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Contemporary Cinema Midterm Essay
By
Mike Allen

and even a onetime experiment with smell-o-vision to try to fill the seats. whereas musicals have never recovered fully. painting. theatre. and were forced to invest in the young filmmakers who would go on to create what would soon become the greatest decade of American film. It was not until the 1960’s that independent cinema was thoroughly established in any serious way. Technicolor. Old staple genres like the musical and the western were no longer in vogue. The studios attempted to adapt. literature.2 Film is an amalgam of all forms of art. our country’s answer to the radical filmmaking of the French New Wave. Today these to worlds exist in more or less a balance. The American New Wave. The film world is split into the two opposing and overlapping parties of the independent world and the studio world. After backing one too many biblical epics (1) the studios faced financial crisis. This has not always been the way though. they were not going out without a fight. whereas the studio world pushes film as a commercial commodity to be consumed by as many as is possible. Theater attendance had been steadily falling off ever since the television had come to be in the years following World War II. Of the two. Film embraces and represents a wide array of music. It took the revisionism of Spaghetti westerns to revive the genre for a while. the grit of Italian Neorealism. and more. the independent world is the one that actively strives to further cinema as an art form. Movies had ceased to be the hottest game in town. This collapse had been a long time coming. and the intellectualism of European and . with many independent and studio films being released every year. They tried Cinemascope. The modern independent film movement was born of the near total collapse of the studio system during the 1960’s. in the beginning it took studio funding to make any kind of movie.

This generation was influenced by cinema verite documentaries. Cassavetes was a Hollywood actor who used his paychecks to independently fund his own movies. Film programs sprang up at academic institutions across the nation. and NYU (3). UCLA. Five Easy Pieces. Director Robert Altman was among a new generation of director empowered by the Auteur theory and its declaration that the director is the ultimate authority in the creation of a film (2). in this case the war genre. William Friedkin. These film schools brought intellectual legitimacy to .e.) Movies like MASH acted as modernist updates of older genres. These artists combined Hollywood dollars with fresh takes on filmmaking that allowed for an artistic freedom that has since been unmatched in Hollywood filmmaking. These new generations of filmmakers were graduates of the new film schools. Some films disregarded genre altogether (i. Martin Scorsese. One proprietor of this hyperrealist style was John Cassavetes. including 1968’s Faces (3). and since when has Hollywood ever turned down a chance to make a dollar? This time in American film history is defined by deconstructions of old genre fare. and they used these techniques in a narrative context to add further realism to their films. Dennis Hopper. and Brian De Palma. This era of filmmaking is the defining moment when Hollywood decided it might be able to make a buck off of these so-called “art films”. Badlands. chief among them USC. as well as new genres such as the road movie and the disaster movie. The energy that pulsed through these new films and the fresh ideas that they presented would pave the way for the future of the independent cinema movement as it balanced precariously between the digestible store brand products that the studios wanted and the art that the filmmakers strived to produce.3 Japanese art films. Other directors who debuted during this era were Francis Ford Coppola.

on college campuses and all around. or Cassavetes films. Martin Scorsese. All around the nation film societies were started in cities and towns. With this film David Lynch created an indie film classic as well as legitimized the “midnight movie”.4 filmmaking. and lead to the evolution of film as an art form heading further into the 20th century. this would likely not be true if it was not for our newfound access to the thousands of films literally at our fingertips in the modern Internet age. The success of these new film school graduates helped legitimize film in the eyes of academia. 1960’s. Another member of the film school generation was David Lynch. the king of modern surrealist filmmaking. and with a grant from them funded his first feature film Eraserhead. and 1970’s all serious film fanatics had were the art house cinemas. The kind of places that would later support indie maestro Jim Jarmusch’s earliest efforts such as Stranger than Paradise and Down by Law (3). a subgenre of film that relies on cult interest and an audience made up of nighthawks interested in the subversive. However. a graduate of NYU film school as well as a onetime teacher there helped make an impact on the film world with the lessons he learned from his mentor Haig Manoogian. Ozu. In the 1950’s. These film societies provided venues for people to see films that would have otherwise been . for it has slowly been realized as truth by much of the movie-viewing world. David Lynch graduated from the American Film Institute (AFI). Eraserhead is a trippy look into the fears of raising a child in a world that everyday appears more and more dystopian. as well as helped to intellectualize the films themselves. These heightened intellectual standards helped to set film apart from the ‘dumbed downed’ storytelling found on television. where cinephiles could await the new Kurosawa. Film as art is not a wholly new concept.

These dedicated few are the lifeblood of the independent film industry. and Eraserhead. Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rain People. VCR. Some follow ups to these successes were the No Wave filmmaker Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger . Film festivals were created to aid in the legitimization of film as an art and to celebrate the medium in general. Success at any one of these could result in widespread acclaim and anticipation for many films.5 inaccessible to them. The audiences who go out of their way to see these independent films are very supportive of film as a whole.’ Although some may argue that giving awards to art is ludicrous. Cable viewers were able to catch movies that played on the different channels. Among these film festivals were Cannes Film Festival. Some early breakthrough independent films include Faces. They travel miles to independent movie theatres that play the films they would otherwise have to wait months to see. DVD. The modern audience is a sophisticated one. these awards gave these independent films credibility among audiences who had not yet seen them. and the Sundance film festival (4). the Venice Film festival. With its visual literacy and its access to all types of movies have lead tastes to become more and more diverse. and they may have a point. Movies that were unable to make a profit upon initial release now had a shot of making their money back through video sales. and without them the art films would not make the little profit they need for their creators to make more. Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets. and Blu-ray the audience was able to possess their own personal copies of the movie that they had access to whenever they wished. This market opened up distribution for films that would have previously not received it. Later on with Laserdisk. Awards were given out to celebrate the ‘best art.

6 Than Paradise. which provides grants and classes for young filmmakers. This recognition for Independent film helps the industry thrive and celebrates the independent spirit that makes the art possible. Certain institutions like Sundance sponsor filmmaker workshops wherein filmmakers from all around meet and work with each other on their own films. and Steven Soderbergh’s Sex. as well as operating as a filmmaker’s graduate school. Some of these films lurid sexual content attracted more casual cinemagoers to see the films in pursuit of a more base thrill. Lies. A unique voice and vision that separates them from the pack and makes them undeniably interesting and enthralling for anyone who so happens to see them. and Videotape. Just as important as the films that are produced are the relationships that are formed and the connections that are made. Some television channels like HBO and Showtime support filmmakers by running their films on their channel and paying them to do so. and even when it does it usually isn’t the hundreds of millions in box office gross that many a blockbuster receives. Therefore Independent film needs help for it to survive. The Independent Spirit Awards are the equivalent to the Oscars for Independent film. but overall this newfound interest in the art film is a response to the audience’s insatiable need for smarter films. and that is what all of the aforementioned films have in common. An education at the American Film Institute can lead to long and successful careers as evidenced by alumni David Lynch and Terrence Malick. Films with a voice. Among them are the American Film Institute. Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It. Independent film has been supported by a variety of different groups and institutions throughout the years. These connections and bonds form to make the independent film world a tight knit community of passionate . films with meaning and subtext. Indie filmmaking does not always result in a profit.

and they are able to maintain total independence from any major studios. financing. . Lynn Shelton. The concept of selfdistribution would have been crazy only a generation ago. An example of this change in funding is the mumblecore film movement that started around 2005 (1). many of which are quite good and have had much success. A generation of young filmmakers including Mark Duplass. The new technologies even allow for some filmmakers to be able to self distribute their own films. Developments in technology have lead to the democratization of filmmaking. Jay Duplass. Joes Swanberg. and Andrew Bukalski used their DIY mentalities to create extremely low budget movies. usually only having to deal with low-level distributors. creating. but now the artist can experience full vertical integration. In the digital age one no longer must spend money on film. No longer are thousands upon thousands of dollars necessary to make even the simplest movie.7 filmmakers working together in an attempt to create the best independent art cinema that they can. Advancements in technology have given the filmmaker many tools to deal with the everchanging film world and have created a truly independent cinema for the filmmakers who exist outside of the studios. Obviously better gear and technology never hurts to have. but in this day and age anybody and everybody has the ability to make a film. With these low budgets comes an incredible amount of artistic freedom for the filmmakers. Never have the opportunities for independent filmmaking been greater. A filmmaker can get a camera that results in a satisfactory image for several hundred dollars. and selling their own product. They are able to have complete control over the films that they make.

Fox has Fox Searchlight. Nowadays films made for up to $30 million can be labeled as “independent films. the definition of “independent” film is always changing. However. In the modern day most studios have sub-companies that exclusively fund and distribute indie films. During the 1990’s an assortment of companies like Miramax. This both empowers the directors and allows them to fully pursue their vision unheeded by monetary restraint. is the merging of the two parties of filmmaking. as the name makes apparent. and Paramount has Paramount Vantage. Many new independent films were looking more and more like studio movies with lower budgets.8 Financing for films has become more open in some ways and more restrictive in others. this collaboration with studios can often be a Faustian deal that leads to the filmmakers losing their independence and being forced to conform to making the type of films that the studio can market. These companies have given directors budgets and funding that are exponentially larger than ones they had worked with previously. also known as DIY films where the budget is generally less than a couple million (1). Sony has Sony Picture Classics. Fine Line. now there are micro-budget films. With these production and distribution companies came the rise of the “Indiewood” phenomenon. Films that are made by committee. Indiewood. lacking the personal and unique voice that once made independent film so special and powerful.” A new dichotomy has sprung up. instead of creating pure unfiltered art. Independent with . and Sony Picture Classics were created to fund independent filmmaking and distribution. the arty independents and the Hollywood studios. as well as the loss of autonomy in independent film. These companies were crucial to both the financial success of independent film. However. On one hand the market for independent film is larger than ever.

Larry Clark’s Kids is another film that falls into the category of hyperrealism. taking steps toward advancing filmic expression. Another subgenre of independent film is the modernist film. An example of a modernist film is MASH by Robert Altman. A subgenre of the arty indie is the hyperrealist film. In post-modernist film there is no set structure. Richard Linklater would later explore a similar form of storytelling in his 2001 film Waking Life. One of the genres of Independent film that emerged early on in independent filmmaking is the “Arty Indie” (1). and they are honest. they are petty. An example of this type of film is Faces by John Cassavetes. The other subgenre of the arty indies is post-modernist film. Post modernist film is a complete deconstruction of genre (1). a rebellious ideal that gels well with the radical philosophies of many filmmakers. Faces deals with the realistic and incredibly detailed dissolution of a marriage.9 a asterisk. but perfect for the art filmmaker whose sensibilities align more with mainstream tastes. they are vulgar. satirical. Arty indies have been concerned primarily with experimenting with the film form. only with a fraction of the budget. MASH is the cynical. As a modernist film much of its humor is derived from the irony of modern life. and Videotape by . even when they lie. and incredibly poignant deconstruction of the American war film. The characters talk like real people. An example of the post-modernist film is Slacker by Richard Linklater. Altogether these arty indies are the most radical form of independent film and are necessary niche which pushes film forward. An example of one such film is Sex. The Off-Hollywood indie are films that are very similar to Hollywood films. a movie about nothing and everything all at once. especially a life lived in wartime. Lies.

but that does not mean that they cannot be quite entertaining. made his own no-budget film about the day in the life of a convenient store clerk. The movie was filmed in Smith’s hometown. radical feminist and one time would be Andy Warhol assassin. These films can be seen as generic in comparison to their arty counterparts. about the life of Valerie Solanas. inspired by Linklater’s Slacker. The most authentic form of independent filmmaking is by far the most challenging. but about a subject that is decidedly antiHollywood. Another subsection of indie films is the retro indie. in the very convenience store he worked in (4). Another example of this is Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino. not exactly classical Hollywood (4). Another example of this is Kevin Smith’s Clerks (4). An update on the tried and true crime genre leads to long discussions about Parisian cheeseburgers and the sensuality of a foot massage.10 Steven Soderbergh. A film that fits in the old Hollywood genre of the biopic. When these films are successful they usually lead to a long Hollywood career for the director where they are granted bigger budgets with which to make their easily digestible dramacomedies best consumed with some popcorn and a large coke. An example of this type of film is Slacker by Richard Linklater. Smith. These films are intended to disgust the audience with their garish and intense . The retro indie is a film where an old Hollywood genre is resurrected and given a fresh veneer of independent spirit. DIY indies are films wherein the filmmaker has to scrape together the film by their own means. The last and most abrasive type of independent film is the scatological or shock film.00 of his own money funding his breakout film. Linklater spent $23. Beyond this is the DIY indies. An example of this is the biopic I Shot Andy Warhol.

is unclear. Another filmmaker who occasionally breaks into this category is Harmony Korine. Korine nevertheless has the talent to find the charm in the subversive. An example of this kind of film is John Waters Pink Flamingoes. minors visiting prostitutes. Independent filmmaking has come a long way from living under the allencapsulating shadow of Hollywood. . The future.11 imagery. Today Independents can make great profits at the box office. as always. and one sided discussions on race that would make a klan member blush. the radical independent who’s film Gummo contains scenes of drowning cats. in which a cross dresser eats dog feces. and is able to humanize even the foulest of characters. and are able to be seen by many through online distribution. but it seems more and more likely every day that filmmakers are more empowered than they have ever been before.

. and Kristen Thompson. Bordwell. Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax. Robert T. Biskind. 2004. Sundance. Mike. Robert Altman’s Subliminal Reality. 3. Slackers & Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of Independent Cinema. University of Minnesota. 4. David. New York: Hyperion/Miramax. John Pierson. Self. and the rise of independent film. Film History: an introduction. 2010. New York: Mcgraw Hill. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.. 1995. New York. 3rd ed. . Spike. 2. 2002.12 Sources: 1. Press. Peter.