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TitleThe Last Great American Picture Show: New Hollywood Cinema in the 1970s (Amsterdam University Press - Film Culture in Transition)
PublisherAmsterdam University Press
ISBN 139781417521722
CategoryArts - Film
LanguageEnglish
File Size7.1 MB
Total Pages395
Document Text Contents
Page 1

fc Bonnie en Clyde 60%


For many lovers of film, American cinema of
the late 1960s and early 1970s – dubbed the
New Hollywood – has remained a Golden Age.
As the old studio system gave way to a new gen-
eration of American auteurs, directors such as
Monte Hellman, Peter Bogdanovich, Bob Rafel-
son, Martin Scorsese, but also Robert Altman,
James Toback, Terrence Malick and Barbara Loden
helped create an independent cinema that gave
America a different voice in the world and a dif-
ferent vision to itself. The protests against the
Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement and
feminism saw the emergence of an entirely dif-
ferent political culture, reflected in movies that
may not always have been successful
with the mass public, but were soon
recognized as audacious, creative and
off-beat by the critics. Many of the films
have subsequently become classics.

The Last Great Picture Show brings
together essays by scholars and writers
who chart the changing evaluations of
this American cinema of the 1970s, some-
times referred to as the decade of the
lost generation, but now more and more
also recognised as the first of several
‘New Hollywoods’, without which the cin-
ema of Francis Coppola, Steven Spiel-
berg, Robert Zemeckis, Tim Burton or
Quentin Tarantino could not have come
into being.

ISBN 90-5356-631-7

9 789053 566317

Amsterdam University PressAmsterdam University Press

WWW.AUP.NL

IN TRANSITION

FILM
CULTURE
FILM
CULTURE

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NEW
HOLLYWOOD

CINEMA IN
THE 1970S

Amsterdam University Press

IN TRANSITION

FILM
CULTURE
FILM
CULTURE

American
The

Last Great

Picture
Show

American
The

Last Great

Picture
Show

Amsterdam University Press

EDITED BY

THOMAS ELSAESSER

ALEXANDER HORWATH

NOEL KING

EDITED BY

THOMAS ELSAESSER

ALEXANDER HORWATH

NOEL KING

NEW
HOLLYWOOD

CINEMA IN
THE 1970S

Page 2

The Last Great American Picture Show

Page 197

In the Sixties, the aesthetic of destruction was globalised: After Cleopatra
(1962) nearly capsized an entire studio, Arthur Penn created the doomsday
gangster film and Sam Peckinpah the disaster western. Night of the Living
Dead (1968), the most apocalyptic horror movie ever made in America, circu-
lated for several years to achieve full cult status in early 1971 with a late-night
run in Washington DC that inexorably spread to other cities and college towns.
(In New York, the film ran continuously as a midnight attraction from May
1971 through the following February and then again for 34 weeks following
Nixon’s re-election to July 1973.)

Nor was Night of the Living Dead the only vivid representation of Judg-
ment Day. Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth, an interpretation of Bibli-
cal prophesy that extrapolated from current geopolitical events to predict an
imminent worldwide catastrophe followed by the return of Jesus Christ, ap-
peared as a mass market paperback in February 1973 after running through 26
printings in its original edition. Lindsey’s predictions for the 1970s included
an increase in crime, civil unrest, unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, mental ill-
ness, and illegitimate births, as well as the greatest famines in world history,
the election of open drug-addicts to public office, and the increasing domi-
nance of astrology, Oriental religions, and Satanic cults. By the end of the de-
cade, his book went through another 30-odd printings and sold some 15 mil-
lion copies.

So the Voice was heard again in the land, although the direct stimulus for
disaster films was, of course, neither Watergate nor When Worlds Collide, the
Book of Daniel nor the collapse of the counterculture, but rather the over-per-
formance of two earlier movies: Airport (1970), grossing over $45 million and
for a time #14 on Variety’s list of Hollywood’s all-time money-makers, and The
Poseidon Adventure (1972) which, released shortly after Nixon’s re-election,
grossed nearly as much and proved the #1 box office attraction of 1973.

Once more, movies returned to their fairground origins by offering audi-
ences the treat of spectacular cataclysms. But there was something else as well.
“Use value in the reception of cultural commodities is replaced by exchange
value,” Adorno and Horkheimer had observed in Dialectic of Enlightenment,
“The consumer becomes the ideology of the pleasure industry.” There were no
Events which everyone ‘had to’ see in order to fully participate in American
life, even while supporting “a model of the huge economic machinery which
has always sustained the masses, whether at work or at leisure”.3

The disaster cycle gathered momentum along with the Watergate scandal,
approaching its climax as the President resigned in August 1974. By then, Time
had offered its readers ‘A Preview of Coming Afflictions’, reporting that Hol-
lywood’s “lemming-like race for the quintessential cataclysm” had spawned
some 13 disasters at various stages of production.4 Earthquake, co-written by

196 The Last Great American Picture Show

Page 198

Mario Puzo, The Towering Inferno, Irwin Allen’s spectacular follow-up to
the Poseidon Adventure, and an Airport sequel were scheduled to open by
Christmas – to be followed by movies whose major attractions were an ava-
lanche, a tidal wave, a volcanic eruption, the explosion of the dirigible
Hindenburg, a plague of killer bees, and an earthquake permitting a horde of
giant, incendiary cockroaches to exit the centre of the earth and overrun Los
Angeles. (For the latter, veteran exploitation producer William Castle was
“planning a floor-mounted windshield-wiper device that will softly brush
across movie-goer’s feet and ankles at crucial moments”.)5

”There is absolutely no social criticism, of even the most implicit kind,”
Sontag had noted of her science-fiction films. But movies like Earthquake
and The Towering Inferno were scarcely perceived as anything else. Indeed,
the explanation of the trend arrived even before the trend itself.6

Why were disaster films taken so seriously? “Every couple of years the
American movie public is said to crave something. Now it’s calamity, and al-
ready the wave of apocalyptic movies – which aren’t even here yet – is being
analysed in terms of our necrophilia”, wrote Pauline Kael shortly after Time’s
piece, thus staking out the counter-pundit position that disaster films were
nothing more than meaningless pseudo-events.7

Necrophilia, however, was not the explanation offered by most commenta-
tors – although some did see the mode as appealing to a popular Schadenfreude.
Disaster films were more often discussed as reflections of the economic crisis
(perceived as ‘natural’ in capitalist society) precipitated by the OPEC oil em-
bargo in late 1973 or else as manifestations of Watergate – as if Watergate were
not the most entertaining disaster film of all. Vietnam may have been too pain-
fully obvious to mention although Kael evoked it in spite of herself when she
characterised the directors of disaster movies as “commanders-in-chief in an
idiot war.”8

Typically, in disaster films, calamity arrives as punishment for some mani-
festation of the Orgy. Both The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering In-
ferno heighten the thrill by arranging for disaster to strike in the midst of gala
parties; in Tidal Wave, the volcanic eruption which triggers the eponymous
cataclysm is synchronised to the lovemaking of an unmarried couple on a tar-
geted beach. Some disaster movies offered a populist critique by blaming the
catastrophe on rapacious corporations and, in most cases, the disaster was
worsened by mendacious, greedy, corrupt, and inadequate leaders. Thus,
along with the TV cop shows and vigilante films of Nixon II, disaster movies
questioned the competence of America’s managerial elite. Kael extended that
elite to include the captains of America’s film industry, specifically Universal
(which also had Airport ’75, The Hindenburg, and Jaws in the works):

Nashville Contra Jaws 197

Page 394

Film Culture in Transition
General Editor: Thomas Elsaesser

Double Trouble: Chiem van Houweninge on Writing and Filming
Thomas Elsaesser, Robert Kievit and Jan Simons (eds.)

Writing for the Medium: Television in Transition
Thomas Elsaesser, Jan Simons and Lucette Bronk (eds.)

Between Stage and Screen: Ingmar Bergman Directs
Egil Törnqvist

The Film Spectator: From Sign to Mind
Warren Buckland (ed.)

Film and the First World War
Karel Dibbets and Bert Hogenkamp (eds.)

A Second Life: German Cinema’s First Decades
Thomas Elsaesser (ed.)

Fassbinder’s Germany: History Identity Subject
Thomas Elsaesser

Cinema Futures: Cain, Abel or Cable? The Screen Arts in the Digital Age
Thomas Elsaesser and Kay Hoffmann (eds.)

Audiovisions: Cinema and Television as Entr’Actes in History
Siegfried Zielinski

Joris Ivens and the Documentary Context
Kees Bakker (ed.)

Ibsen, Strindberg and the Intimate Theatre: Studies in TV Presentation
Egil Törnqvist

The Cinema Alone: Essays on the Work of Jean-Luc Godard 1985-2000
Michael Temple and James S. Williams (eds.)

Micropolitics of Media Culture: Reading the Rhizomes of Deleuze and
Guattari
Patricia Pisters and Catherine M. Lord (eds.)

Malaysian Cinema, Asian Film: Border Crossings and National Cultures
William van der Heide

Page 395

Film Front Weimar: Representations of the First World War in German Films of
the Weimar Period (1919-1933)
Bernadette Kester

Camera Obscura, Camera Lucida: Essays in Honor of Annette Michelson
Richard Allen and Malcolm Turvey (eds.)

Jean Desmet and the Early Dutch Film Trade
Ivo Blom

City of Darkness, City of Light: Émigré Filmmakers in Paris 1929-1939
Alastair Phillips

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