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Posts Tagged ‘New Hollywood’

Easy Rider (1969) didn’t chronicle the end of the decade/era, and the death of hope and optimism that the 1960’s promised, but it certainly symbolised it. It could be argued that the loss of hope wasn’t followed by despair, but by a new more measured hope with less lofty ambitions, a more weary even cynical hope, but hope none the less. And this is what we saw on the big screen, the cinema of new Hollywood. In truth, a child of the 70s, I saw it on late night TV, and VHS in the 80s and 90s. The Watergate scandal of 1972 may have ground zero for the political and conspiracy thrillers of the time, films like The Parallax View (1974), The Conversation (1974), but the spirit, or lack thereof found a place on screen before that, it found it on the road!  There has always been a link between cars and movies, the two were invented around the same time, and both found popularity in the United States, a country built out of exploration, and a country built on a dream; and as Mark Cousins reminded us The Story of Film: An Odyssey is a (2011) “movies look live our dreams”.


While there had been movies about cars and drivers before, the road movie as we know it was born in the 70s, buit on a foundation from the Golden Age of Cinema. We are not talking the capers of Gone in 60 Seconds (1974), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), or the various Gumball/Cannonball movies (various movies from mid 70’s to mid 80s), I am referring to the existential road movies like Two Lane Blacktop (1971), and Vanishing point (1971). Existential movies, where to drive is to live, to stop is to die. Kowalski (Barry Newman), the hero of vanishing point is just driving, we never understand why. He drives for the sake of driving the way we live for the sake of living.  If you don’t know the film, the plot of the film revolves around a man delivering a car 1,200 miles from Denver Colorado, To San Francisco.  He has a week to get there but for reasons never explained is compelled to do it in a couple of days.  There is little plot, and almost no explanation, but flashbacks give us an idea of what is going on.  The Driver (James Taylor) and Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) in Two Lane Blacktop may not have names but they have more of  purpose, or do they.  They cruise around looking for action in the shape of drag races like the subjects of a Bruce Springsteen song, but when we look a little deeper, they have no purpose, they are racing for money to fund their lifestyle, so they can continue racing.  They are not the unwilling or repentant criminal looking for one last job so they can go clean, they are living day to day, a modern take on the hunter gathers of our past.  But does that make them any different to anybody working a day job, as Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt from Fight Club ((1999) said nearly 30 years later “working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need”.  Are they closer to the breadline than the average wage earner, or do they have a fallback? Both films have an other-worldly character enhanced by uncertainty and ambiguity,  this was lost in the 90s, made for TV remake of Vanishing Point, everything they gave Kowalski by way of motivation, stripped away a layer of meaning from the subtext of the movie. 

Although most associated with America, the genre isn’t exclusive to the nation. By the end of the 70’s the angst and desire had been forgotten, swallowed up by “blockbusters”.  Australian filmmaker George Miller fussed the road ideas of the road, if not the road movie itself with a dystopian future.  For a more recent generation, their knowledge of the Mad Max franchise may not stretch beyond the fourth, and most recent instalment: Fury Road (2015), but it started long before that in 1979. Inspired by the fuel crisis and economic crash of a few years earlier the first film depicted the beginning of society crumbling. Max, the movies “hero” first hits the road for revenge, but by the end of the first movie, he disappears down the road.  Not with the glory of a cowboy riding into the sunset, but a long and dark road, as a man with nothing, and nothing to live for.  Max’s only option for survival it to live, to exist, and he can find this simplicity, only after he has lost himself on the road.  A generation later, the characters of Fury Road think they can find hope, redemption, or even eternity on the road, for most none of this is true. 

Both as surreal and mainly masculine genre, director Chloe Zhao gave her a new take, and grounded and more real take.  Nomadland is loosely based on Jessica Bruder none fiction book of the same name we see real life people living a nomadic existence.  This, like many other road movies was exist in the traditional heartland of the western genre, but this isn’t a pioneering story of A to B, of someone with a destination. It is the story of a person not looking where to live, but how to live.  As the world gets smaller, and cars have begun to lose importance in the world, we may think the days of the road movie are numbered.  I don’t think they are, we may see a day were they become nostalgic chronicling relatively recent past rather than telling their own contemporarily stories, but in the hands of talented filmmakers, this artifice will not prevent the real story, one that is lingering beneath the surface. 

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As we wait for cinemas to reopen following England’s second lockdown, I can’t help wondering what their future will be.  Even before we entered the second lockdown in November Cineworld, the UK’s largest and the world’s second largest chain, closed all their venues until further notice.  So what next?  To predict that we may have to look back to the last big change to cinemas.  

In the early days of cinema in the US, the major film studios (Warner Brothers, RKO, Fox, MGM, and Paramount) owned their own theatres that exclusively screened their films.  Films that were produced by writers, directors, technicians, and actors who were under contract to the studios,  They also owned the laboratories, that processed the film and created the prints.  To put is it simply the studios were vertically integrated. 

The Paramount Decree as it became known was an antitrust case correctly titled United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., 334 U.S. 131 (1948).  The case changed the face of film exacerbation in the US, ripples of its effects can be felt all over the world to this day.  The ruling forced the separation of motion picture production and exhibition companies.  This had the desired effect of increasing the number of both independent productions, and independent cinema’s/movie theatres.  As the Hollywood studio system began to breakdown it clearly did its job, and was responsible for the end of what is known as golden age of cinema.  There was also a more far reaching unexpected result;  independent cinema’s free to choose their own programming started to show more international and independent “art” movies.  This was the first steps towards the weakening of the Motion Picture Production Code, the eventual emergence of New Hollywood.  So why is this important now? The antitrust decrees  had no expiration dates, however, last year The United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division began a review of the “Paramount decrees” and decreed that as of this summer they would enter a “two-year sunset period” followed by the termination of the decrees in 2022.  To quote the great Sam Cooke: “a change gonna come“.

The way we consume movies (and television) at home has changed dramatically in recent years.  Just a few years ago here in the UK, a film would be screened in cinema’s, around six months later it would be made available to rent (and sometimes buy) on video, then a few years later be screened on free to air TV.  The first major change to this came with satellite and cable TV channels who began showing films after the video release but before they made it to free to air TV.  Fast forward through a few changes to cable/satellite TV and we have Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video as well as countless other streaming services.  They started screening movies and TV shows, but before long they were making their own content.  Now Disney has joined the party and will soon be the only place to stream Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Disney Content, not to mention the back catalogue of the recently acquired 20th Century-Fox (now know as 20th Century Studios).

Film critic Mark Kermode has long advocated so-called “day-and-date” release, a simultaneous release across multiple platforms.  The concept has been used, mainly by independent films during the disruption caused by Covid 19.  Although the process is likely to reduce film piracy, most cinema chains have resisted the concept fearing it will reduce attendances.  This is most likely true, but given the state of the industry, all bets are off.  Who is most likely to support day-and-date release? Simply the people who own more than one platform.  Will Amazon, Netflix, or Disney move into cinema ownership? Given the money they all have, they are the obvious choices.  What are the consequences of companies like this owning cinema’s?  One notable point, is that there is now a further level of integration with streaming offering a new way method of distribution unimaginable in the Golden Age.  On the flipside, filmmakers are no longer tied to a studio (we can thank Olivia de Havilland for that, but that’s another story).  There are potential advantages.  My biggest problem with Netflix in particular is their reluctance to show films in cinemas.  If they owned the establishments and were pocketing the box-office, it may encourage them to screen films where they belong, on the largest possible screen.  There is another possibility; we are all suffering from platform fatigue!  With an ever increasing number of streaming platforms most of us have to pick and choose which we subscribe to.   Cineworld Unlimited and Odeon Limitless offer unlimited movies for a month subscription.  Is there room for a joint home, and theatrical subscription?  This would certainly be an incentive! 

There are certain to be a few twists and turns before these strange times are over, I just hope there are still plenty of cinemas left when the dust settles.

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Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s motto is “Ars Gratia Artis”, it appears on the company logo inscribed into a ring of film that surrounds “Leo” the roaring lion that is at the heart of the companies brand image. The Latin phrase translates to “Art for art’s sake”, but how many studios truly believe in this concept. Is the motion picture industry the one art form where cash is king and art is an afterthought? More so than any other art based industry including music, the bottom line comes first and if they make some art along the way that’s a bonus.

mgm logo

Where would the movie industry me if the money men took a step back and let the artists run the industry? Would it be a case of the lunatics running the asylum and all the studios would go bust, or would the products be so great that they would make money along the way? To go back to the comparison with the music industry, manufactured bands who want to be rich and famous often make it big for a short time, make lots of money then disappear without a trace. Whatever amount of success they have often pales in comparison to genuinely talented artists who are in it for the love of the music.

The late 20’s through to the end of the 40’s is often referred to as the Golden Age of Cinema. Many people dispute this as it was controlled by the big studios and their moguls, it was also the time of a huge amount of censorship. It was the time of the “Studio system” where stars were bound up in studio contracts and the vertical integration of production, distribution and exhibition was designed to dominate the industry. But constraint often inspires creativity and this era produced many classic movies, Citizen Kane and Casablanca to name just two. The system came to an end in the late 40’s following a Supreme Court ruling and things would never be the same again. But did they really change that much from an artistic point of view?Casablanca

The lunatics did run the asylum for a while, or at least the actors ran a studio when in 1919 D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks founded United Artists. By the end on the 1940’s the studio existed in little more than name, producing and distributing very few movies. Of the original stars who set up the studio only Pickford and Chaplin remained. Following the US government revoking Chaplin’s re-entry visa the pair agreed to sell the studio to Arthur Krim and Robert Benjamin, a pair of lawyers turned movie producers. Throughout the 50’s 60’s and 70’s the studio produced many classic movies and launched the James Bond series, but it was a long way from the ideals of Griffith, Chaplin, Pickford, and Fairbanks.United Artists

Then came Heaven’s Gate. The director Michael Cimino, had won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director for The Deer Hunter (a film I don’t think has aged that well and its crown as a classic may be slipping) and was given unusual creative freedom. There are lots of articles about this by people who know the story far better than me, look them up. The important thing here is the result and the fallout. The film had a budget estimated at $44 million (around $140million when adjusted for inflation), it took around $3million at the US box-office. Around this time the company was sold by Transamerica (a holding company that had acquired it a few years before) to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It is estimated that they paid around $350 million. Was this for the artistry of the companies back catalogue or its value in the emerging home video market? I will let you decide. So there we are back at the beginning. The company that proudly bares the slogan Art for art’s sake purchased the company that was set up by artists for arts sake.

Heaven’s Gate may have seen the end of what is often referred to as New Hollywood, but the echoes of the era are still been felt and many exponents of the time are still making movies, they include: Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, John Carpenter, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, Clint Eastwood, William Friedkin, Terrence Malick, Roman Polanski and Ridley Scott. There are also great directors who work outside or on the edge of the system like Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater. Their films may sometimes suffer from being bloated and or self indulgent but this is a small price to pay. Most interestingly are the directors like Christopher Nolan and Danny Boyle who work within the system but make it work for them in a similar way to the auteurs of the golden age.raging bull

So what’s the conclusion? Sadly I have no insight or profound words. As a cynic, I truly believe that the studios are in it for the money but as a film lover I believe there are artists (actors, writers, directors and other creative people) in the industry who are in it for the love and for the art, and once in a while they create art. True art, Art for art’s sake.

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Have you seen the trailer for the new Jason Statham movie Parker? Does it look familiar, do you think you have seen it somewhere before? If the answer to the second question is yes, there is a good reason, you probably have seen it before! This isn’t the first time the story has been filmed. Based on the pulp noir crime novel The Hunter by Donald E. Westlake (using the pseudonym Richard Stark), the plot revolves around a criminal named Parker who is betrayed and left for dead by his partner and wife, who are having an affair. Parker survives and goes on (to quote The Bride from Kill Bill) “roaring rampage of revenge”. The character went on to appear in 24 and novels and has been adapted into several movies. The new movie is the first time he has gone by his original name, Parker having previously been called: Porter, Walker, Gou Fei, Earl Macklin, McClain and Stone.

The most famous and best of the movies is Point Blank (1967) directed by John Boorman and starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson. With a dreamlike unrealism the movie is very much of its era from the late 60’s. essentially a noir thriller it is a product of New Hollywood with elements of neo-noir and French New Wave influences. Often a harsh and brutal film it completely revolves around its star Lee Marvin in a towering performance.

point blank

Based on the novel of the same name, The Outfit (1973) is a different story staring the Parker character (there were 24 books in total) directed by John Flynn and starring Robert Duvall, Karen Black, Joe Don Baker and Robert Ryan. A more routine and straightforward movie than Point Blank but also well worth a look.The Outfit

Loosely based on the same source novel as Point Blank, Full Contact (1992) (original title: Xia dao Gao Fei) is a Hong Kong action movie directed by Ringo Lam and starring Chow Yun-fat. A by the numbers action movie but with the grit and flair you would expect from Ringo Lam. I haven’t seen the movie for a very long time but seem to remember enjoying it.Full Contact

Released in 1999 before Mel Gibson’s well published problems Payback is a stripped down and violent but more light hearted version of the story. Directed by first time director Brian Helgeland who is better known as a screenwriter. Gibson is having a great time in the lead and is well supported by Maria Bello, William Devane, Lucy Liu and Kris Kristofferson. Not a patch on Point Blank but great fun.payback

A little research tells me the character also appeared in four other films I haven’t seen: Made in U.S.A (1966) a French film directed by Jean-Luc Godard and unofficially based on the novel The Jugger. Mise à sac (1967) (also known as Pillaged and Midnight Raid) also a French film, directed by Alain Cavalier and based on the novel The Score. The Split (1968) directed by Gordon Flemyng starred Jim Brown and based on the novel The Seventh. British film Slayground (1983) is based on the novel of the same name, directed by Terry Bedford and starring Peter Coyote.The Split

Parker was released in America at the end of January and is due out her in the UK later this month. Unsurprisingly, reviews are reserved but relatively positive, Jason Statham is after all, a reliable if predicable action star. Obviously I will reserve judgment until I have seen the movie, but fear they have made one vital mistake. At just two minutes shy of two hours, it is clearly going to be too long. Point Blank is 92minutes, Full Contact 96 min and most notably, the cinema release of Payback was 100 minutes but the director’s cut (take note Peter Jackson) is 90 minutes.

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