Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction
London & New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2002.
£15.95, 296 pages, ISBN 1-86064-750-2.
Geoff King is Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at Brunel University.
He is the author of Spectacular Narratives: Hollywood in the Age
of the Blockbuster and of Film Comedy, among other books
(see the review of Film Comedy in CERCLES). King starts his
new book evoking the fact that even though every critic agrees that
New Hollywood is characterized by recent stylistic and industrial
changes in Hollywood cinema, there is no clear and precise definition
of the phrase. King offers a few leads, but systematically qualifies
and even questions them. For instance, one of the trademarks of New
Hollywood is supposed to be that more films are inspired by current
social and political issues. However, with a strong demonstration,
King reexamines the situation of two 1974 productions (Coppola's The
Conversation and Alan J. Pakula's The Parallax View) which
are not influenced by the political climate, although they are often
said to have their roots in Watergate. King thinks that "a distinction
can be made between where films like these come from and what
they become part of" . It must be added that when
other Hollywood films are directly influenced by reality, it is often
the result of an audience-targeting strategy.
Throughout the book, King insists on the fact that all things considered,
there is nothing profoundly new in New Hollywood. Many aspects of
the "classical" period are still deeply rooted in what is
often regarded as a revolutionary era. In the introduction, King demonstrates
that "the 'classical' style has not been abandoned. Far from
it." He adds that "the conventions of continuity editing
and cause-effect narrative structure remain largely in place"
. He exemplifies this idea in a chapter on the Hollywood blockbuster,
showing notably how the narrative economy of the beginning of Die
Hard with a Vengeance is a direct legacy of the "classical"
Another indication of the fact that nothing is really new in the Hollywood
"Renaissance" concerns the influence of other cinemas. Many
talk about the so-called transformation of a part of Hollywood cinema
through the influence of other cinemas, especially that of European
films and the French New Wave. From Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde
(1967) to Jonathan Demme's The Truth about Charlie (2002),
the influence of the French New Wave on New Hollywood is undeniable,
but as King rightly puts it, such movies merely "absorb stylistic
elements from other cinemas", without being "transformed"
. Furthermore, Hollywood directors have always been influenced
by other cinemas, even before the Hollywood "Renaissance".
So one of the main qualities of King's book is that it challenges
some generally accepted ideas concerning New Hollywood, like the notion
of majors being less powerful than in the "classical" era.
For him, even though the production system became more fragmented
as a result of the post-war significant changes, "much stayed
the same. Major continuities exist between Hollywoods 'Old' and 'New'"
. He adds that "in some cases the overseas market plays an
even bigger role, especially in the case of action or star-centered
blockbusters that tend to translate particularly well onto the international
King's book interestingly discusses New Hollywood under the light
of stardom too, examining the "meanings" of stars such as
George Clooney and Will Smith. With the help of Richard Dyer's work
on stars, King demonstrates in depth that the main reason why stars
appeal to the audience is because they reconcile opposites reflecting
the very contradictions of American society. But King never forgets
the commercial aspect underlying every Hollywood characteristic, and
in this respect, he points out that the reconciliation of issues can
also be "understood in terms of Hollywood's familiar commercial
logic: offering, again, the best of both worlds, a source of potential
pleasure for the viewer and a way of trying to limit the offence given
to any substantial constituency of potential filmgoers" .
King also examines the different features of contemporary blockbusters
in a long chapter which starts rather disappointingly with an analysis
of the blockbuster narrative model, peppered with too many similar
examples (Die Hard with a Vengeance, Speed, Deep
), and illustrated by over-simplified and not very
useful figures. Then King describes the links between the formal aspect
of blockbusters and the economic and psychic context of western society,
referring to an interesting but questionable theory by Fred Pfeil.
According to the latter, to put it roughly, Hollywood films could
be described by a shift from Fordism to post-Fordism and from the
Oedipal to the pre-Oedipal. But King does not really delve into the
subject, contenting himself with describing Pfeil's theory and writing
a few frustrating sentences about its problematic side. Nevertheless,
as I have already alluded to, this chapter on blockbusters is more
interesting when King compares recent blockbusters with spectacular
movies of the "classical" era.
Even though the chapter on blockbusters shows that Geoff King's New
Hollywood does not radically depart from general ideas (but it
is an introduction after all), it nevertheless constitutes
a good academic matching piece to Peter Biskind's Easy Riders,
Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' roll Generation Changed