Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema

Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema

Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema

Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema

Synopsis

In the 1970s, Hollywood experienced a creative surge, opening a new era in American cinema with films that challenged traditional modes of storytelling. Inspired by European and Asian art cinema as well as Hollywood's own history of narrative ingenuity, directors such as Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, William Friedkin, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, and Francis Ford Coppola undermined the harmony of traditional Hollywood cinema and created some of the best movies ever to come out of the American film industry. Critics have previously viewed these films as a response to the cultural and political upheavals of the 1970s, but until now no one has explored how the period's inventive narrative design represents one of the great artistic accomplishments of American cinema.

In Hollywood Incoherent, Todd Berliner offers the first thorough analysis of the narrative and stylistic innovations of seventies cinema and its influence on contemporary American filmmaking. He examines not just formally eccentric films--Nashville;Taxi Driver;A Clockwork Orange;The Godfather, Part II; and the films of John Cassavetes--but also mainstream commercial films, including The Exorcist,The Godfather,The French Connection,Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,Dog Day Afternoon,Chinatown,The Bad News Bears,Patton,All the President's Men,Annie Hall, and many others. With persuasive revisionist analyses, Berliner demonstrates the centrality of this period to the history of Hollywood's formal development, showing how seventies films represent the key turning point between the storytelling modes of the studio era and those of modern American cinema.

Excerpt

The film Nashville (1975) opens with a jolt. The Paramount Pictures logo, black-and-white and faded, initiates a quiet display of credits that gives way unexpectedly to a peppy advertisement for the film in the form of a late-night TV commercial for a country music compilation album. The commercial sounds so cacophonous and moves at such a blistering pace that spectators could not possibly make out half of the information it presents. A hawker’s shrill voice-over clashes with brief song clips; album covers quickly scroll behind drawings of the principal actors, as the camera whips from one drawing to another; and the bogus commercial asks spectators simultaneously to read one set of text crawling up the left side of the screen and another set crawling down the right (Figure 1.1).

The segment is, in some revealing ways, an emblem for seventies storytelling. It displays the wry self-consciousness indicative of the era’s filmmaking, but even more indicative is its combination of incongruous styles and narrative devices. The commercial fits neither with the subdued style of the credits that precede it nor with the narrative mode of the rest of the film, which never again addresses the audience directly or adopts the form of an out-and-out parody. Moreover, the commercial occupies a precarious position within the film, functioning paradoxically as credits for the twentyfour lead actors, an introduction to their characters, an advertisement for the movie, an advertisement for the movie’s soundtrack album, and an advertisement for the movie as though the movie were itself a country music album. The remainder of Nashville is less disorienting than its disjointed . . .

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