The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview

Art Cinema


At the beginning of the 1960s the prospects for European cinema looked good. Although audiences were declining, types of cinema were emerging which took account of the new realities. Co-productions reached a broader international market, while the French New Wave showed the way in low-budget film-making which did not need large audiences to cover its costs. By the 1980s, however, the picture was distinctly less rosy. The new cinemas of the 1960s and early 1970s ran out of steam. Cinema audiences declined still further, often vertiginously. Hollywood tightened its grip over the major film markets, and seized an increasing share of dwindling box-office revenues. In many European countries, particularly the smaller ones, the making of home-grown popular films -- comedies, crime films, and other traditional bread-and-butter genres -- dwindled to a trickle, and production became sporadic, sustained by subsidy and the occasional international success. National cinemas in either the economic or the cultural sense-that is to say, cinemas capable of producing a regular crop of films for the national market addressing national cultural concerns -- now exist in only a handful of European countries, west or (since the fall of Communism) east.

As a result, European cinema is increasingly characterized (at the low- and mid-budget levels) as 'art cinema' and (at the upper end) as 'international film'. These categories fairly accurately reflect the situation that has come into being since the 1980s, but the notion of art cinema in particular can be quite misleading when applied retrospectively to European films of earlier periods. Many of the films marketed in Britain and America under the 'art cinema' label, and imagined to be somehow different from 'commercial' films, were in fact (and sometimes still are) mainstream products in their country of origin, enjoying popular success at home before being sold abroad for more restricted 'art-house' release, and the same is true of Japanese and Indian films.


The idea of an 'art film' (or film d'art) occupying an different economic and cultural space from run-of-the-mill commercial production is almost as old as cinema itself. Making films with superior (or at any rate distinctive) artistic qualities could be an industrial strategy for producers and entrepreneurs as well as an aesthetic aim for directors-though both sides often discovered, to their cost, that the two objectives were not necessarily compatible. After 1945, government policy in many countries specifically favoured the making of films that would serve as vehicles of national cultural expression. Though these policies were often ambiguous, both in intention and in effect, they opened up spaces in which non-mainstream film-making could be financially viable, if not a reliable source of profit.

The new art cinema which took shape in Europe in the 1960s was not a homogeneous phenomenon. It comprised the cheaply made and often playful films of the French New Wave and solemn super-productions such as Vis conti 's The Leopard, made in Italy but financed by 20th Century-Fox. Within the New Wave itself, different tendencies emerged. Some directors, such as Jean-Luc Godard, retained a commitment to radical experiment, while others, such as Claude Chabrol, moved increasingly towards the genre film (in Chabrol's case, the Hitchcockinspired thriller). Whichever route directors chose, however, they could find producers to back them, secure in the knowledge that the market was flexible enough to support many different types of film, for both domestic and international release. In Britain market conditions were less favourable. The directors from the 'Free Cinema' stable were more dependent on mainstream releasing; although they enjoyed some international prestige, their main road to success was via America rather than Europe.

The turning-point for European art cinema came in 1959-60, with the release of Truffaut's Les Quatre cents coups, Alain Resnais's Hiroshima mon amour, Godard's Á bout de souffle, Michelangelo Antonioni's L'avventura, and Fellini's La dolce vita. The cultural conditions for the success of this new cinema had been laid in the 1950s, initially through the work of film societies and smallcirculation magazines, and harbingers of the explosion to come could be found in the enthusiastic reception given to films like Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal in 1957. But the popular appeal of the New Wave and associated cinemas was wider, and based less on their properties as 'Art' than on features such as their openness to a variety of experiences and (compared with mainstream British and American cinema, still mired in restrictive censorship codes) their sexual frankness. This appealed in particular to the young, educated audiences which were becoming proportionately more important with demographic and cultural change. Throughout the 1960s it was so-called art cinema which presented rough-hewn narratives, with a real-life inconclusiveness to them, while the mainstream, whether in the product of the major Hollywood studios or the survivors of the French 'quality tradition', offered a well-crafted, artistic product, confectioned for a middle-


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The Oxford History of World Cinema
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Contents xi
  • Special Features xv
  • List of Colour Illustrations xvii
  • General Introduction xix
  • 1 - Silent Cinema 1895-1930 1
  • Origins and Survival 6
  • Early Cinema 13
  • Transitional Cinema 23
  • The Hollywood Studio System 43
  • The World-Wide Spread of Cinema 53
  • The First World War and the Crisis in Europe 62
  • Tricks and Animation 71
  • Comedy 78
  • Documentary 86
  • Cinema and the Avant-Garde 95
  • Serials 105
  • French Silent Cinema 112
  • Italy- Spectacle and Melodrama 123
  • British Cinema from Hepworth to Hitchcock 130
  • Germany- The Weimar Years 136
  • The Scandinavian Style 151
  • Pre-Revolutionary Russia 159
  • The Soviet Union and the Russian émigrés 162
  • Yiddish Cinema in Europe 174
  • Japan- Before the Great Kanto Earthquake 177
  • Music and the Silent Film 183
  • The Heyday of the Silents 192
  • 2 - Sound Cinema 1930-1960 205
  • The Introduction of Sound 211
  • Hollywood- The Triumph of the Studio System 220
  • Censorship and Self-Regulation 235
  • The Sound of Music 248
  • Technology and Innovation 259
  • Animation 267
  • Cinema and Genre 276
  • The Western 286
  • The Musical 294
  • Crime Movies 304
  • The Fantastic 312
  • Documentary 322
  • Socialism, Fascism, and Democracy 333
  • The Popular Art of French Cinema 344
  • Italy from Fascism to Neo-Realism 353
  • Britain at the End of Empire 361
  • Germany- Nazism and after 374
  • East Central Europe before the Second World War 383
  • Soviet Film under Stalin 389
  • Indian Cinema- Origins to Independence 398
  • China before 1949 409
  • The Classical Cinema in Japan 413
  • The Emergence of Australian Film 422
  • Cinema in Latin America 427
  • After the War 436
  • Transformation of the Hollywood System 443
  • Independents and Mavericks 451
  • 3 - The Modern Cinema 1960-1995 461
  • Television and the Film Industry 466
  • The New Hollywood 475
  • New Technologies 483
  • Sex and Sensation 490
  • The Black Presence in American Cinema 497
  • Exploitation and the Mainstream 509
  • Dreams and Nightmares in the Hollywood Blockbuster 516
  • Cinéma-Vérité and the New Documentary 527
  • Avant-Garde Film- The Second Wave 537
  • Animation in the Post-Industrial Era 551
  • Modern Film Music 558
  • Art Cinema 567
  • New Directions in French Cinema 576
  • Italy- Auteurs and after 586
  • Spain after Franco 596
  • British Cinema- The Search for Identity 604
  • The New German Cinema 614
  • East Germany- The Defa Story 627
  • Changing States in East Central Europe 632
  • Russia after the Thaw 640
  • Cinema in the Soviet Republics 651
  • Turkish Cinema 656
  • The Arab World 661
  • The Cinemas of Sub-Saharan Africa 667
  • Iranian Cinema 672
  • India- Filming the Nation 678
  • Indonesian Cinema 690
  • China after the Revolution 693
  • Popular Cinema in Hong Kong 704
  • Taiwanese New Cinema 711
  • The Modernization of Japanese Film 714
  • New Australian Cinema 722
  • New Zealand Cinema 731
  • Canadian Cinema/Cinéma Canadien 731
  • New Cinemas in Latin America 740
  • New Concepts of Cinema 750
  • The Resurgence of Cinema 759
  • Index 785
  • List of Picture Sources 823


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