20

Hollywood, 1965—Present

In the sixties, for the first time in its history, Hollywood fell behind the rest of the world—aesthetically, commercially, and even technologically (the latter because of the conservatism of its unions). Its decline resulted from the American industry's obstinate refusal to face a single fact: that the composition of the weekly American film audience was changing as rapidly as the culture itself. Between the mid-fifties and the mid-sixties, that audience shifted from a predominantly middle-aged, modestly educated, middle- to lower-class group to a younger, better educated, more affluent, and predominantly middle-class group. The new audience in America, as all over the world, was formed by the postwar generation's coming of age. It was smaller than the previous audience, and its values were different. By the early sixties, the old audience had begun to stay home and watch television, venturing out occasionally for some spectacular family entertainment but generally staying away from movie theaters. As the size of audiences decreased, admission prices rose well above the rate of general inflation, * which had the effect of further decreasing the demand for the traditional Hollywood product. Yet the industry continued to make films according to the stylistic conventions of the forties and fifties, as if its old constituency still existed, when only vestiges of it did.

The principal change in filmmaking during this period was the cost of production, which by 1966 averaged three million dollars per film due to both monetary inflation and the industry's own extravagant search for a winning box-office formula. The new audience was not interested in seeing these films any more than was the old one, because as long as American cinema simply duplicated the popular entertainment function of television on a larger scale, neither audience particularly needed it. By 1962, Hollywood's yearly box-office receipts had fallen to their lowest level in history—nine hundred million dollars, or one-half of the immediate postwar figure. The studios were in serious financial trouble, which grew worse as they made increasingly desperate attempts to recapture the old audience with spectacular flops like 20th Century—Fox's Cleopatra (1963). In 1965, the unprecedented success of Fox's The Sound of Music,

____________________
*
Between 1956 and 1972, when the general cost of living in the United States rose 53.9 percent, theater admission prices rose 160 percent.

-919-

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