The Bones of Reagan or the Ruins of Art Cinema in Contemporary American Film

By Varga, Darrell | CineAction, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

The Bones of Reagan or the Ruins of Art Cinema in Contemporary American Film


Varga, Darrell, CineAction


A Democratic victory would not change the world, but it would at least slow the momentum of the bombs-and-Jesus crowd. Those people have had their way long enough. Not even the Book of Revelation threatens a plague of vengeful yahoos. We all need a rest from this pogrom. Ronald Reagan is an old man. It will be the rest of us who will face Armageddon.

--Hunter S. Thompson (1986) (1)

A range of contemporary American films including American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999), American Psycho (Mary Heron, 2000), American Splendor (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, 2003) and even the Reagan-era documentary American Dream (Barbara Kopple, 1989) reflect something of the shift in filmmaking practice that is symptomatic of late capitalism, from the counter-culture ethos of 1970s New Hollywood through to the era of the blockbuster and corresponding intensification of neo-conservative hegemony. The films I choose to discuss, acknowledging that the selection is idiosyncratic rather than historically comprehensive, emerge in an era where the direct influence of European art cinema movements has passed, and after the triumphalist ascendancy of Reagan-era backlash against progressive social initiatives on such issues as race and gender equality and worker rights. While the disaster of the American economy and the crime of the war in Iraw suggests the failure of the imperial project The Project for a New American Century, (2) the massive increase in the concentration of wealth and power in contemporary American suggests otherwise, as Naomi Klein's trenchant and carefully researched study of free-market disaster capitalism demonstrates. (3) These "American" titles, as well as important related films such as To Die For (Gus Van Sant, 1995), High Fidelity (Stephen Frears, 2000), The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese 1983), Bamboozled (Spike Lee, 2000), Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989), and Sex, Lies and Videotape (Stephen Soderbergh, 1989), to name a few, are particularly interesting for the expression of the shifts in hegemonic tendencies as a function of the consolidation of dominant culture around a pervasive neo-conservative mass media.

Cultural Ruins

This list of exceptional films from the era demonstrates Stephen Prince's point, against the dominant critical rhetoric, that the art of cinema has not been entirely washed away by the tidal wave of the blockbuster. As he says: "Bad films (however one conceives them--as blockbusters, special effects showcases, teen comedies) did not drive out good films. Special effects extravaganzas did not vitiate good writing. While there is much irrationality, crassness, and timidity in the business, the market did what it does best--it insured that a wide range of films were available for the nation's movie-goers." (4) This populist defense of the laissez-faire market serves the good purpose of testing rhetorical claims against the actual practices of filmmakers and audiences; however, the claim of free market choice elides the broader ideological influence of the schema of the blockbuster in the narrative flow even in independent cinema. What Prince describes in his excellent history of 1980s American cinema is a systemic contradiction between the economic and control-based backlash against the excesses of auteurism, culminating in the fallout from Heaven's Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980) at the start of the decade along with the spectacular rise of the home video market which created a huge demand and corresponding opportunities for independent producers and distributors.(5) In fact, this shortage of Hollywood product mirrors similar marketplace conditions that provided opportunities for the distribution of European art cinema in North America in the 1960s, in turn stimulating the rise of American indie filmmaking and the popular acceptability of the idea of film as art form, not to mention contributing to the legitimization of Film Studies. Yet these similarities and the persistence of intelligent filmmaking, if always under siege, obscures the important transformation from the heyday of art cinema to the indie era--a shift reflected in economic conditions of production, the increasingly global and digital domain of marketing, and in the ideological thrust of narrative. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Bones of Reagan or the Ruins of Art Cinema in Contemporary American Film
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.