Reappraising the Renaissance: The New Hollywood in Industrial and Critical Context

Author: Nicholas Stephen Godfrey

Godfrey, Nicholas Stephen, 2015 Reappraising the Renaissance: The New Hollywood in Industrial and Critical Context, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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This thesis offers a reappraisal of the 'New Hollywood' of the late 1960s and early 1970s that aims to move beyond the currently accepted reductive historical models. It challenges many of the assumptions underlying prevailing accounts of the period, including the makeup of the orthodox 'canon' of New Hollywood movies, the time frame within which the movies were contained, and the role played by the critical establishment in determining the ways in which the movies of the period were understood. Bringing together industrial context, textual analysis and critical (re)interpretation, it examines the complex interplay of factors that allowed a movie such as Easy Rider to achieve commercial and canonical success, while so many of its contemporaries and imitators failed to make an impact, either at the box office or within the annals of film history. Taking the cultural and industrial impact of Easy Rider as its starting point, the thesis identifies a number of unifying characteristics shared by the youth-cult road movies spawned in the wake of Hopper's film. While these films were unable to replicate Easy Rider's commercial success, the thesis explores the partial reappraisal of this cycle, and its significance within the critically-constructed New Hollywood canon. The contemporaneous violent cop cycle of urban thrillers elicited highly politicised responses from mainstream film critics in 1971. An examination of the differing stylistic practices, adherence to generic convention and modes of stardom in Dirty Harry and The French Connection reveals both these films to be hybrid works that do not comfortably fit the New Hollywood mould, in turn determining the legacies enjoyed by these films. The limitations of the New Hollywood canon are similarly tested by The Last Movie and The Hired Hand (both 1971). As commercial and critical failures that inspired no further production cycles, these films contrast markedly with 1971's more stylistically conservative commercial successes such as The Last Picture Show. Belying the myth of auteurism that has become central to New Hollywood lore, it becomes clear that the Classical generic modes of Old Hollywood endured within the New Hollywood moment. By 1971, American film critics had already developed a set of aesthetic parameters that determined the conditions of entry to the rapidly-codifying New Hollywood pantheon. The arguments in this thesis provide the basis for a broader and more contextualised reappraisal of the transition from Classical to contemporary modes of production.

Keywords: Hollywood,New Hollywood,auteurism,film criticism,genre,motion picture industrial history,canon formation,Easy Rider,Dennis Hopper,Peter Fonda,road movie,youth-cult road movie,Dirty Harry,The French Connection

Subject: Screen Studies thesis, Media Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2015
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Richard Maltby (principal), Ruth Vasey (secondary)