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Article – New Hollywood vs. Modern Hollywood


Posted July 10, 2015 by

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New Hollywood vs. Modern Hollywood

In June, Miami Beach hosted the largest gathering of geekdom in the southeast with the arrival of Supercon. The interesting part to me about conventions isn’t the cosplay outfits, panel discussions, or even celebrity guests. What I look forward to are the interesting conversations with fellow lovers of art, music, and film.

In the course of a fun Sunday afternoon, a conversation arose between an eclectic group of creative minded people which included an illustrator, sound designer, cinematographer, and me, a writer. The topic: Modern Hollywood.

I’ll skip the parts where I roll my eyes at fan boys who think the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the greatest thing ever to happen to film. The part of the conversation which stayed with me the most, the one I’ll focus on here, is when modern Hollywood was equated with an era known as “New Hollywood.”

Let’s take a moment to remember what the New Hollywood era was. Generally speaking, new Hollywood began in 1967 when studios were desperate to ignite tickets sales. For the previous several decades, Hollywood focused on musicals and westerns, but audiences were growing younger and more educated. This new audience was turning to foreign films to find the kind of motion picture entertainment which captivated them. With the studio system only churning out repetitive, set-based movies, they turned to a new crop of emerging filmmakers who brought two important things to the table: envelope-pushing styles and an emphasis on location shooting.

A direct result of the studio system giving up control to young, passionate visionaries produced some of the greatest films and filmmakers cinema has yet to know. Steven Spielberg created JAWS (1975) and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). Stanley Kubrick brought his meticulous style to the masses with films like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) and THE SHINING (1980). Martin Scorsese released MEAN STREETS (1973) and RAGING BULL (1980). Francis Ford Coppola, Brian DePalma, David Lynch, and more made their mark during this New Hollywood era.

Author’s Note: Yes, I left out George Lucas because I think he’s a far better Producer than he is a Director. As a writer, he is a serial killer who stalks and murders the written word.

So, why did the era end? Essentially, while it hit some of the highest of highs, the era also featured many high-profile films which cost a fortune to make and completely bombed at the box office. While New Hollywood was made famous for the control given up to directors by studios, the biggest hit of the era, Star Wars, was famously not an easy sell for Lucas. Studios reigned in on Lucas (even more so for Empire) and profits rose and for them, causation is grounds for correlation.

Fast-forward 33 years later to 2015 where Modern Hollywood is burning brighter than ever. Hollywood marketing teams have mastered the art of hype, in part due to the arrival of the Internet where advertisements can run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and merchandising of all kinds is available. Many consider this era a resurgence of New Hollywood, because directors like Kenneth Branagh or Joss Whedon are helming massive-budget popcorn films with seemingly all the control they want.

In reality, these directors are doing more executive administrating than pushing the boundaries of filmmaking as directors. The difference between Branagh’s THOR and Alan Taylor’s THOR 2 is minimal, because the studio is focused on creating a brand rather than allowing directors to add their flavor to a movie. For every Whedon-ism in THE AVENGERS, there are needlessly long action scenes which are almost entirely done by the second unit director and CG team. Even the mighty Michael Bay, who has made billions, doesn’t really have the freedom to make whatever he wants. Lack of clever filmmaking talent aside, Michael Bay makes studio-approved mass-market fare and is not an auteur creating innovative films. I know the Russo Brothers added some Bourne-inspired shaky cam and James Gunn had some fun characters in their respective movies, but as a whole they are movies made under strict studio oversight.

Directors during the New Hollywood era were relative unknowns who were entrusted with driving the future of film in the hopes of capturing a growing, educated audience seeking more than just escapism. I see Modern Hollywood as capitalizing on the names of directors who are already established, particularly in the genre community. Modern Hollywood’s target audience is a global market, which puts an emphasis back on escapism and hype.

To me it seems directors like Whedon are doing studio films in order to earn the financial clout to make more of the kind of movies they want to make. It’s a smart move if the movie is a hit because it opens the door to more creative freedoms for other projects. On the other hand, gambling on managing a studio film which ultimately bombs could destroy a career. Remember Martin Campbell? He directed GOLDENEYE (1995) and CASINO ROYALE (2006) and then went on to murder his career with 2011’s GREEN LANTERN — literally the last movie he’s made with nothing new coming from him anytime soon.

So, where does this leave us? Well, while its effects are long-lasting, and the movies created thought of as cinematic classics, New Hollywood is long gone. Modern Hollywood, while nothing at all like the New Hollywood era, is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Hollywood products have also moved far beyond a movie screen, which is why I call today’s era Virtual Hollywood, because it’s virtually everywhere, all the freakin’ time.

However, I’d argue that modern filmmaking as a whole is firmly in a new great era, because there are a plethora of fantastic films which are produced by smaller, often unknown, production teams and studios. There’s also been a resurgence of television as well as a greater and greater number of imaginative and entertaining foreign films from countries like Sweden (LET THE RIGHT ONE IN), Spain (REC), South Korea (OLDBOY), Australia (THE BABADOOK), and Japan (AUDITION).

Hollywood might be making more money today than ever, but, in a way, they matter so much less in the grand scheme of innovative filmmaking or to people who enjoy film beyond the popcorn, like the wonderful readers of Film Debate. <— This pandering moment learned from Virtual Hollywood.


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Ruben R. Diaz
Freelance Contributor

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