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New Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction
Geoff King
London & New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2002.
£15.95, 296 pages, ISBN 1-86064-750-2.

Nicolas Magenham

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" [23]. 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" [5]. 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" period.

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" [44]. 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'" [59]. 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 stage" [61].

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" [174].

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 Blue Sea…), 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 Hollywood (1998).

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