Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Perchance to Dream

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Perchance to Dream

Article excerpt

Economic muscle is not the only explanation for the power of the American cinema

Is cinema an art or a commodity? Is it culture or commerce? The big American studios made their choice long ago: cinema is an industry, and every film is a product. But things are not quite as simple as that.

How is it that American cinema can make people all over the world dream, laugh and cry, and has done so for the last hundred years?

As early as 1916, when Europe was embroiled in war, D. W. Griffith's Intolerance laid the foundations of a new means of communication that, in addition to its artistic qualities, would vehicle not only a message meant for a universal audience but also the image of an entire country. Wittingly or unwittingly, the American film industry has always been the instrument of a certain kind of propaganda on behalf of values specific to the United States. Without it, people in America and elsewhere would clearly be less aware of the American myth.

But this desire to propagate a way of life is not enough to explain the impact of the American cinema. Its openness has also played a role. It has always welcomed non-American creators with open arms. Charlie Chaplin, Frank Capra, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder and Elia Kazan of the older generation, and George Miller (Mad Max, 1979), Peter Weir (The Dead Poets' Society, 1989) and Ridley Scott (Thelma and Louise, 1990) today, all have one thing in common: the universality of their language. It is precisely because they were foreigners that they had to, and did, use the camera to tell stories that all kinds of audience, irrespective of frontiers and languages, could understand.

One of the keys to this language, and thus to the American cinema, is the explicit use of emotion. "The most important thing is to move the audience," said Alfred Hitchcock, who is, nevertheless, one of the seventh art's "coldest" directors. …

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