Book Title: The Oxford History of World Cinema. Contributors: Geoffrey Nowell-Smith - editor. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of Publication: Oxford. Publication Year: 1997
The New Hollywood
The Hollywood film industry entered a new age in June 1975, with the release of Steven Spielberg's Jaws. Two years later, George Lucas's Star Wars spectacularly confirmed that a single film could earn its studio hundreds of millions of dollars in profits, and convert a poor year into a triumph. The place of movies within the Hollywood production system changed; increasingly the focus was on high-cost, potentially highly lucrative 'special attractions' -- leaving the studio mogul-managers to look for regular, predictable cash flows from the 'ancillary' markets of television series production and, from the mid- 1980s, videocassette sales.
IN THE HOME AND AT THE MULTIPLEX
Although important changes occurred in Hollywood movie-making, the major transformation in this period was in where fans watched Hollywood's offerings. The rise of the made-for-TV movie, the introduction of cable (and satellite) film channels, and particularly the home video revolution, transformed film viewing in the 1970s and 1980s.
This began in the mid- 1970s as the TV movie expanded into the mini-series, and millions of Americans viewed critically acclaimed series like War and Remembrance and Lonesome Dove. The average made-for-TV drama, however, is a successor to Hollywood's B movies of the past, and mini-series like Hollywood Wives or The Thorn Birds are regularly produced and give a big boost to ratings. Since the turnaround time from production to presentation is so short, made-for-TV films can deal with topical issues, as in 1983 when The Day After provoked a national discussion about the possibility of nuclear disaster.
At around the same time, the world of cable television in the United States was transformed by Time Inc.'s innovative Home Box Office (HBO). For a monthly fee of about $10, cable television subscribers could see recent Hollywood motion pictures -- uncut, uninterrupted by commercials, and not sanitized to please network censors. For
the first time, Hollywood had found a way to make TV viewers pay for what they watched in their living rooms. HBO drew back the older movie fan who did not want to go out to a cinema, but loved watching second-run films on television at home.
Once it became clear that this market existed, other companies were eager to emulate HBO's success. In 1986 Ted Turner purchased an ailing MGM, not for its current productions, but for access to and control of its film library. Turner's SuperStation and TNT (as well as American Movie Classics and Bravo) fill the cable day with the best and the worst of old Hollywood films, and movie fans have a rich repertory cinema at home.
This movie viewing revolution reached its apex with the home video. Sofiy introduced its Betamax half-inch home videocassette recorder in 1975. Originally priced at more than $1,500, the cost of the Beta machines and their newer rivals, VHS, dropped to just over $300 by the mid-1980s, and an enthusiastic American public (plus millions in other nations) snapped up so many machines that by 1989 two-thirds of households were equipped to tape off the air or run pre-recorded tapes. To satisfy this new demand, the number of available cassettes of new and old films soared into the millions. New video releases were regularly reviewed in major newspapers, and achieved equal status to network and cable television.
At first, ironically, the Hollywood moguls loathed the new home video machine. Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, declared that the VCR was a parasitical instrument robbing Hollywood's take at the box-office. Valenti's major studio clients under-estimated the public demand for films in the home. Change only came about when outside entrepreneurs throughout the United States began to buy multiple copies of pre-recorded movies and to rent them to the public. Soon stores renting video popped up on every street corner, and the Hollywood majors, seeing the huge profit potential of the medium, began to capitalize on this apparently insatiable demand. By 1986 'ancillary' video sales passed box-office take from theatres in the USA, and by the 1990s the VCR was generating more than $10 billion in rentals and sales in the USA alone. The Hollywood studios found a new market for their product; blockbusters were given a second lease of life when distributed on video, and certain films, like Brian De Palma's Scarface ( 1983), which were only modestly successful at the theatres, found their audience through home video rentals. More people were watching more Hollywood films than ever before-at home.
Despite the dramatic changes ushered in by the video revolution, and the fears of the studio bosses, audience attendance at movie theatres did not collapse. In fact, by the beginning of the 1990s an average of nearly 20 million fans each week were visiting multiplex cinemas in the Al Pacino as the mafia godfather Michael Corleone taking advice from his lawyer, in the trial scene of one of the most commercially and critically successful sequels of all times: Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather Part II ( 1974)
United States. In 1990 there were more available movie screens in the United States than at any time since the late 1920s.
In the blockbuster seasons (summer, Christmas and spring holidays) Hollywood sponsored multiplexes so as to have room to release more potential blockbusters in more locations, simultaneously. Films like Batman ( 1989) and Batman Returns ( 1992) thus opened on nearly 3,000 screens across the United States. This meant that, during the 'low' seasons of autumn and spring, screens were available for lower-budget films, with smaller potential audiences. As a consequence, black film-maker Spike Lee was able to distribute She's Gotta Have It ( 1986) and Do the Right Thing ( 1989) through Hollywood companies to thousands of screens; David Lynch's cultish, violent Blue Velvet ( 1986) found an audience during the autumn months; Platoon ( 1986), a serious look at the Vietnam War, reached the status of a hit; and Warner Bros. was willing to release Blade Runner ( 1982) in a 'director's cut' version for two weeks in late September 1991, following it with a widespread rerelease in 1993.
IN THE BOARDROOM
The Hollywood majors sought to take full advantage of all the new markets for their product, in the home and at the multiplex. For all the technological transformations in movie viewing, the major movie corporations lost none of their power. In the new climate, they not only survived, they prospered. A handful of companies, formed more than half a century previously, continued to monopolize the creation of movies, and their distribution throughout the world. In the 1980s, the profits of these companies attracted buyers from abroad, and many gained new owners, but they showed no signs of weakening. Indeed, if anything, they seemed to be getting ever stronger, eliminating all serious competition.
The $20 billion consolidation of Time and Warner in 1989 created renewed interest in the concentration of power and profit in the Hollywood studios. Matsushita's take-over of MCA (and its Universal Studios) a year later proved the huge prices that rich foreign corporations were willing to pay for a place in Hollywood. Many film fans look back to the 1930s and 1940s as the 'golden age' of the movie business, but in fact the 1990s stood as the era when Hollywood achieved an international influence, a mass- entertainment market-place superiority, and millions in profits unparalleled in its history.
Many independent film-makers have established their own production companies as a legal means to make their pictures, such as Spike Lee's corporate umbrella 40 Acres and a Mule or Ray Stark's Rastar. However, they are still almost wholly dependent on the distribution arms of the vertically integrated majors: in the 1990s -- Paramount, Warner Bros., Matsushita's Universal Pictures, 20th Century -- Fox, Disney, and Sony's Columbia Pictures. Independent distributors still have very little share of the market, and triumphs like The Crying Game ( 1992), distributed in the USA by Miramax, only serve to underline the extent of the Hollywood domination. Not all Hollywood-based operations deserve the name major studio, nor achieved equal success in this period. Orion Pictures, run by Arthur Krim, who a generation earlier had revitalized United Artists, went bankrupt. This, despite millions made from RoboCop ( 1987) and Dances with Wolves ( 1990), and despite the regular release of Woody Allen's films.
Paramount Pictures took a new direction in the early 1980s, when president Charles Bluhdorn died and longtime assistant Martin S. Davis took his place and began to sell off the non-entertainment-related businesses. By 1989 what remained, now titled Paramount Communications, encompassed television and film properties including a share of the US cable network (in partnership with MCA/Universal), an active television production unit, a home video division, and the publishers Simon & Schuster. Paramount also retained its movie studio on Melrose Avenue (the last lot actually situated in Hollywood), from which it produced a regular supply of films, from the Star Trek series ( 1979 to 1994) to The Hunt for Red October ( 1990).
Warner Communication, formed at the start of the 1970s, grew to include divisions handling popular music, publishing, and cable television, as well as the core Hollywood movie-making and movie distribution operations. When Warner Bros. merged with Time in 1989, they created Time Warner, the largest media company in the world and the quintessential media conglomerate. Cable properties, magazines, and television production provided consistent profits, and the Warner Bros. studio produced a number of the top grossing films of the early 1990s including Batman and Batman Returns, both of which had started as 'properties' in Warner's DC Comics unit.
MCA/Universal has long provided a formidable rival to Paramount and Warner, particularly through its film- production operation, Universal Studios. In 1959 talent agency MCA bought Universal. Faced with a governmental suit, because it then both employed and represented talent, MCA shed the original agency business and began a process of development and acquisition, evolving into a media conglomerate with theme parks, a chain of gift shops, book publishing, and a popular music division. MCA's diversified success attracted Japan's giant Mat- sushita Corporation, and in December 1990 it bought MCA for an estimated $7 billion.
In 1985 20th Century -- Fox was bought by the Australian (now naturalized American) media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. From the base of his world-wide media conglomerate, News Incorporated, Murdoch transformed the ailing film studio into a media empire with formidable film and television operations. Fox's television division,
ON THE SCREEN
Ironically, in this age of Hollywood hegemony, its films were increasingly treated as art. The influential New York Times reviewed movies with a seriousness once reserved for dance and theatre, and specialist magazines heralded a new age of American cinema.
The 'new' Hollywood dates from the 1975 release of Steven Spielberg's Jaws, which marked the entry of a new, younger generation of Hollywood directors. Born in the -479-
1940s, they had grown up with cinema, and had a passion for the films of classical Hollywood, but also had studied and were influenced by the masters of foreign cinema. For example, both Spielberg (on Jaws) and Lucas (on Star Wars) consciously modelled the pace and look of their block- busters on Kurosawa's classic The Seven Samurai. Francis Ford Coppola proved with The Godfather ( 1972) that remaking Hollywood genres from the past, with the influence of art cinema, could also mean millions and millions of dollars. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg followed Coppola's lead, making blockbusters, and in the process virtually taking over Hollywood. Jaws and Star Wars correctly anticipated a return to classic principles. Indeed the very basis of the success of 'New' Hollywood was the regular production of genre films; those that could be most easily packaged, and sold on a mass scale to audiences around the world.
The return to genre production in Hollywood can partly be seen as a response by producers to the increase in budget sizes, and the related risk involved with blockbuster production. Elements of a film that have already been market tested, or on which a film can be marketed, become crucial in this climate (this is also why certain stars commanded such enormous fees). Central to this trend was the sequel. By 1990 there had been five Rockys, four Supermans, five Halloweens, and eight Friday the 13ths. Indeed, Superman was originally conceived as two films -- an original ( 1978) plus a sequel ( 1980). Successful films also generated whole genre cycles. The gangster film (from The Godfather) and the horror film (from The Exorcist, 1973) produced dozens of spin-offs. In the late 1970s monsters arose in every possible form: werewolves in Joe Dante's The Howling ( 1980) and John Landis's An American Werewolf in London ( 1981); vampires in John Badham's Dracula ( 1979) and Tony Scott's The Hunger ( 1983); and zombies in George Romero 's Dawn of the Dead ( 1979) and in John Carpenter's The Fog ( 1979). Hollywood sought a follow-up that matched the box-office power of the original.
Aimed directly at teenage audiences, who made up an increasing share of box-office revenue, were an ever- growing number of 'coming-of-age' filmic parables. Over and over Hollywood movies portrayed teenagers trying to convince a sceptical adult world to take them seriously. It was Lucas's American Graffiti ( 1973) that spawned this new set of films. Reformulated from the comic books and Hollywood serials of his youth, Lucas's portrait of the day and night before the hero goes off to college was a winner at the box-office. Produced by Coppola, with its sound-track of rock'n'roll songs from a decade earlier, American Graffiti boosted the careers of Harrison Ford, Ron Howard, and Richard Dreyfuss. It made Universal a great deal of money and made Lucas a force in contemporary Hollywood.
Myths could come from the distant past as well. Through the mid-1980s, every summer brought a new sword-and-sorcery blockbuster, from John Boorman's Excalibur ( 1981) to John Milius's Conan the Barbarian ( 1981) and its follow-up, Conan the Destroyer ( 1982). George Lucas and Steven Spielberg teamed up to create the mythic adventures of a twentieth-century archaeologist battling evil forces from the past in the phenomenally successful Raiders of the Lost Ark series.
Comedy was also transformed and recrafted for the teenage audience, often combined with a 'coming-of-age' narrative. For every comic romance with a light touch, such as John Hughes's Pretty in Pink ( 1986) or Paul Brick man 's Risky Business ( 1983), there have been many more based on the broadest possible humour, such as Rock 'n' Roll High School ( 1979), Fast Times at Ridgemont High ( 1982), and The Breakfast Club ( 1985). Inspired by the antics of NBC- TV's Saturday Night Live's 'Not Ready for Prime Time Players' (including John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, and Bill Murray), nothing was too obvious to become the source of a 'new' comedy. The movie that revitalized this genre, John Landis 's National Lampoon's Animal House ( 1978), offered an irreverent anti-intellectual look at university life with Belushi as Bluto and his Delta 'frat' buddies deciding to disrupt the homecoming parade in one final 'really futile, stupid gesture'. In the final credits (which also serve to update the lives of the characters), we learn that Bluto became a United States Senator. That one credit seemed to sum up the new Hollywood comedy's ever hip, ever cynical attitude toward the official adult world.
These films with slapstick humour share traits with the science-fiction and adventure films noted above. Both demand that we suspend our belief about the 'real' world; any physical and social act seems possible, and the world, past and present, becomes a playground for fun. At times this reaches surrealistic heights as in Cheech & Chong's Next Movie ( 1980), The Blues Brothers ( 1980), Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure ( 1989), and Wayne's World ( 1992).
If George Lucas and (to a degree) Steven Spielberg are now best known for their successes as movie producers, there have been many contemporary directors who have stuck to directing. Probably the most famous auteur film-maker in the 1980s, at least to the general public, has been Woody Allen. Allen achieved film-making distinction first as a star, then as director. Audiences loved his neurotic humour in Love and Death ( 1975), the Oscar-winning Annie Hall ( 1977), the black and white Manhattan ( 1979), and as the 'human chameleon' in Zelig ( 1983). Allen has also made more self-consciously serious films, such as Interiors ( 1978) and Stardust Memories ( 1980), loosely based on Ingmar Berg man 's Cries and Whispers ( 1972) and Federico Fellini's 8½ ( 1963) respectively.
Critics have cited Annie Hall, released the same year as -480-
Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Manhattan ( 1979) Star Wars, as the first major Woody Allen-as-auteur film. Collaborating with screen-writer Marshall Brickman and cinematographer Gordon Willis, Allen created an auto- biographical work which, through its meta-narrative filmic devices, stands apart from his earlier comic efforts. Subtitles reveal what is really going on; a superimposed Annie watches herself and Alvie (the Woody Allen character) make love; and a split screen shows Gentile and Jewish family dinner scenes. Since then, Woody Allen and his collaborators have tried many ways to express intellectual concerns to a mass audience. Interiors, in which Allen does not appear, is a serious study of human psychology, family life, the influence of one's mother, and the attempt to deal with the real world. Manhattan marked Allen's return to the New York Jewish milieu with which he is most associated, and, as Bullets over Broadway ( 1994) proved, there continued to be a large international audience for his work in the 1990s.
Martin Scorsese, a graduate of New York University's School of Cinema, seemed to offer the flip side of Woody Allen's nostalgic rendering of life in New York City. Scorsese established his critical reputation with Mean Streets (1973), an autobiographical work concerned with four Italian-American youths coming of age in modern cities in the United States, struggling with traditional values and modern economics. He went on to make the critically acclaimed (if not always financially successful) Taxi Driver ( 1976), Raging Bull ( 1980), and King of Comedy ( 1982).
While Allen has enjoyed a unique relationship with a major Hollywood studio -- total creative control over his productions (first at United Artists, and then at Orion) -- Scorsese has had a much more uneven (and more typical) time. He suffered several box-office disasters, notably his ambitious musical New York, New York ( 1977), and despite his high critical reputation had to fight hard to get his projects funded. In the contemporary Hollywood system, talented directors cannot simply rest on past laurels. Star Wars is an ever-growing memory, while duds like Howard the Duck ( 1986) remind Hollywood's chieftains that even George Lucas can make very expensive mistakes. Spielberg's amazing 1993 successes, Jurassic Park and Schindler's List, have given him an aura of infallibility, but even he has had his failures; 1941 ( 1979) proved a financial disaster for Universal, and his television series Amazing Stories proved a flop.
With no film-maker or star ever able to guarantee a film's success, Hollywood continues to play it conservatively. The studios look to formula for the future, whether in the form of sequels or, increasingly, remakes -- of old Hollywood films ( Always, 1989), French mainstream dramas ( Sommersby, 1993: Three Men and a Baby, 1987), or popular television series ( The Fugitive, 1992; The Addams Family, 1991; The Flintstones, 1994).
The international market is central to the profits of the studios in 'New' Hollywood. Blockbusters, such as Fatal Attraction ( 1987), Rain Man ( 1988), and Cocktail ( 1988), all grossed more money overseas than in theatres in the United States, and stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Eddie Murphy are able to command multimillion-dollar salaries, in part because of their international appeal. Hollywood moguls are concerned about the possible volatility of international film markets, and this has led, in recent years, to joint deals between Hollywood and foreign companies to build theatres in Great Britain, Australia, Germany, Spain, and France, even in major cities across the former Soviet Union. In Britain alone, Hollywood companies (led by MCA's Cineplex Odeon) helped sponsor the construction of more movie screens than had been seen in a generation. This move back towards total vertical integration is seen as an ideal way for studios to protect their interests abroad and maximize their profits.
Some nations have been able to deal with the influx of Hollywood product by offering their own, culturally identifiable, genre films. In India, for example, a remarkable 250 film-making companies, using more than 60 studios, continued to produce 700 feature films a year throughout the 1980s. The central government encouraged the making of Indian films by requiring all commercial cinemas to screen at least one Indian film per show. The government also offered grants, loans, and a system of prizes to reward the 'best' films. A star system, much like Hollywood's of the 1930s and 1940s, continued to be strong. Indeed Indian stars work on several productions at the same time and can become enormously wealthy.
Other Asian countries have also been strong producers of film. Hong Kong, a country of only 5 million people, produces more films than Hollywood. Into the 1990s Hong Kong's citizens watched Hollywood and native productions in about equal numbers, and in the 1980s Hong Kong martial arts films were distributed world-wide in large numbers (often straight on to video).
Given the rise of cable and satellite broadcasting, Hollywood's ability to penetrate even these markets seems inevitable, and its future limitless. Throughout most of the world, Hollywood film-makers and stars, such as Steven Spielberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger, have become the cultural idols of a generation. With the economic stranglehold of Hollywood corporations and the return to classical principles of film-making and genres, the 'New' Hollywood looks (and functions) remarkably like the 'old' Hollywood.
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