The Chase: FLASHBACK, 1965
    (pp. 9-22)

    This essay constitutes a flashback in two senses. The minor sense: I wrote a chapter on The Chase in a little book on Arthur Penn published about fifteen years ago, in the days of my critical innocence (or culpable ignorance, as you will)—innocence, above all, of concepts of ideology, and of any clearly defined political position. The major sense: the film was released some years before the period with which this book is concerned. My evaluation of The Chase has not changed, but my sense of the kind of importance to be attributed to it has changed somewhat: I...

  7. 3. Smart-Ass and Cutie-Pie: NOTES TOWARD THE EVALUATION OF ALTMAN (1975)
    (pp. 23-40)

    Obviously, Altman is “in.” Highly favorable articles on his work proliferate on both sides of the Atlantic, from Pauline Kael’s premature ecstasies over Nashville in the New Yorker to Jonathan Rosenbaum’s more modest assessment in Sight and Sound that Altman, while “he really cannot be considered in the same league at all” as Rivette or the Tati of Playtime has “opened up the American illusionist cinema to a few of the possibilities inherent in this sort of game:” the game being, apparently, “the notion that artist and audience conspire to create the work in its living form.” It is a...

  8. 4. The Incoherent Text: NARRATIVE IN THE 70s
    (pp. 41-62)

    All traditional art (and for that matter most avant-garde art) has as its goal the ordering of experience, the striving for coherence; yet all art reveals, if one pursues the matter relentlessly enough, areas or levels of incoherence. Let us consider the coherence first. The drive to understand and, by understanding, to dominate experience must always represent one of the deepest human needs. (This does not necessarily involve dominating other people but rather managing to control one’s experience of them—though one of the recurrent drives in Western art has been domination through objectification and the denial of otherness, a...

  9. 5. The American Nightmare: HORROR IN THE 70s
    (pp. 63-84)

    To describe the 70s as the Golden Age of the American horror film will seem to many dubious: it was the period in which the evolution of the genre produced films more gruesome, more violent, more disgusting, and perhaps more confused, than ever before in its history. They tended also to be more disturbed and more disturbing, and this disturbance (shared by filmmaker and audience) is, from the point of view of this study, crucial. If many are “incoherent texts,” and if, overall, the genre itself moves characteristically toward an unresolvable and usually unrecognized dilemma, both the incoherence and the...

  10. 6. Normality and Monsters: THE FILMS OF LARRY COHEN AND GEORGE ROMERO
    (pp. 85-119)

    Only the major artist—or the incorrigibly obsessive one, which sometimes amounts to the same thing—is capable of standing against the flow of his period (with the concomitant dangers of isolation, of becoming fixed in an embattled position): a truism greatly compounded by the commercial nature of cinema and the problems of financing and distribution. The minor talent thrives only when the climate is congenial, when the tradition within which it operates is nourished into vigorous growth from sources within the culture. Such, precisely, is the case with the 70s horror film: within the period, within the genre, a...

    (pp. 120-143)

    Brian De Palma’s interesting, problematic, frequently frustrating movies are quite obsessive about castration, either literal (Sisters, Dressed to Kill) or metaphorical (all the rest).¹ This “Obsession”—the significant title of one of his films—seems a legitimate way into a discussion of his work, its relation to the films of Hitchcock, and its place within 70s Hollywood cinema. In the interests of clarity, I shall preface this discussion with an examination of Freudian castration theory and the use that has been made of it in recent film criticism.

    Freud’s own accounts of castration anxiety attribute it to two major sources:...

  12. 8. Papering the Cracks: FANTASY AND IDEOLOGY IN THE REAGAN ERA
    (pp. 144-167)

    The crisis in ideological confidence of the 70s visible on all levels of American culture and variously enacted in Hollywood’s “incoherent texts,” has not been resolved: within the system of patriarchal capitalism no resolution of the fundamental conflicts is possible. Instead, it has been forgotten, though its specter, masquerading as idealized nostalgia for lost radicalism, still intermittently haunts the cinema (The Big Fix, The Big Chill, Return of the Secaucus Seven). Remembering can be pleasant when it is accompanied by the sense that there is really nothing you can do any more (“Times have changed”). Vietnam ends, Watergate comes to...

  13. 9. Horror in the 80s
    (pp. 168-179)

    The transition from the incoherent texts of the 70s to the all-toocoherent ones of Lucas and Spielberg is paralleled by the progress—more accurately, regression—of the horror film. Of the filmmakers whose work I examined in chapters 5 and 6, only Larry Cohen could be said to have remained obstinately true to himself, and that at the cost of virtual obliteration: at time of writing he has no fewer than four completed films unreleased. Q scarcely marks an advance on his earlier work, or adds significantly to its thematic complex, but it is characteristically odd, subversive, inventive, and marvelously...

  14. 10. Images and Women
    (pp. 180-197)

    In order to be admitted to the Hollywood cinema at all, feminism had to undergo various drastic changes, the fundamental one, from which all the rest follow, being the repression of politics. In Hollywood films—even the most determinedly progressive—there is no “women’s movement”; there are only individual women who feel personally constrained.

    Hollywood’s intermittent concern with social problems has, in fact, almost never produced radically subversive movies (and if so, then incidentally and inadvertently). A social problem, explicitly stated, must always be one that can be resolved within the existing system, i.e., patriarchal capitalism; the real problems, which...

  15. 11. From Buddies to Lovers
    (pp. 198-218)

    Our civilization’s great next step forward—if it is permitted one—will be the recognition and acceptance of constitutional bisexuality: an advance comparable to, and in certain respects more important than, the general acceptance of birth control. It had better be said at once that the reader who cannot entertain this proposition, at least as a working hypothesis, is going to have great difficulty with much of the remainder of this book.

    Skeptics, however, might consider the logic of evolution, both in the biological/Darwinian sense and in the sense of social evolution. Homosexual choice begins with the primates. Rats, for...

  16. 12. Two Films by Martin Scorsese
    (pp. 219-240)

    Although this discussion will eventually center upon Scorsese’s Raging Bull, its concerns are far wider than a reading of a single film. I want to develop certain ideas or trains of thought, which remain as yet somewhat tentative and fragmentary, arising out of recent critical explorations into the operations of classical narrative. I will focus especially on the notion that classical narrative is centrally concerned with the organization of sexual difference within the patriarchal order, a project whose ultimate objective must be the subordination of female desire to male desire and the construction/reinforcement of a patriarchally determined normality embodied by...

  17. 13. Two Films by Michael Cimino
    (pp. 241-286)

    The Deer Hunter raises fundamental questions about the relationship between politics and aesthetics. It has been lavishly praised as realistic and roundly condemned as reactionary; neither response seems to me either justified or helpful, at least without modifications so sweeping as to transform either verdict into something quite different. The use of the term “realistic” is—here as elsewhere—merely obfuscatory: if not exactly without meaning, its meaning is so vague and diffuse, so prone to slipping from one sense into another (so that all precise meanings are collapsed into an amorphous mass from which you can extract whatever sense...

  18. 14. Day of the Dead: THE WOMAN’S NIGHTMARE
    (pp. 287-294)

    I dealt in chapter 6 with the first two films of George Romero’s “living dead” trilogy; the third, Day of the Dead (1985), had not then been made. The following account should be read in conjunction with the earlier chapter.

    It is perhaps the lingering intellectual distrust of the horror genre that has prevented George Romero’s “living dead” trilogy from receiving full recognition for what it undoubtedly is: one of the most remarkable and audacious achievements of modern American cinema, and the most uncompromising critique of contemporary America (and, by extension, Western capitalist society in general) that is possible within...

  19. 15. On and Around My Best Friend’s Wedding
    (pp. 295-308)

    I want to discuss My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) in relation to three associated topics: its relation to classic screwball comedy and the other recent attempts to rethink that genre in contemporary terms; its auteurist relationship with Muriel’s Wedding (1994); and the current widespread use of gay characters in contemporary comedies. As this chapter will accordingly be more “around” than “on,” I had better begin by saying plainly that I love the film: if not “profound” or in any of the more obvious ways “groundbreaking,” it seems to me a flawless and progressive example of its genre, giving continuous delight...

  20. 16. Teens, Parties, and Rollercoasters: A GENRE OF THE 90s
    (pp. 309-332)

    The first question is, I suppose, Why? Why bother, when everyone knows these films are trash? (“Everyone” being the journalist critics, always eager to express their superiority and make themselves look like intellectuals.) First, I must confess, personal enjoyment: yes, I actually enjoy these films, or at least some of them (and that “some of them” immediately suggests that there are discriminations to be made, despite the films’ apparent indistinguishability, even their titles being confusing). At least the films are about characters (or, anyway, “types”) who are more or less recognizable as related to human beings, and are not made...

    (pp. 333-350)

    The immediate—and obvious—question: Was it ever? I suggested in the new prologue to this edition that certain films made during the classical period can be read as, at least potentially, “radical” or “subversive,” but were they at the time? The answer is, almost certainly not—neither by audiences nor by reviewers, and in most cases probably not even by their directors. The explanation lies above all in genre and its conventions. I take as exemplary three films that I regard as masterpieces (I in fact included them in my latest list for the international critics’ poll Sight and...

    (pp. 351-352)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 353-368)