Its often said that in todays Hollywood, the studio brass doesnt care about movies; it cares about money. This is one of the reasons the Hollywood studios have been floundering without identities for forty years
not for lack of trying. In these major studio films, selected from the syllabus of Contemporary Hollywood Cinema, we see the studios trying to outfox their enemies, and we see their enemies looking to take them over from within. It helps that each of these movies was remarkably successful. If Hollywood is a place where success breeds imitators, we might wonder what happens when the studios attempt to imitate one anothers search for identity.
Program notes by J.D. Connor, Assistant Professor of English and American Literature and Language and Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard University.
September 20 (Monday) 7 pm
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
US, 1960, b/w, 109 min.
With Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin
Psycho is movie of splits: broken credits, a bifurcated narrative, slashed faces. Long after youve dissected the shower sequence, the remarkably supple performance by Tony Perkins enthralls. Hitchcock used his TV crew as an experimentto save money, to anger his bosses at Paramount, and to stay close to his new home at Universal. The multiple camera setups gave Perkins much more room to breathe than Hitchs usual storyboarded, cutting in the camera approach. One final split: Psycho essentially ended continuous exhibition in America. Heres where I came in got replaced by No one, but no one, will be admitted to Psycho after it has begun
September 27 (Monday) 7 pm
Directed by Dennis Hopper
US, 1969, color, 94 min.
With Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson
This now-classic road movie turned the B-movie youthquake into an international art cinema. Easy Rider tells the story of Captain America and Billy the Kid as they go looking for America and, as Columbias original poster put it, cant find it anywhere. From its legendary compilation score to its echt-60s lens flares and culminating LSD trip, Easy Rider feels disconcertingly familiar, a model of what Tom Frank calls the conquest of cool. As they motor along to their inevitably tragic end, our heroes do drugs, have their rights violated, meet some interestingly allegorical groups of folks, and find themselves framed by László Kovácss gorgeous cinematography.
October 4 (Monday) 7 pm
Directed by Gordon Parks
US, 1971, color, 100 min.
With Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Charles Cioffi
No one could ignore the success of Sweet Sweetbacks Baadasssss Song, certainly not MGM, which was eager to capitalize on alt-art cinema when it couldleading to such unusual collaborations as a three-picture deal with Michelangelo Antonioni. It was easy enough to turn Ernest Tidymans John Shaft into the black private dick whos a sex machine to all the chicks. And while Shaft may have turned revolutionary baadasssss cinema into blaxploitation, it also looked ahead to some of the great innovations and reestimations of genre cinema in the seventies: Tidyman wrote screenplays for The French Connection and High Plains Drifter and Isaac Hayes won an Oscar for his score. Along the way director Gordon Parks not only makes a cameo, but strategically places copies of Essence magazine in the film (Parks had co-founded it).
Directed by Steven Spielberg
US, 1975, color, 124 min.
With Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw
Hitchcocks Vertigo effect, Wellesian deep focus (including a diopter shot), some Kovacsian zoom work on the beachall the resources of Hollywood at his command, and still Spielbergs film was almost sunk by what he called the great white turda shark that never seemed to work. Two things saved him, according to Peter Biskind: Verna Fields editing, which saved the sharks big entrance for minute 81, and the production delays, which gave Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss time to bond (and gave Robert Gottleib time to rewrite the script). Throw in the saturation booking and the first national TV ad campaign and the modern summer blockbuster was born.
October 25 (Monday) 7 pm
Directed by Sydney Pollack
US, 1982, color, 119 min.
With Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Bill Murray
Dustin Hoffman is Michael Dorsey, the actors actor who cant get a job until a drag transformation lands him a leading role on a daytime soap opera. No one will hire you his on-screen CAA agent (and off-screen director) Sydney Pollack tells him. Behind the scenes, though, it was the co-chair of CAA Mike Ovitz, who just happened to be Hoffman, Pollack and Bill Murrays agent, who was trying to convince Pollack to hire himself to play the agent on screen. Hoffmans legendary transvestism isnt the only instance in the film, naturally enough. When it came time to shoot the sequences in the (nonexistent) CAA New York offices, the crew simply redressed Columbias own suite. CAA had practically taken the place over already.
November 1 (Monday) 7 pm
Directed by Tony Scott
US, 1986, color, 110 min.
With Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer
Tanned, muscled bodies glistening in the locker room and on the volleyball court give way to tight jeans, white pocket t-shirts, and leather jackets in the fading seaside light. In Paramounts Top Gun, director Tony Scott, production designer John DeCuir, Jr., and costumer Bobbie Read (of Flashdance fame) have put a Herb Ritts photo spread into motion. The high concept shell is so glossy that its hard to take the film seriously as therapy for the Vietnam Syndrome. Still, the soundscape is pure Reaganism: layered effects of jet engines and weapons engagement trade off with a Giorgio Moroder-produced soundtrack with all the trimmings: classic rock (The Righteous Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis), pseudo-energetic pop (Kenny Loggins) and an Oscar-winning power ballad (Berlins Take My Breath Away).
November 8 (Monday) 7 pm
Directed by Tim Burton
US, 1989, color, 126 min.
With Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger
These days, it seems like every studio has entrusted its mega-franchises to directors with an indie edge. But before there were Bryan Singer, Alfonso Cuaron and Christopher Nolan, there was Tim Burton. Fresh off Beetlejuice and Pee-Wees Big Adventure, Burton blended his own torqued sensibility with Anton Fursts remarkable production design. The results were wildly popular, and strangely powerful. The Saturday after Batman opened, Warner CEO Steve Ross told producer Mark Canton You may be responsible for making the merger happen. The merger of course, was with Time, Inc., which makes its own cameo appearance in the film as Vicky Vales employer. As the Joker says when looks at her pictures of the Corto Maltese massacre, I dont know if its art, but I like it.
November 15 (Monday) 7 pm
Directed by John Singleton
US, 1991, color, 107 min.
With Laurence Fishburne, Ice Cube, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Singletons debut film, with its remarkable cast, brought New Jack Cinema into line with grander traditions of urban class melodramaan Angels with Dirty Faces for South Central (and Compton). Worried about glorifying gang violence, or inciting it in the theaters, as Dennis Hoppers Colors had in 1988, Columbia muted the gang references. No Crips, no Bloods, just blue and red. Still, when the film premiered, there was sporadic violence and Singleton was forced to defend his didactic film. That wasnt the end of the censorship, though. Worried that Fishburnes grand set-piece speech that linked black-on-black violence to gentrification would contribute to growing anti-Japanese sentiment, the studio (recently purchased by Sony) made Singleton change the name of the real estate company. His new version? Seoul to Seoul.
November 22 (Monday) 7 pm
Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
US, 1991, color, 84 min.
Beauty and the Beast became the first animated feature nominated for Best Picture (it lost to The Silence of the Lambs). The film wove together campy BroadwayismsGaston rhymes of decorating and expectorating during his mock marriageand self-conscious nostalgiaMrs. Potts Tale as old as timeto make Beauty the most multi-generationally watchable of the new wave of Disney animated musicals. Along the way, they slip an extended CG sequence into the ballroom dance (elaborate camera moves are almost always CG). Its not so much a revolution in Disney animation as some much-needed renovationsrenovations the castle itself undergoes at the end.
November 29 (Monday) 7 pm
Directed by James Cameron
US, 1997, color, 194 min.
With Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Gloria Stuart
Wildly over budget, beyond studio control, with bad publicity pouring over the bulkheads, Titanic was destined to be the worst flop in film history. Until it wasnt. Instead, it made Leo a one-name celeb, made Cameron king of the world, and made more than a billion dollarsstill the record. The critical headscratching began: what made it bigger, if not better, than anything that had come before? Was it, as Vivian Sobchack argues, the bathos of the bathysphere in the frame story or was it the pasticherie of James Horners score? Could Celine Dion be responsible? In the end, no doubt, DiCaprios unthreatening class insouciance and bluffing sexual forthrightness could have encouraged many folks besides Kate Winslet to disrobe. Still, that scene has a certain pathos once we know that it is James Cameron himself drawing Winslets portrait.