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The Last Great American Picture Show

The Last Great American Picture Show: New Hollywood Cinema in the 1970s

Thomas Elsaesser
Alexander Horwath
Noel King
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    The Last Great American Picture Show
    Book Description:

    The Last Great American Picture Show brings together essays by scholars and writers who chart the changing evaluations of the American cinema of the 1970s, sometimes referred to as the decade of the lost generation, but now more and more recognized as the first New Hollywood, without which the cinema of Francis Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Tim Burton or Quentin Tarantino could not have come into existence. Identified with directors such as Sam Peckinpah, Arthur Penn, Peter Bogdanovich, Monte Hellman, Bob Rafelson, Hal Ashby, Robert Altman and James Toback, American cinema of the 1970s is long overdue for this re-evaluation. Many of the films have not only come back from oblivion, as the benchmark for new directorial talents. They have also become cult films in the video shops and the classics of film courses all over the world. This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0368-1
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Part One Introductions

    • The Impure Cinema: New Hollywood 1967-1976
      (pp. 9-18)
      Alexander Horwath

      The title of this book suggests a certain cultural pessimism. It talks about a Golden Age and a closed chapter of history:The Last Great American Picture Show. Generally, demarcations of this sort are hard to justify and are more of a hindrance to an open engagement with films. They tend to originate in the romantic notion that cultural history unfolds in discrete episodes (”narratives”), and they often reflect the formative influences of the author. If you have come of age as a cinema-goer during the heyday of New Hollywood cinema – sometime between Bonnie and Clyde and Taxi Driver – you’ve...

    • “The Last Good Time We Ever Had”: Remembering the New Hollywood Cinema
      (pp. 19-36)
      Noel King

      InA Confederate General at Big Sur, Richard Brautigan refers to “the last good time this country ever had.”⁴ As we move into the twenty-first century, that phrase also captures the way we are invited to remember the period of New Hollywood Cinema, as a brief moment of cinematic aesthetic adventure that happened between the mid-1960s and the mid to late 1970s and then vanished. In his recent history of this period,Lost Illusions, David Cook sees the years from 1969 to 1975 as an “aberration” (p.xvii), a “richly fruitful detour in the American cinema’s march towards gigantism and global...

    • American Auteur Cinema: The Last – or First – Great Picture Show
      (pp. 37-70)
      Thomas Elsaesser

      For many critics writing in the 1980s, when Hollywood once more began to conquer the world’s screens with its blockbusters, the American cinema they loved and admired – the cinema of the great studio directors as well as that of independent-minded auteurs – had entered its terminal decline. Not only was the industry that produced these new event movies different: so were the people who made them, the shoot-them-up plots that obsessed them, the special effects that enhanced them, and the money that drove them. Article after article mourned the ‘death of cinema’ and poured scorn on those who had ‘killed Hollywood’.¹...

  4. Part Two Histories

    • The Decade When Movies Mattered
      (pp. 73-82)
      David Thomson

      I had a dream about 1970s movies. There was that image from the end of Deliverance (1972), of the hand coming up out of the water – the corpse that refuses to go away. One hand. Where’s the other hand? I wondered. Zinger! It erupted from beneath the cinders on the grave of Carrie (1976), a hand to drag us down into the darkness.

      But perhaps you were only in elementary school in the 1970s, and thus, in a country with contradictory impulses about sheltering its young, you did not attend to what was going on then. After all, it’s a...

    • A Walking Contradiction (Partly Truth and Partly Fiction)
      (pp. 83-106)
      Alexander Horwath

      Usually, the tale of a New Hollywood is founded on two genealogies. The mainstream version begins with The Graduate, Point Blank and Bonnie and Clyde (all 1967) and their acknowledged debt to European art cinema. The parallel – and slightly more “cultish” – genealogy opens with Roger Corman’s 1960s productions at AIP, where filmmakers like Dennis Hopper, Monte Hellman, Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Fonda, Peter Bogdanovich or Henry Jaglom were able to assume multiple functions, mainly for economic reasons, in a flexible working climate. The Corman Factory allowed them to learn the tools of the trade and to develop a...

    • The Exploitation Generation Or: How Marginal Movies Came in from the Cold
      (pp. 107-130)
      Maitland McDonagh

      Astonishing things seemed possible in the 1970s, the decade when the 1960s came home to roost. Buffeted by the same pressures that rocked American society overall, the movie industry underwent an unprecedented upheaval that left it permanently changed. In the space of a few crucial years, the citadel of Hollywood – then crowded with industry veterans whose tastes and technical skills were formed decades earlier – was stormed by writers, editors, directors, producers, cinematographers and actors who learned their craft not by rising through the ranks of major studio production, but on Hollywood’s fringes: in television, film school and exploitation movies. They...

    • New Hollywood and the Sixties Melting Pot
      (pp. 131-152)
      Jonathan Rosenbaum

      Let me begin with a few printed artifacts, all of them from New York in the early 1960s: two successive issues of theNY Film Bulletinpublished in early 1962, special numbers devoted to Last Year at Marienbad and François Truffaut; and three successive issues ofFilm Culture, dated winter 1962, winter 1962-63, and spring 1963. Cheaply printed but copiously illustrated, the two special numbers of theNY Film Bulletinare the 43rd and 44th issues of a monthly, respectively twenty and twenty-eight pages in length. The Last Year at Marienbad issue consists exclusively of interviews with Alain Resnais, Alain...

  5. Part Three People and Places

    • Dinosaurs in the Age of the Cinemobile
      (pp. 155-164)
      Richard T. Jameson

      When Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes opened at Christmastime 1970, no one would give it the time of day-literally. In my city, though a cosy relationship with United Artists forced the local theatre circuit to book the film into one of the few remaining downtown movie palaces, they had no expectation that it would attract an audience. If you called the theatre, asked “When’s the next show?” and acted accordingly, you would arrive to find yourself in mid-film. Telephone lines had been juggled so that the staff could handle incoming calls for the sister theatre across the...

    • “The Cylinders Were Whispering My Name”: The Films of Monte Hellman
      (pp. 165-194)
      Kent Jones

      ”How can you put yourself in any kind of historical perspective while you’re living your life?” I wanted Monte Hellman to talk about where he thought he fitted into the American cinema of the early 1970s – not the Spielberg-De Palma-Coppola-Lucas New Hollywood but the Dennis Hopper-Bob Rafelson version, the one that got rolled over, the one of which Hellman was, in my eyes, the undisputed king. But I was approaching Hellman as a bygone figure from the past while he saw himself as very much alive, a working director. His string of failures, career disturbances, disappointments and bad distribution deals...

    • “Nashville” contra “Jaws” Or “The Imagination of Disaster” Revisited
      (pp. 195-222)
      J. Hoberman

      June 1975 – six weeks afterTimeheadlined the fall of Saigon as ‘The Anatomy of a Debacle’ and wondered How Should Americans Feel?’ – two movies opened, each in its way a brilliant modification on the current cycle of ‘disaster’ films that had appeared with Nixon II and were now, at the nadir of the nation’s self-esteem, parallelled by the spectacular collapse of South Vietnam and unprecedented Watergate drama.

      The multi-star, mounting-doom, intersecting-narrative format of Hollywood extravaganzas like Earthquake and The Towering Inferno (both 1974) was, as Robin Wood noted at the time, elaborated on and politicized in Robert Altman’s Nashville.¹...

    • For Wanda
      (pp. 223-248)
      Bérénice Reynaud

      Winner of the Critics Prize in Venice in 1970 , Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970) was, as theNew York Timesmeekly puts it, “a critical hit but failed to create excitement at the box-office”.¹

      Shot in cinema-verité style on grainy 16mm film stock, Wanda tells the story of the unlikely partnership between a coal-mining wife from Pennsylvania (played with sensitivity and brio by the filmmaker herself), dumped by her husband and the men she met while drifting, and a petty crook on the rebound, Mr Dennis (Michael Higgins), who convinces her to pull a major “bank job” with him. The...

    • Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere: The Uneasy Ride of Hollywood and Rock
      (pp. 249-266)
      Howard Hampton

      From its beginning, Martin Scorsese’s 1973 Mean Streets is the most seductive union of movies and rock imaginable: a prowling, claustrophobic fever dream where the images and music are locked in an interpenetrating embrace, each intensifying, elaborating, and undermining the meanings of the other. We first see Harvey Keitel’s Charlie abruptly waking from a nightmare – what looks like a nightly ritual, a subconscious form of penance. But the nightmare stays with him, clinging like a caul. Going to the darkened mirror, the reflection he sees there could be his double looking back at him from the confessional or the grave:...

    • Auteurism and War-teurism: Terrence Malick’s War Movie
      (pp. 267-276)
      Dana Polan

      At one point in Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line , just before a battle we see a shot of a natural world followed by a shot of Colonel Tall (Nick Nolte) who intones a phrase in Greek and then tells his soldiers that it’s the “rosy-fingered dawn” phrase from Homer’sOdyssey. With this reference, The Thin Red Line does two slightly different things – things that suggest the complicated situation of the war film in today’s culture. On the one hand, The Thin Red Line clearly wants to take up identity as an epic of war – a film of vast...

  6. Part Four Critical Debates

    • The Pathos of Failure: American Films in the 1970s: Notes on the Unmotivated Hero [1975]
      (pp. 279-292)
      Thomas Elsaesser

      Looking at Thieves Like Us and remembering They Live By Night, wanting to compare Jeremiah Johnson with Run of the Arrow, or thinking of The Naked Spur when watching Deliverance may simply be the typical pastime of someone who has seen too many movies; nonetheless the similarities are also another reminder of how faithful the classical American cinema is to its basic themes and forms. One can safely venture, for instance, that the new Hollywood of Robert Altman, Sidney Pollack and Alan J. Pakula, or of Bob Rafelson, Monte Hellman and Hal Ashby is as fond of mapping out journeys...

    • Trapped in the Affection Image: Hollywood’s Post-traumatic Cycle (1970-1976)
      (pp. 293-308)
      Christian Keathley

      It has long been commonplace to talk about many American films of the late 1960s and early 1970s as being about or in response to the Vietnam experience. Even during those years, this seemed to be the case. Asked in a 1972 interview about the curious absence of any films about the Vietnam war, Pauline Kael replied, “Vietnam we experience indirectly in just about every movie we go to. It’s one of the reasons we’ve had so little romance or comedy – because we’re all tied up in knots about that rotten war.”¹ Though any number of films from this period...

    • Grim Fascination: Fingers, James Toback, and 1970s American Cinema
      (pp. 309-332)
      Adrian Martin

      A room, a piano, a man. The camera dollies in. Expansive construction of a sonic space: the fugue from J. S. Bach’sE Minor Toccataflows, performed by Jimmy Angelelli (Harvey Keitel), ostentatiously expressive at the piano in the manner of Glenn Gould. This is a picture of Jimmy’s interior world. But there is also an exterior world, which exists only insofar as it is framed by a window and made neatly available to the man’s gaze. Hence the second phase of this opening scene: having finished the piece, Jimmy rests, rises, looks out the window; the camera lifts with...

    • Allegories of Post-Fordism in 1970s New Hollywood: Countercultural Combat Films and Conspiracy Thrillers as Genre Recycling
      (pp. 333-358)
      Drehli Robnik

      This essay deals with some aspects of the New Hollywood cinema of the late 1960s and early 1970s, focusing on non-canonized works among the war movies and conspiracy thrillers of that period, and on some related diagnostic, critical and historiographic discourses. One concern is to ask how such accounts of New Hollywood, in the historically narrow sense of the term, can be related to our present media-cultural experience, and what meanings the films in question can be made to reveal in a retrospective, allegorizing approach – in short: how to remember New Hollywood circa 1970. The retrospective frameworks employed here are...

  7. Bibliography
    (pp. 359-370)
  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 371-374)
  9. Pictures (with credits)
    (pp. 375-376)
  10. Index of Film Titles
    (pp. 377-392)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 393-394)