Urban Cinefile
"I was at that Lolita phase in my life, although fortunately I hadn't had any such sexual experiences - "  -Dominique Swain on her role as Lolita
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



What's driving the New Cinema? You are, writes STEVE KULAK. Writers are catching on to the locomotive power of film to slash open the belly of rhetoric, and you - the audience - is loving it. But it's well disguised.

There is a new movement in American cinema. As the dominant economic power centred on an aggressively self-promoting culture, a reflective mood has beset it. Films critical of the moral directives and doctrines that drive Middle America are everywhere. The trend has never been as obvious nor better disguised. This New Cinema is global, influential and deliberate. The new mood is peeling back the glorious rhetoric of success and exposing its less lustrous underside - and pulling no punches in the process.

America does not have a tradition of a self-critical mainstream cinema. There have nevertheless always been filmmakers willing to express a critical point of view. But not since the 1970's when Coppola, Scorsese, Altman and others created their intriguing masterpieces have there been such rebels with a cause. The directors of the New American Cinema are not household names. But their films - Fight Club, Three Kings, The Insider and American Beauty - lead the charge.

Intriguingly the New Cinema is well disguised. The films misrepresent themselves by appearing to be one thing when in fact they are something else entirely. And surprisingly the major studios are financing and supporting them.

Today's new directors have been paying attention to their home-grown masters. The 1970's revolution was grounded in the belief that the cinema of the time had grown stale and simply wasn't telling the truth. So they scrambled the American dream and reinvented genres. Arthur Penn gave us Bonnie and Clyde whilst Peckinpah blasted us through to the back stalls by reinventing the Western in The Wild Bunch. Then came Apocalypse Now and Taxi Driver. Something vital had arrived.

The same thing is happening all over again. But this time the interpretation has taken on new responsibilities. The filmmakers have a different agenda. No longer content to dazzle us with technique, their images are being driven by ideas. What American Beauty does for the illusion of balance in Middle America, Three Kings does for military opportunism. What The Insider reveals about the intrigues of corporate America, Fight Club does for consumer capitalism. Yet these films have all been mainstream successes. What's going on?

It's a sly game but underlying it is the premise that entertainment must at all times be the primary consideration. To be merely critical or didactic means to fail. So to attract the attention of a non-critical cinema public, the films are carefully promoted as something other than what they truly are. On one level they are brilliantly executed entertainments imbued with a refreshing moral fragrance. On another they are subversive. The general public is buying a bucket of popcorn and sitting back waiting to be elevated into heaven on a cloud of pixels only to find themselves being flogged and flayed for hours for being who they are. And they enjoy every minute of it!

Perhaps it is because the New Cinema portrays ordinary people who recognise their failings in the present and take action by projecting a new moral confidence into the future, regardless of the cost. Inevitably the films end on an optimistic note. Yes they say, the risks are high, but the moral energy driving you will prevail.

Not everyone is likely to access the films on that level. Three Kings might just be a raving hoot in the desert for some. But is anyone likely to miss its critical panning of the pathetic crusade that was the Gulf War? Whether you pay attention to the message is another issue. But subversion can be effective if persistent enough and these new filmmakers are not going to go away. They are at the frontier redrawing the battle lines.

But this is not a new era for directors. It is better than that. Where once autocratic producers ruled the studios to be followed by a generation of powerful stars and directors, what we are now entering is the age of writers.

People with ideas are drawn to film because they understand it represents the best conduit for ideas in this age of technology. For the dissemination of radical perspectives, film offers intellectuals of whatever persuasion the maximum exposure. People today read films in the same way they used to read books. A generation is emerging that is only interested in accessing information accompanied by a visual component. So when a film rides on the back of a great story, the medium promotes the message. The experience of feasting on images is what attracts an insatiable public to the cinema in the first place. There they make contact with a message that may never have reached them otherwise.

Film stimulates our curiosity. It is reinvigorating narrative. As we emerge from darkened cinemas, this new light force is transforming us. The new directors know that. They understand how important their creations are. They also know that they need to keep sustaining interest in them to balance the hollow centred B-grade blockbusters that are currently financing their stunning achievements.

The message has never been clearer. A moving image in an age of visual information is making it irresistible. Social criticism is entertaining us. And we can't get enough. Hopefully we are heeding the message. In the end, what is driving the success of the New Cinema is no mystery at all. It is you. Keep up the good work.

Email this article

Fight Club

Three Kings

The Insider

American Beauty

"The films misrepresent themselves by appearing to be one thing when in fact they are something else entirely. And surprisingly the major studios are financing and supporting them."

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020