Theory classical Hollywood cinema

The debate around the distinction between classical and post-classical Hollywood is often conducted polemically. The question is usually put as: is it still 'business as usual' in post-classical cinema, or do we need to change our vocabulary in order to 'do justice' to the movies made in Hollywood since the mid- to late 1970s? One faction (represented, for instance, by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson) argues that there is no need to change one's approach, insofar as even the contemporary Hollywood blockbuster is in many salient respects faithful to the stylistic and narratological principles that have informed mainstream cinema from the 1920s to the 1960s. Another faction (one might cite Thomas Schatz, Tim Corrigan, Scott Bukatman) would argue that what we need to explain is not the elements that have stayed the same, but what is different, in order to account for the major revival of the fortunes of Hollywood picture-making. For instance, if we make questions of studio ownership, the package deal, new marketing techniques and global distribution networks the key factors that have transformed Hollywood since the mid-1970s, then we can conclude that this 'new' Hollywood is defined by its different spectator appeal and a shift in demographic profile to younger, more mobile and global audiences. If we focus on narrative, then we can still detect changes, though perhaps more gradual and contradictory: there is first the influence of the European art cinema of the 1950s and 1960s, introducing a looser chain of cause and effect actions, a less purposive hero, with more open-ended story outcomes; and as if to counter these changes, there is a parallel development where Hollywood narrative began to return to archetypal myths and stereotypes, but now filtered through the genre formulas of an earlier era's television series.

Advocates of a 'post-classical' break would add that it is special effects, new sound design, and the bodily sensations of the theme park and roller coaster ride which most clearly typify the aesthetics of New Hollywood, and that horror, violent death and explicit sex have migrated from the B-movie (and pornography) margin to the mainstream centre. Together, these sensory stimuli and thematic preoccupations have changed the way films are designed and visualized, with the result that they are differently interpreted (or used) by audiences. 'Spectacle' in this context would connote that such movies are 'experienced' rather than watched, that they offer a fantasy space to 'inhabit', rather than opening a window onto reality. The emphasis on sense impact and emotional contact makes it easy to think that story-telling no longer mattered in the way it used to during the period of the so-called classical style. But what exactly is or was the classical style?

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