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The Cinema of Urban Crisis

The Cinema of Urban Crisis: Seventies Film and the Reinvention of the City

Lawrence Webb
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 424
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  • Book Info
    The Cinema of Urban Crisis
    Book Description:

    The Cinema of Urban Crisisexplores the relationships between cinema and urban crises in the United States and Europe in the 1970s. Discussing films by Robert Altman, Stanley Kubrick, and Jean-Luc Godard, among others, Lawrence Webb reflects on processes of globalization and urban change that were beginning to transform cities like New York, London, and Berlin. Throughout, the 1970s are conceptualized as a historically distinctive period of crisis in capitalism, which reorganized urban landscapes and produced cultural innovation, technological change, and new configurations of power and resistance. Addressing themes of interest for film, cultural, and urban studies, this book is a compelling take on cinema from both sides of the Atlantic.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-2299-6
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction Cinema and Urbanism after 1968
    (pp. 9-28)

    Released in the late summer of 1969, Haskell Wexler’sMedium Coolfirst hit American cinema screens as the turbulent decade of the sixties was drawing to a close. Shot a year earlier in August 1968, the film famously captured documentary footage of violent clashes between police and demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago and wove it into a fictional narrative about a television news cameraman. When the film premiered at the Loews Tower East cinema on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on 27 August 1969, its images of violent unrest on the streets of Chicago resonated strongly...

  2. 1. Mapping New Hollywood Spatial Perspectives
    (pp. 29-44)

    At the end of the 1960s, Hollywood and the American inner city faced historic crises that seemed to threaten their very existence. While the Hollywood studios suffered combined losses of $600 million between 1969 and 1971, the formerly prosperous centres of American cities were mired in an urban social crisis that was fast transforming into a widespread economic crisis.¹ In January 1971, Abel Green, the long-standing editor ofVariety, reviewed the first year of the decade and its media representation in his unique style. As he put it, “All media in 1970 reflected in day-by-day downbeat the madness, modness, moodiness...

  3. 2. Atlantic City, Philadelphia and Detroit Narratives of Decline and Urban Renaissance
    (pp. 45-74)

    In this chapter, I examine four key films that were shot and set in Rust Belt cities during the 1970s:The King of Marvin Gardens(Bob Rafelson, 1972),Atlantic City(Louis Malle, 1979),Rocky(John G. Avildsen, 1976) andBlue Collar(Paul Schrader, 1978). Across these films, I examine New Hollywood’s engagement with the urban crisis and trace the ways in which the transformation of American cinema’s spatial and affective landscape – from evocations of stasis, failure, and immobility in the early 1970s, to mobility, flexibility and euphoria in the later part of the decade – can be linked to the wider...

  4. 3. New York City Cinema and Crisis in the Entrepreneurial City
    (pp. 75-126)

    While New York City narrowly avoided the worst of the urban violence of the late sixties, the seventies were nevertheless traumatic years for the city, during which a burgeoning urban social crisis at the turn of the decade turned rapidly into a deep fiscal crisis that came to a climax in 1975 with the municipal government’s famous near-bankruptcy. As the “capital of the American century”, New York had, of course, come to symbolise a particular manifestation of urban modernity in the cultural imaginary.¹ Through iconic architectural landmarks from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Chrysler Building, the Rockefeller Center to the...

  5. 4. San Francisco Projections of Post-Fordism, Allegories of Independence
    (pp. 127-154)

    Like New York City, San Francisco also gained a new importance for post-studio Hollywood in the 1970s. In this chapter, I argue that San Francisco’s distinctive contribution to New Hollywood went deeper than iconic cityscapes or countercultural surface. As a rapidly redeveloping city at the cutting edge of high-tech, post-Fordist production, San Francisco offered the spaces and capital arrangements necessary to allow Hollywood sufficient breathing space to reconfigure both its relationship to its own talent and its viewers’ relationship to films in ways that would fully enlist both groups in the postindustrial economy. This chapter explore San Francisco’s distinctive role...

  6. 5. Los Angeles The Cinematic Aesthetics of Postmodern Urbanism
    (pp. 155-190)

    For Los Angeles, the rise of New York, San Francisco and other new film-production centres within the United States compounded the extant problem of overseas runaway production, which had been an ongoing source of concern for local government and Hollywood unions since the 1950s. The industry crisis exacerbated this state of affairs, which was summed up byVarietyin 1970: “Production here is at its lowest ebb in many years, a situation which has created acute unemployment conditions and poses a major threat to the very existence of Hollywood”.¹ In response to the decline of the industry and specifically reacting...

  7. 6. Global Flight Paths Towards a Transnational Urban Cinema
    (pp. 191-204)

    While globalisation and the restructuring of the world economy were implicit, underlying themes of many of the films discussed in earlier chapters, other works brought such preoccupations to the surface. This section examines two key films,Alice in the Cities(Wim Wenders, 1974) andThe Passenger(Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975), both of which begin to problematise categorisation either by nationality or through association with any single city. A quick glance at the production details ofThe Passenger, for example, immediately shows how any straightforward classification is difficult: directed by an Italian, with an international cast, produced with American finance (MGM) and...

  8. 7. London The Crisis of Modernism and the End of Utopia
    (pp. 205-234)

    In the early 1970s, the British architectural critic Reyner Banham described what he saw as a significant, if counterintuitive, affinity between London and Los Angeles that had developed over the previous decade. As he put it, “Obviously there is something going on between the two cities”. Despite their “wild differences”, London and LA were alike in many ways, not least their “composite, villagey structure”.²³ In the final instance, the connections between their respective art scenes were made possible by the prosaic realities of airline timetables, to which Banham attributed a special, almost mystical significance. For Banham, the affordability and frequency...

  9. 8. Paris Urban Revolutions: Film and Urban Theory after 1968
    (pp. 235-260)

    At the turn of the 1970s, Henri Lefebvre publishedLa Révolution urbaine, a pivotal if often cryptic and allusive text that helped to set a new path for urban theory in the decades to come. His title had two interrelated meanings. In the first instance, the “urban revolution” was analogous to the “industrial revolution”: an epochal, historical shift in the mode of production, wherebyurbanisationwas supplantingindustrialisationas the motor driving capitalism. At the same time, the notion of an “urban revolution” could hardly be prevented from resonating with the protests, strikes and uprisings that had hit Paris and...

  10. 9. Rome and Milan The Anni di Piombo and the Politics of Space
    (pp. 261-282)

    On 12 December 1969, the bombing of the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura in Milan’s Piazza Fontana set the stage for a decade of political tension and widespread social unrest for Italy and its cities. Economic stagnation, high inflation, urban fiscal crisis, widespread industrial action and waves of terrorism from left-and right-wing extremists cast a shadow over a decade commonly remembered in Italy as theanni di piombo(literally ‘years of lead’). However, the turbulence of the decade nevertheless provided fertile ground for cinematic explorations of the political and social landscape. This chapter analyses a series of films that are commonly identified...

  11. 10. Frankfurt, Cologne and Berlin New German Cinema and the Urban Public Sphere
    (pp. 283-308)

    In chapter six, I discussed Wim Wenders’sAlice in the Cities(1974) as an exemplary case of the emerging transnational inter-urban movie and a product of the increasing globalisation of art cinema. However, though the film was shot on location in the United States, the Netherlands and West Germany, and first found success at international film festivals, its origins were firmly associated with the cinematic and critical phenomenon of the New German Cinema. This movement, closely associated with directors such as Wenders, Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Alexander Kluge and Margarethe von Trotta, paradoxically rose to prominence under the adverse...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 309-324)

    Throughout this book, I have traced the ways in which the urban and economic crises of the seventies catalysed change in American and European cinema. While film industries became closely bound up in broader shifts in the productive capacities of cities, the decade’s films participated in discourses and narratives about the meaning and function of urban space and city living. Though both cinema and urban space are subject to gradual, cumulative processes of change over time, their histories are also crucially marked by moments of crisis and discontinuity. This book has endeavoured to work through the implications of a parallel...

  13. Films and Television Programmes Cited in the Text
    (pp. 381-388)