Given the difficulty of living up to such an ambitious title, American Cinema, a nine-hour public television overview of the movies, is a remarkably entertaining, informative, and informed introduction to movies in the U.S., from the silent era to the Sundance generation. Divided into 10 self-contained episodes, the series begins by looking at the practical magic of movies. "The Hollywood Style" and "The Star" examine the underpinnings of filmmaking and star making in carefully chosen examples and contrasts: the changing Hollywood style from Casablanca to Chinatown, the studio-controlled career of Joan Crawford compared to modern star Julia Roberts. Later episodes single out specific genres for study ("Romantic Comedy," "Film Noir," "The Western," and "The Combat Film") and chart the changing face of Hollywood from "The Studio System" to "Film in the Television Age" to "The Film School Generation," concluding with the American independent explosion in "The Edge of Hollywood." A rich array of illustrative film clips and interviews with directors and stars as well as commentary by historians and critics invigorate this whirlwind tour through the dream factory. It's a smartly written project and a solid introduction to American movies that, for all its generality, creates absorbing and entertaining film history
This is the rare 5 DVD, 10 episode special edition that was released only to schools, libraries and other academic institutions. It contains the original 10 episodes.
AMERICAN CINEMA EPISODES
1. The Hollywood Style - 60 min.
In the classical Hollywood film, the story is primary. Filmmakers rely on style structure, narrative, and visual elements to effectively tell their story. Martin Scorsese and Sydney Pollack are among the premier directors who discuss how classical Hollywood style, evolving and yet enduring over time, informs their work.
2. The Studio System - 60 min.
This program surveys Hollywood's industrial past during the era of contract players and directors, studio police forces, and colorful movie moguls. It also looks at the filmmaking environment of today with studio heads Michael Eisner, Howard Koch, and others. Paramount Pictures, one of the oldest and most successful of the Hollywood studios, serves as a case study.
1. The Star - 60 min.
Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Dustin Hoffman these among many others are names synonymous with Hollywood. Early on, Hollywood saw that recognizable talent could minimize the financial risks of film production. Critics, film scholars, and studio publicists view the stars from many angles: as marketing tools, cultural icons, and products of the industry. Joan Crawford headlines as a case study of the cultural phenomenon of stardom.
2. The Western - 60 min.
The western is an American myth that has been translated by other cultures and reinterpreted time and again, but never dies. With clips and critical commentary on westerns from John Ford's Stagecoach through the work of Arthur Penn, Sam Peckinpah, and Clint Eastwood, the program traces the aesthetic evolution of the genre as well as its sociological importance.
1. Romantic Comedy - 60 min.
Breezy and silly to witty and intelligent, romantic comedies have been with us since the 1930s. But the surface humor has often just barely masked issues of gender and sexuality. This program looks back on screwball comedies including It Happened One Night and His Girl Friday. Directors James Brooks and Nora Ephron present interpretations of the genre that reveal the underlying social and psychological messages.
2. The Combat Film - 60 min.
Beginning with World War II combat films produced under directives from the federal government this program examines the role of the combat film in filling a social and political need. Critics and directors describe the evolution of these films, the rise of the Vietnam film, and the influence of the newsreel documentaries and TV news on the genre.
1. Film Noir - 60 min.
These cynical and pessimistic films from the 1930s and '40s touched a nerve in Americans. Historians link the genre's overriding paranoia to Cold War-related angst over the nuclear threat and the Hollywood blacklist. In addition, a cinematographer demonstrates the creation of noir lighting, which gave films their peculiar look and emphasized the themes of corruption and urban decay.
2. Film in the Television Age - 60 min.
Television first arrived in American homes just as the Hollywood studio system was collapsing. As the new medium took hold, so did a new era of motion picture entertainment. Top directors, actors, and film scholars trace the influence of each medium on the other, from the live and fresh dramas of the Golden Age of Television and the growth of Hollywood spectacles to the megalithic entertainment industry of today.
1. The Film School Generation - 60 min.
Maverick filmmakers of the 1960s and '70s, including Brian DePalma, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg, capitalized on new technology and borrowed from classical Hollywood and French New Wave as they reinvented the American film. The financial and cultural forces that contributed to their success and commercial clout are explored.
2. The Edge of Hollywood - 60 min.
While many of the old rules are still in force, independent filmmakers today often add their dissenting voices to the forum. This program looks at some alternative visions from new talents including Spike Lee, Joel and Ethan Coen, Jim Jarmusch, and Quentin Tarantino. With limited budgets, they are challenging the stylistic status quo of the Hollywood film.
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