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To what extent was the Hollywood renaissance characterized by the development of a distinctive or ‘post-classical’ film style?
The late 1960’s through into the mid 1970’s achieved acclaim and prestige in the ranks of Hollywood’s history as cinema pore excellence. A period whose products still remain a focal point of interest for film students and aspiring directors alike. The cinematic innovations in its narrative theme and form have firmly established it to varying extent as a blue print for Hollywood and its later years. Remembered for its innovative, independent, and uncompromising cinematic form of expression, seen by many as Hollywood at its very best. Leaving the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s seemingly wanting in comparison1, through their inability to emulate or even excel the cinematic potency of the Renaissance.
A period that benchmarked the insurgence of a number of distinctive films, though the extent of their departure from classical conventions of narrative and stylistic form can be put to debate2. The Renaissance cannot be described plainly as a mere post-classical style without creating a broader picture of what catalysts helped trigger the formation of this cinematic phenomenon. These being a number of external influences that subsequently managed to be translated in cinematic form, seen in terms of development in the industrial structure and changing strategies deployed by Hollywood from the 50’s onwards3, and most importantly its stylistic innovations that are in part the result of a highly charged socio-political climate in which the films were produced. Although as distinctive these innovations may seem to be essentially being seen to be a sole construct of the Renaissance, which would not be a very accurate assumption as elements of its thematic and formal conventions are traceable to the influences of the European ‘art’ film4.
Many films of this period had became reflective of alternative ideas offered by social movements particularly in retrospect to the socio-political upheavals of the time, being the black struggle for civil rights, poverty, feminism, the struggle against the Vietnam War and the ‘New American Militarism.’
Other aspects that influenced this highly charged time in history were the long standing grieves of white middle class youth against the prescribed values and ideals of the fifties, they inadvertently rejected and rebelled against the codes of conformity that had been enforced upon them up until the fifties. All to often being ideas associated with so-called normality and bourgeois prosperity, the world of suburban houses and corporate jobs enforcing their staunch ideas of straight dress and behaviour, sexual repression, and social conformity. Which really hit home for many Americans particularly the youth, who came to see beyond the prescribed popular critiques of American values and institutions. Resulting in a ever more alienated and rebellious youth that opposed all that was deemed acceptable, they grew long hair, dropped out of school, listened to rock music, established communes where drug taking and freedom of sexuality were permissible. This inevitably led to a reactionary creation of alternative ideas that opposed all that the mainstream deemed acceptable, particularly dominant myths associated with the bourgeois establishment, represented through widespread alienation and rejection among the youth of all that the ‘American dream’ held sacred5.
These alternatives being seen as subversive among the conformists become known as the counterculture. As it questioned popular ideological critique of the time that had been prevalent for so long prior to the emergence of the Cultural Revolution. Which really broke down long standing beliefs and put the government and institutes of power on the spot to answer for their actions and particular brand of reasoning, which had all to often been shuddered, or even attacked through being called upon as un-American, non wholesome and unchristian. Though the establishment failed to realise that the counter culture was too big of a collective force to be silenced, encompassing the future of America through its youth, and very surprisingly having a very powerful median to project their ideas. Film came to serve both the functions of social criticism and a favourable projection of alternative values and institutes6.
‘New Hollywood’ also termed as the Hollywood Renaissance had seen an emergence of a number of politically significant films, such as The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, Midnight Cowboy, and Easy Rider. These had not just been important for their social content, but also instrumental in subverting traditionally classical narrative theme and cinematic codes of formal representation in Hollywood filmmaking7.
One of the many formal devices used by these films had been disjunctive editing that played down the usual sense of passive viewing8, creating a almost spectator narrative interaction. It become an integral part of the Renaissance providing an alternative to continuity editing conventions that perpetuated spectator attention on the thematic form rather than on the technique used. Principally to give an impression of a natural and effortless unfolding of events in a world captured through the lens of a camera9.
A Hollywood film cannot be seen as a product created with neutrality, as its very active in perpetuating particular ideological assumptions that are more than likely to have socio-political implications. For example the conventions of continuity editing personify an orderly and accessible world capable of being understood. Through concealing every camera position and cut, creating a sense of relative safety and comfort from which we perceive the world on screen. Which is why departures from the conventional can create a sense of discomfort and unease10.
Jump cuts were also used to create a similar effect, an unsettled feel between spectator narrative interactions, through breaching 180 conventions that dismantle the logically consistent flow of information, all to often associated with continuity editing and its clarity of events in time and space. There are other unconventional methods that can be used in creating uncertainty and incoherency by using flash-forwards as seen in Easy Rider11 seen through the protagonists recollections under an influence of LSD, being a popular drug among the hippy counterculture.
Other techniques introduced in the renaissance were derived from television, particularly the use of zoom lenses, which would replace cuts or tracking shots that altered the pace and format of film. Influenced greatly by the sixties documentary style films or television, a good example of one being the acclaimed film and then TV series M*A*S*H. Creating a sense of spontaneity of the camera reacting in accordance with action or sequence of events that are unfolding in front of it. This particular formal device can be used quite expressively in creating a sense of realism rather than a carefully staged event12. Another film that effectively used flat documentary style filming was Midnight Cowboy that truly explored the unconventional stylistic spectrum in order to exaggerate realism or naturalism often used to portray poverty and suffering, being things in general omitted from the conventions of classical narrative13.
The renaissance can also be seen as in terms of the initiator in breaking long established traditional generic conventions particularly associated with youth rebellion against the hiding of suffering and unhappiness behind happy conformist facades. These cinematic interpretations can be seen as undermining emotions or particular undertones/statements that had been so prevalent in ‘classical’ Hollywood. All to often seen as being helpful in stabilizing the world prior to the Renaissance by allocating genre its discreet segregated realms. For example melodrama in its traditional sense would be seen as for women, westerns for men, comedy would be its own entity and wouldn’t be attached to tragedy and so on. Though with renaissance these representational boundaries had been brought down through a cross over of long standing preconceptions that had to often in its ‘classical’ form been upheld and perpetuated. A very simple example would be the infusion of slapstick humour and tragedy as seen in Bonnie and Clyde.
Being one of the significantly important rebellion films of 1967 about two young depression era outlaws that are killed by the police, the film signifies imprisonment and confinement projected through the everyday lives of these protagonists. This is established in the start as where shown Faye Dunaway laying on her bed holding its bars, which can representational of the constraints of society for a young women. Which is why the juxtaposing images of open fields can be taken at face value to be symbolic of escape. Though the film remains true to the commonly associated themes of the renaissance dealing alienation and rebellion yet its stylistic trait in substance is romantic14.
Another key film in the alienation series of renaissance productions being The Graduate because of its innovation in style, particularly relying on jump cut techniques, hand held cameras, tight close ups borrowed heavily from French new wave cinema. Though used effectively in creating the protagonists alienation from American ideal of material success. Other stylistic and formal devices that had been used well in the film had been the music and in particular the song by Simone and Garefunkel ‘The Sounds of Silence15,’ which perfectly manages to compliment the narrative and the imagery that it’s being played against. Suggesting the protagonist ‘is a cipher in a world of mass conformity and social control, the mode of being alienated young people claimed a technological and technocratic society was imposing on them.’ [Ryan 20:2]
Whether Hollywood’s visually favourable interpretation of the counterculture had been innocently unintentional, or perhaps with deeper interior motives can be put to debate especially as classical narrative form no matter how deviant usually in its resolution almost always reaffirmed the values of status quo and the nuclear family. I will try to touch on a few points of why Hollywood might have been preferable to the counterrevolution contrary to what one would perhaps expect. I would attribute this to the changing industrial strategies of the time, resulting through the break up of the vertically integrated system where virtually all film production, distribution, and exhibition was in the hands of a oligopoly, being a few studio bosses.
Films under this system were created as mass products done in a very Fordist style of production; studio’s resembling factories and the films that had been produced in bulk could be seen to be the equivalent to mass produced cars. This practice had only stopped after the post war years when the government asked the studios to sell of their cinema’s as a result of uncompetitive practices, and the stagnating numbers of people that stopped going to theatres. Which inevitably lead to Hollywood re-evaluating its strategies. The first of these strategies being films were produced on something that resembled individual packages, increasing the power of major directors, stars, and agents16. Which was of great relevance to the renaissance as it provided new freedoms for more fresh ideas and innovation in this new changed industrial context17. As under the studio system directors had very little freedom to choose their own projects18 and had mostly been self-taught through apprenticeships in the studio system. Which was not the case with the emergence of these New Renaissance directors having been educated in prominent schools and academies of cinematic studies, which had been equipped with an increased availability of films that their older counter parts never had. This essentially gave them the opportunity to infuse their own ideas with those of the European ‘art’ film19, thus managing to create their own unique directorial marking or signature known as auteur ship. Though we must not forget that the freedoms of renaissance had been given to the directors by the big studios and could also take them away
The industry was in difficulties and latched onto a new generation of film-
makers who had promise of being able to attract a new younger audience.
Freedom was a great product of uncertainty and transition. [King 90:2]
I think this statement holds major significance particularly in regard to the industrial strategies adopted by Hollywood at the time. As a result of a more fragmented market and its misconception of its audience. Reflective in its mass losses in theatre going audiences, one of the reasons for this had been its inability to cater for a wider spectrum of the market, which prompted it to re-evaluate certain strategies and started funding independent productions aimed at younger more specialized audiences, moving away from its broad constituency all to often associated with the idealized family audience. So with the very few options available to the studios they decided to cater for a younger more educated market, which was ever so receptive to a stringent and radical perception of American culture and society. Predominately why most films of the 60’s and 70’s really played on popular issues associated with counterrevolution, seen perhaps as nothing more than another ploy of audience targeting20.
Other elements that helped the Renaissance churn out such hard hitting images of sex or drug addiction was the revision of changes in the production code in 1966 as it was shortened, before completely being dropped in 1968 for a ratings system, which determined the suitability of the film in accord with the audience with age group21.
Renaissance can be seen as a ‘post-classical’ style shaped through industrial circumstances that enabled the aspects of social and historical contexts to be expressed through film. Though internal social and cultural upheavals had played a prominent role in its emergence as a distinct stylistic form of expression. But its influence extends far beyond this to external forces being the experiments of a new generation of European ‘art’ house film directors22. With this point in mind having to conclude my essay by either reaffirming or rejecting claims to the extent of the Renaissance being a ‘post-classical’ style. I would say the renaissance has made a number of innovations particularly in retrospect to the commercial mainstream, though with very little scope for comparison to European ‘art’ cinema. The stylistic innovations of the Renaissance had not strayed too far away from the classical form for them to have abandoned all conventions associated with the classical style, made ever so apparent even its in the more daring products of the time23.
1 King. G (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, P.13
2 King. G (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, P.13
3 King. G (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, P.14
4 King. G (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, P.14
5 Ryan. M (1998), Camera Politica, P.18
6 Ryan. M (1998), Camera Politica, P.17
7 Ryan. M (1998), Camera Politica, P.17
8 Ryan. M (1998), Camera Politica, P.17
9 King. G (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, P.38
10King. G (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, P.39
11 King G (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co, P.39
12 King G (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co, P.39
13 Ryan. M (1998), Camera Politica, P.20
14 Ryan M (1998), Camera Politica, P.21
15 Ryan. M (1998), Camera Politica, P.20
16 King. G (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, P.6
17 King. G (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, P.28
18 King. G (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, P.87
19 King. G (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, P. 89
20 King. M (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, P. 30
21 King. M (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, P.31
22 King. M (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, P.35
23 King. M (2002), New Hollywood Cinema, I.B Tauris & Co Ltd, P.44
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