Weekly Top Five: The best of New Hollywood | Bleader

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Weekly Top Five: The best of New Hollywood

Posted By on 06.30.13 at 09:05 AM

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Five Easy Pieces
  • Five Easy Pieces
This week Chicago moviegoers are serendipitously treated to a trio of notable works by New Hollywood directors. The Northbook Public Library has Francis Ford Coppola's The Cotton Club, a successful rehashing of the themes he explored in his Godfather films; Philip Kaufman's adaptation of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff screens at the Gene Siskel Film Center; and Roman Polanski's famous Chinatown will be on the TVs at Delilah's. Sure, Chinatown is the only film that could be considered part of the New Hollywood period proper, but The Cotton Club and The Right Stuff both stand as strong middle-period works from directors who made a name for themselves in the late 60s and early 70s.

The occasion got me thinking about other films from the era, largely considered American cinema's renaissance following the decline of the traditional studio system. Not everything that emerged from the period was great (stuff like The Graduate and Easy Rider, considered radical at the time, now seem like nothing more than canonical nostalgia pieces), but much of it has lasted, thanks in no small part to the general public's desire (however brief) for smarter, more personal movies. This, of course, has a lot to do with the simultaneous golden age that was occurring in film criticism—the age of Sarris, Kael, Ebert, Shickel, and Canby. You can catch my five favorite New Hollywood films after the jump.

5. Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968) Easily Polanski's most enduring work, a film whose elegance of craft masks the disturbing material. In retrospect, the latent themes of misogyny and Catholic guilt seem particularly fitting given the era, but it's easy to see why the film's original audience found the whole thing difficult to swallow.

4. Klute (Alan J. Pakula, 1971) Every bit the equal of directors generally associated with New Hollywood (Scorsese, Spielberg, Coppola), Pakula specialized in Chabrolian paranoia thrillers, the best of which is this searing noir hybrid that plays like an abstract, psychosexual prequel to his hit All The President's Men. Also notable for featuring some of cinematographer Gordon Willis's best work.

3. The Rain People (Francis Ford Coppola, 1969) Before the Hollywood bloat of Apocalypse Now and the Godfather films, Coppola crafted this lyrical, modest but nevertheless powerful look at American malaise. Experimental only in appearance, the film has a loose narrative structure that mirrors the aimlessness of the protagonist, a disillusioned housewife (Shirley Knight) who embarks on a cross-country trek in hope of finding kindred spirits.

2. Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970) Speaking of late-60s American malaise, this black comedy is perhaps the last word on the subject. The film is an encapsulation of fleeting idealism, rendered in cynical but no less forthright terms. As Kent Jones notes in an essay about the film he penned for the Criterion Collection, "It remains a shattering experience, in part because it contains an entire way of life within its ninety-eight minutes."

1. Point Blank (John Boorman, 1967) A no-brainer. Boorman's seminal, stylish noir remains a touchstone. Though clearly inspired by the modernist tendencies of European art-house cinema, the film is distinctly American—or rather, distinctly Hollywood, thanks to its healthy appropriation of classic genre technique. Lee Marvin, a towering figure if there ever was one, seems particularly ominous here.

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