What is New Hollywood? 60s & 70s Cinema Revolution

New Hollywood Cinema
New Hollywood Cinema

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What is new Hollywood, and why is it important?

New Hollywood was a film movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Before this time the film studios had full control over the movies they made. Because of this movement, the film director is the key creative on a film set.

So, how did this movement begin, why was it important, and how did it end? In this guide, we will break it down in detail and include many examples of popular movies of this era.

What is New Hollywood?

The New Hollywood film movement began in the United States in the 1960s. The movement started with a group of film students who had a passion for filmmaking. The French New Wave inspired them to take control of their projects and challenge the film studios.

It was a response to the stale and predictable Hollywood movies of the 1950s. Before this time, film studios had total control over the making of a film. The new filmmakers wanted to take back that control and change the shape of cinema.

The New Hollywood made many successful movies and worked within the studio system to create a new film genre. This movement would change how we make movies, fund films, and who has the creative control.

Now let’s look at a brief history of how it all began.

The History of New Hollywood

In the 1950s, film studios started to see a fall in cinema numbers due to the rise of television. As a result, they started to make bigger films such as epics and musicals. Initially, they had some success with films such as The Ten Commandments (1956) and Ben Hur (1959).

However, in the 1960s the studios struggled to attract an audience. In addition, Twentieth Century Fox made Cleopatra (1963) which ran over budget and almost closed the studio. Old Hollywood was losing both money and its audience. The aging studio bosses did not know how to save the business.

Then in the mid 60s, the studios had an upheaval, new bosses came in and young filmmakers emerged. These filmmakers were inspired by the French New Wave and the British New Wave. They understood that tastes in cinema had changed and were ready to take risks. This was the start of the Hollywood New Wave. 

Most Notable New Hollywood Directors:

  • Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde 1967)
  • Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider 1969)
  • Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather 1972)
  • Roman Polanski (China Town 1974)
  • Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver 1976)

New Hollywood Characteristics

Hollywood New Wave is a term to describe the shift in cinema starting in the mid 60s. The film that defined this movement was Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967). It had a mix of both violence and humor that was a hit in the cinema. The cover story in Time magazine in December 1967, called it the start of American New Wave cinema.

The success of this movie paved the way for other young filmmakers. In the 1970s Hollywood began to attract a new cinema audience with films such as Paper Moon (1973) and China Town (1974). These films shifted the storytelling of Old Hollywood and explored new themes such as crime, flawed heroes, and social issues.

During the Old Hollywood era, you could only shoot movies in studios. However, New Hollywood made it possible to shoot handheld and on location. As a result, in the 1970s, there was also a rise in documentary filmmaking. Film editors also began to use jump cuts, match cuts, and cut scenes to rock music. 

Characteristics of New Hollywood Cinema:

  • Explored new themes such as social issues
  • Where more likely to show blood and violence
  • Shot movies on location and not in the studio
  • New technology made handheld cameras possible
  • Film editing was more free and creative

New Hollywood Film Examples

Now that you know how the new wave began and its changes to filmmaking. It’s time to look at the movies that defined this New Hollywood movement. Remember that before the mid 60s, films followed traditional themes and values. After, filmmakers had more control and could explore new ideas. Filmmaking was reborn with this new found freedom.

The Graduate (1967)

The Graduate is about a young man’s affair with a married woman only to fall in love with her daughter. It is a rom-com about the gap between traditional values and the newly educated American youth. In addition, the film heavily uses pop music and montage editing. It’s a good example of how French New Waves films influenced New Hollywood.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Midnight Cowboy explores the unlikely relationship between two men who live on the streets of New York. It has a low budget and explores themes such as poverty and crime. Both main characters are anti-heroes, something you wouldn’t see in old Hollywood. The film is also shot on location with a handheld camera and cut with a 1970s soundtrack.

Harold and Maude (1971)

Harold and Maude is about a depressed young man who falls in love with a 79 year old woman. It’s a dark comedy with a 1970s hippy soundtrack by Cat Stevens. The movie has scenes mocking America’s involvement in Vietnam and challenging traditional family values. Needless to say, this unlikely story would not have been possible with Old Hollywood.

The Godfather (1972)

The Godfather follows a mafia family and the power struggle between the youngest son and his father. It’s one of the highest grossing films of all time and won three academy awards. What makes it New Hollywood is its extreme themes of violence, domestic violence, and crime. The director, Francis Ford Coppola, also had full control over the film’s final cut.

What Ended New Hollywood?

The new Hollywood film movement ended with the blockbuster movie. The 1970s are often called the Golden Age of Hollywood because of the risks taken by young filmmakers. However, by the 1980s, cinema numbers dropped again with the increase of home television sets.

In addition, United Artists studio made a film called Heavens Gate (1980). The film went heavily over budget and had negative reviews, many calling it ‘the worst film ever made’. The failure resulted in the end of director driven movies and brought back the control of the film studios. 

The first big blockbuster movie was Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) followed by hits such as Star Wars (1977) and E.T. (1982). It became clear to studios that they could make money with large films with special effects. So, the studios started to make bigger movies and gave less money to small indie films.

Wrapping Up

To sum up, the New Hollywood movement changed filmmaking in the 60s and 70s. This change made filmmakers take risks, explore new themes and challenge the studio system. Without new Hollywood, movies would lack the creativity that they have today.

Worldwide cinema numbers have fallen since the rise of television and the internet. However, cinema screenings still sell out because the film business keeps changing. We hope this helps you understand more about new Hollywood filmmakers and how they shaped cinema.

Amy Clarke
Amy Clarke
Amy is a content writer at the Video Collective. She is a former script supervisor and writes about careers in the film industry. Follow her on Facebook.
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