New Hollywood Home of Flexible Pathologies

This more dystopian conclusion offers itself from a reading of Drehli Robnik's reinterpretation of the counter-cultural war films from the 1970s, such as M*A*S*H, Kelly's Heroes and The Dirty Dozen. Such films take a high level of systemic breakdown for granted, apparently in order to draw from dysfunctionality new energies of ad-hoc alliance and informal 'teamworking', needed for unconventional tasks or missions. It would demonstrate the push-pull model (the mutual dependence of antagonistic forces) in the sphere of affective labour, by giving, for instance, the psychopath (as well as other marginalised, pathologised or criminalised existences, including 'hippies') a potentially valuable function in periods of transition, or in emergency situations. The key to this function might be that these protagonists display or can be mobilised to display not only rapid reaction, but random reaction behaviour. Capable of sustaining periods or phases of randomisation, they are not hampered by an outmoded motor-sensory body-schema, and thus correspond to what Robnik sees as the ideal prototype of somatic organisation in post-industrial society generally: 'flexibilised affect' as the motor of societal change at the micro-level of power, fantasy and desire. "It is not about making the misfits fit, but of making them refit the machinery", in other words, harvesting and harnessing the counter-cultural energies (including their anti-social excesses) for new kinds of work, especially in those sectors where, according to Hardt and Negri, economic and cultural phenomena can no longer be distinguished. The randomised networks and informal teams would then be the mirror-image -or the cold light-of-day materialisations - of those once hoped-for idealised communities of non-hierarchical communication and cooperative participation dreamed up by hippies and flower-power activists. These, of course, foundered not only because of state repression and capitalist exploitation, but also on the issue of gender (the couple and the 'impossible' sexual relation representing the last bastion of resistance to randomisation), and on the nature of power in complex social systems.

Perhaps we can now return to our initial question with a revived sense of its paradox: why are the 1970s seen by some critics as the unique and special highpoint of the American cinema, and by others as more like a brief interlude in an overall development of self-regulation and self-renewal which has allowed Hollywood not only to survive but to reassert its hegemony in the global business of mass-entertainment? At one level the answer is, of course, that 'art' and 'commerce' once more appear to confront each other in implacable incompatibility. At another level, the present collection also challenges the very terms of this opposition and tries to sketch a model for a third possibility: that art and commerce are always in communication with each other. What makes the cinema unique is that it is an art form owing its existence to the particular interplay of capitalism and the state, at any given point in time. Perhaps more than any other creative practice, then, the cinema's potential and performance, its identity and vitality are closely aligned with the changing relations between these forces, as the capitalist economy and the bourgeois state are continually competing with each other over legitimacy and sovereignty in the public realm (one possible definition of 'modernisation'). The task falling to the cinema - as site of the economy's symbolic realm in the sphere of consumption, and as site of the state's symbolic realm in the sphere of discipline and control (censorship, self-regulation) - would be to keep open another site of investment in change and in 'modernisation'- that of bodies and the senses. Hence the suggestion that one way to understand the American cinema of the 1970s is to see it finally not so much as a period either of radical innovation or of mere transition, but of crossovers, which is to say, shifts that mix the meaning of signs in order to make all kinds of slippages (or reversals of direction from margin to centre) both possible and functional. Hence also the insistence on asking what post-Fordism or post-industrialism might mean in and for the American film industry, and what the equivalent of such a post-Fordism might be in the auteur's self-image, his (re-action) hero and the male psyche. By im plication, this tends to re-locate the 1970s American cinema from the East Coast to California, and attributes to the diverse but unique community which is 'Hollywood' (including, since the 1970s, the Bay Area, Silicon Valley and the high-tech military establishments of Orange County) the perverse status of an art-and-commerce avant-garde. Like all avant-gardes, this one may well have been at war with itself, but it also formed a tribal entity of mutual self-interest. Evidence for both the tribal cohesion and the movie wars may be the shattered individual biographies. Evidence, however, can also be found in the films themselves, many of which now seem surprisingly legible as allegories of the very 'modernisation' processes and 'flexible' psychopathologies of which the movie community appears to have been both agent and victim. But to expand on this in more detail will have to be the subject of another collection.

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