Hollywood Reborn: Movie Stars of the 1970s

Hollywood Reborn: Movie Stars of the 1970s

Hollywood Reborn: Movie Stars of the 1970s

Hollywood Reborn: Movie Stars of the 1970s


Weary from the turbulent sixties, America entered the 1970s hoping for calm. Instead, the war in Vietnam and its troubled aftermath persisted, the Watergate scandal unfolded, and continuing social unrest at home and abroad provided the backdrop for the new decade. The scene was similar in Hollywood, as it experienced greater upheaval than at any point since the coming of sound. As the studio and star systems declined, actors had more power than ever, and because many had become fiercely politicized by the temper of the times, the movies they made were often more challenging than before. Thus, just when it might have faded out, Hollywood was reborn--but what was the nature of this rebirth?

Hollywood Reborn examines this question, with contributors focusing on many of the era's key figures--noteworthy actors such as Jane Fonda, Al Pacino, Faye Dunaway, and Warren Beatty, and unexpected artists, among them Donald Sutherland, Shelley Winters, and Divine. Each essay offers new perspectives through the lens of an important star, illuminating in the process some of the most fascinating and provocative films of the decade.


James Morrison

Most accounts of American cinema in the 1970s define the era as a period of tectonic shift. in his large-scale history of the decade, David A. Cook argues that “the American film industry changed more between 1969 and 1980 than at any other period in its history except, perhaps, for the coming of sound” (Cook 1). the conglomeration of the studios, the dispersal of the mass audience, the widespread loss of confidence in traditional genre structures, the pressures on the industry to adapt its products to new social conditions radically different from those of Hollywood’s classical era—these many factors influencing the seismic shifts in American movies of the seventies are well known, and their consequences widely agreed upon. a brief, chaotic “renaissance” occupied the decade’s first half, characterized by the quasi-independent auteur cinema of new young filmmakers, followed by a reversion to the “blockbuster” mentality in the second half, as “Hollywood’s financial health was restored, and the conglomerate ethic ruled” (Cook 6).

By 1969, the studio system was commonly regarded as dead, and conventional wisdom in some quarters viewed the star system as a casualty of its demise. in fact, as Cook demonstrates, the studio system was fundamentally reorganizing, as studio operations shifted the balance of previous decades among production, distribution, and exhibition functions toward an emphasis on distribution. Adapting to the corporate climate of post–World War ii America, the major studios persevered and ultimately even flourished, their power arguably reaching an all-time high by the end of the seventies. Something of the same kind could be said of the star system. As the studios shed contract talent throughout the fifties and sixties, stars gained power as free agents. the number of stars in the system decreased significantly from the classical era, just as the number of films produced annually declined consistently throughout the sixties and seventies (Litwak 51). But the overall ratio of film budgets dedicated to performers’ . . .

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