New Hollywood

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New Hollywood refers to American films that modernized traditional Hollywood cinema from 1967 to the late 1970s . As a forerunner of New Hollywood, two more films were made in the classic studio system with The Graduate Exam and Bonnie and Clyde , which differed both formally and thematically from the previous Hollywood productions and were therefore very successful.

Almost all New Hollywood films are characterized by a socially critical attitude. Some directors modernized the classic genres of Hollywood cinema ( western , film noir, etc.) or deconstructed them by deliberately violating genre conventions. Typical for New Hollywood are content or film aesthetic experiments with ambivalent outsiders as protagonists, the break with traditional narrative styles and the renunciation of a happy ending. The relatively short New Hollywood era is considered to be one of the most artistically significant phases in American film.

Old Hollywood

The "golden era"

Before New Hollywood was successful, there was classic Hollywood cinema - referred to by many as the "Golden Age". The Golden Age is generally understood to mean the period between the early 1930s and late 1950s . This Hollywood era was shaped by the production structures and genres that had already emerged during the silent film era . The star system of the dream factory was also established as early as the 1920s. Many Golden Age films can be assigned to a precisely defined genre ( western , comedy , adventure film ) and are filled with suitable stars (western - John Wayne ; comedy - Cary Grant ; adventure film - Errol Flynn ). During this time, the large film studios had the entire production and exploitation chain under control for decades - so they not only produced the films, but also distributed them through their own cinema chains.

These production structures have been productive both commercially and artistically. Although film production was “automated”, so to speak, during the Golden Age , directors such as Frank Capra , Howard Hawks , John Ford , Alfred Hitchcock , John Huston , Fred Zinnemann and Billy Wilder created significant masterpieces. Some of these films had a style-forming effect and set standards. During the Golden Age , many of the world's best directors, actors, authors, cameramen and composers worked in Hollywood - not least because of the very good income opportunities. The basic craftsmanship of the golden age films is therefore usually considerable.

Recipes for success were varied for years during the Golden Age (e.g. Tony Curtis as "Pretty Boy", Rock Hudson and Doris Day as the romantic comedy dream couple), and when television came along and became a serious threat, Hollywood responded with successful monumental epics like The Ten Commandments , Ben Hur or Spartacus . Many of the old Hollywood films were set in a dream world and served the escapist needs of an audience that did not want to be confronted with social realities in the cinema.

The crisis

In the early 1960s, the “Hollywood dream factory” reached a dead end with its tried and tested recipes. Famous directors like Hitchcock or Ford had completed their main work. The legendary Golden Age stars were dead ( Humphrey Bogart , Gary Cooper ) or getting on in years (Cary Grant, John Wayne). And the big studios were run by old men like Jack L. Warner , some of whom had held their posts since the silent film era and no longer had any contact with social reality. More and more films were being produced past the audience, and in a desperate attempt to win back their viewers, the studios pumped enormous sums of money into artistically insignificant monumental films and musicals that no longer attracted audiences en masse as they did in the past Case was. The time for a fundamental renewal had come.

The New Hollywood prevails

First successes

The artistic vacuum that became visible in Hollywood in the mid-1960s enabled young filmmakers to establish a new type of cinema. Arthur Penn made a successful gangster film with Bonnie and Clyde (1967), whose skeptical anti-establishment stance - combined with a lyrical, modern narrative style - hit the zeitgeist exactly. Mike Nichols achieved something similar with The Graduation Examination (1967), in which Dustin Hoffman (who made his breakthrough with this role) rebels as a frustrated college graduate against the boring, morally corrupt philistine world of his parents' generation.

New Hollywood cinema achieved its first major success with the road movie Easy Rider , which director Dennis Hopper initially realized independently in 1969 and which was only bought up by the film industry as a finished film. The hippie heroes of the film - played by Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson - fall victim to murderous backwoodsmen. The film, which was produced cheaply at $ 400,000, was enthusiastically received by the Woodstock generation and became a huge hit worldwide, grossing around $ 20 million.

Former television director Robert Altman shot M * A * S * H (1970), a caustic-satirical anti-war film about the Korean War , whose hippie heroes (including Donald Sutherland ) take soldiery virtues ad absurdum. The former film editor Hal Ashby made two New Hollywood films with Harold and Maude (1971) and The Last Command (1973) with a very unique view of social conditions. John Cassavetes worked as an actor on commercial Hollywood productions ( The Dirty Dozen ) and as a director dissected the crises and neuroses of average middle-aged Americans ( A Woman Under Influence , 1974).

Western film

Hollywood veteran Sam Peckinpah realized pessimistic late-night westerns like The Wild Bunch - You Knew No Law (1969) or Pat Garrett Chasing Billy the Kid (1973) in an unmistakable, powerfully poetic style . Peckinpah's sympathetic outlaws failed - as did the Wild West crooks, interpreted as lovable by director George Roy Hill in the hit film Zwei Banditen (1969) - because of a massively deployed state power, which they mercilessly shot down. In the entertaining satirical anti-western Little Big Man (1969) directed by Arthur Penn , Dustin Hoffman played a friendly anti-hero in the midst of the Indian Wars . In contrast to most of the previous westerns, the Indians , depicted as sympathetic, are brutally slaughtered by the troops of General Custer , who up until then was a supposed national hero - who turns out to be a psychopath in the film.

Robert Altman denied himself all the rules of the genre in McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) and showed adventurers without illusions in a muddy western town. In Arthur Penn's duel on the Missouri , Marlon Brando delivered the travesty of a western villain as a bizarre killer . For Sydney Pollack , Robert Redford played the role of a young trapper who discovered the beauty and cruelty of the Rocky Mountains ( Jeremiah Johnson , 1971).


Former stage comedian Woody Allen began in the late 1960s to address the (sexual) neuroses of the modern urban man in original comedies such as Der Stadtneurotiker (1977). The bespectacled, lanky, jittery Allen, who acted as his own leading actor, was one of the typical anti-heroes of the era. Allen wrote the scripts, directed and starred. United Artists, as his master film distributor in the 1970s , made this freedom possible for him and also benefited from its artistic and commercial success with audiences.

Mel Brooks managed a number of original genre parodies such as B. Frankenstein Junior (1974) or Silent Movie (1976), in which classic Hollywood was disrespectful but lovingly ridiculed.

Horror movies

George A. Romero founded the modern horror film with the aggressive no-budget flick The Night of the Living Dead (1969). The threat came from citizens mutated into zombies. John Carpenter shot a number of brilliant, low-budget thrillers such as Assault (1976) and Halloween (1978), which were characterized by their gloomy, pessimistic attitude. In the horror cult film Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) by Tobe Hooper , peaceful hippies in the US province were slaughtered by psychopathic farmers. In Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976), “Devil's Children” caused fear and horror - all three films could also be interpreted as allegories of the generational conflict that prevailed at the time.

Science fiction

The American science fiction film of this era is characterized by a pessimistic mood that is critical of civilization throughout. In Planet of the Apes (1968) and The Omega Man (1970), Charlton Heston experiences oppressive adventures in post-apocalyptic worlds. … Year 2022… who want to survive (1973; again with Heston) shows the final phase of western civilization, which is characterized by smog, environmental pollution and a new cannibalism. In Lautlos im Weltraum (1972) by Douglas Trumbull , the last forests on planet earth are tended in a greenhouse spaceship (which is to be blown up by orders of higher order). In Andromeda - Deadly Dust from Space (1971) by veteran director Robert Wise, alien microorganisms attack a secret laboratory, in Crazies (1973) by George A. Romero biological warfare agents mutate peaceful villagers into killers. 2001: A Space Odyssey , shot by Stanley Kubrick in England in 1968 , tells in four acts the story of pre-humans in the African savannah to a space station in 1999 and a journey to Jupiter to “beyond infinity”.

In Dark Star (1974), John Carpenter showed the absurd adventures of a spaceship crew tasked with blowing up "unstable planets". In THX 1138 (1971) by George Lucas , the shaven victims of an aseptic future dictatorship rebel against their tormentors. Phase IV (1974) by Saul Bass shows a team of scientists struggling in vain against the superior intelligence of a collective of ants. Ridley Scott's style-defining cult film Alien - The uncanny creature from an alien world (1978) told in nightmarish images how a spaceship crew is decimated by an invincible alien. A totalitarian, post-apocalyptic society and its liberation is shown in Escape to the 23rd Century (1976) by Michael Anderson .

Music films

The popular music of the 1960s and 1970s was used as the soundtrack in many New Hollywood films. At the same time, pure music films were also made, such as Head (1968), in which director Bob Rafelson (based on a script by Jack Nicholson ) described the hyper-psychedelic adventures of the retort band The Monkees (based on the style-defining Beatles films by Richard Lester ). DA Pennebaker documented a Bob Dylan tour in Dont Look Back ( 1967 ) and the music festival of the same name in Monterey Pop (1968) . Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock film ( 1970 ) became a contemporary document of the flower power generation. Martin Scorsese documented the farewell concert of the rock band The Band in The Last Waltz ( 1978 ) .

The director as an author

In most New Hollywood films, the person of the director became central to the production. In earlier times the producer or studio boss was often the decisive figure in the making of a film, now the directors have advanced to the most important position of power.

Most of them saw themselves in the tradition of European auteur films as the so-called “auteur” of their works, who was involved in the production, the writing of the script and the editing. In fact, many of the content and stylistic developments in New Hollywood can be traced back to the groundbreaking films of the French Nouvelle Vague .

Most New Hollywood directors were enthusiastic about the qualities of European cinema and admired directors such as François Truffaut , Jean-Luc Godard , Jean Renoir , Ingmar Bergman , Federico Fellini , Luchino Visconti or Michelangelo Antonioni . They had only contempt for the standardized commercial films of Hollywood and wanted to follow an individual vision. They wanted to make films that were deep, subtle, and artistically relevant.

Even more than with European auteur films, the group of people who were given a chance to work as a director was limited to men.

New topics, new technology, new stars


New Hollywood films were mostly close to social reality and often took up the themes of the protest movements that rebelled against the frozen social structures and the Vietnam War and called for social liberalization. The popular music of this era was used in some New Hollywood films: Bob Dylan , Cat Stevens , Simon & Garfunkel , The Doors , Steppenwolf , The Rolling Stones .

New Hollywood stories did not take place in a hermetic dream world, but instead usually told of real people with real problems. The protagonists were not heroized, but questioned and analyzed in their actions and motives. Many of them perished because of realities or became martyrs in their - often fatal - failure who had defeated "the system" in the moral sense.

The representatives of the state authorities were corrupt, psychopathic, scheming. Powerful men and high officials turned out to be moral bankrupts. Opaque secret service intrigues threatened ordinary harmless citizens. Abysses opened up behind the façades of decency. In this way, New Hollywood reflected the uncertainty and paranoia of the Vietnam and Watergate era. While the New Hollywood was celebrating its greatest successes, President Richard Nixon was exposed as a liar and had to resign.

Technology / aesthetics

On the technical side, the new way of storytelling was made possible by small, handy cameras and more sensitive film material. The filmmakers were able to leave the studios and shoot on location, sometimes in an almost documentary style with no additional lighting. The typical look of many films of this era has precisely this charm of the staged documentary ( Asphalt-Cowboy , Hexenkessel , Brennpunkt Brooklyn ). This “realistic” approach, which wanted to express the objective view of the world, was often combined with a seemingly contradicting technique, the “expressionistic” - an increased use of stylistic devices to underline the subjectivity of seeing. The forerunners of the realistic approach were primarily the works of documentary filmmakers such as Richard Leacock , DA Pennebaker , David and Albert Maysles .


The roles in New Hollywood cinema were usually not filled with established Hollywood stars (for whom a career decline began in many cases in the late 1960s). Instead, unadjusted, unglamorous but highly talented actors were used who brought a whole new level of realism into their play: Gene Hackman , Robert Duvall , Martin Sheen , John Cazale , Gene Wilder , Richard Dreyfuss , Donald Sutherland , Elliott Gould or Bruce Dern . Many of them came from Off-Broadway in New York and would at best have been given supporting roles in the old Hollywood system. The most important actors of the era turned out to be Jack Nicholson , Robert De Niro , Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino . They rose to superstars through their intense role creation and were able to stay at the top of Hollywood for decades.

Other actors outwardly corresponded to the type of film star, but brought a skeptical, "unglamorous" attitude into their play. Steve McQueen , Warren Beatty and Robert Redford , who had already been active in Hollywood in the early 1960s, only achieved top star status during the New Hollywood era. Beatty and Redford also distinguished themselves as directors and producers. Also, Ryan O'Neal , Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight played important New Hollywood roles. Top stars who had already been successful in the 1950s or even 1940s, e.g. B. Paul Newman and Burt Lancaster , also worked for the most important directors of the era. The legendary Marlon Brando was successfully reactivated after a long career slump and, among other things, played the famous role of "godfather".

Since New Hollywood films usually dealt with "male" subjects and were shot with male protagonists, relatively few actresses were able to assert themselves during this era. Important protagonists of New Hollywood cinema were Meryl Streep , Faye Dunaway , Jane Fonda , Barbra Streisand , Diane Keaton , Sissy Spacek , Sigourney Weaver , Jill Clayburgh , Ali MacGraw , Ellen Burstyn and Karen Black .

Other important protagonists

The following people were also significant to New Hollywood:

Pauline Kael , America's most influential film critic, promoted New Hollywood cinema through positive articles and reviews, and was friends with some of the protagonists.

The culmination

Friedkin, Bogdanovich and Polański

In the early 1970s, New Hollywood cinema reached its artistic and commercial zenith. Directors who had made low-budget films shortly before that gained mass audiences all over the world.

In 1971 William Friedkin directed the prototype of the modern police film with Focal Point Brooklyn and showed Gene Hackman as a fanatical, latently racist drug investigator. Friedkin surpassed this success two years later with the commercially very successful, controversial horror film The Exorcist .

The film fool Peter Bogdanovich was first with the melancholy coming-of-age film The Last Performance (1970) and then with the high-spirited comedy Is' was, Doc? (1972) very successful.

The Pole Roman Polański had lived in Hollywood for many years and won over critics and audiences with the ambiguous, brilliantly staged crime thriller Chinatown (1974), in which Jack Nicholson gives a memorable performance as a private detective with a slit nose.

Francis Ford Coppola

The Italian-American Francis Ford Coppola was even more successful and fascinated critics and audiences with the mafia epic The Godfather in 1972 . The godfather , for many the best film of all time, showed Marlon Brando in the popularly parodied role of the baroque mafia boss, whose old-fashioned terms of honor are not shared by his unscrupulous successors and competitors. With the equally brilliantly staged successor Der Pate II (1974) and the fascinating Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now (1979), Coppola established himself as the most important director of the 1970s.

What the films by Coppola, Friedkin and Bogdanovich have in common is that they transformed the radical chic of New Hollywood into a moderate style suitable for the masses. Nobody could have guessed that they also heralded the decline of New Hollywood by inventing the blockbuster cinema.

The final phase

Martin Scorsese

Director Martin Scorsese was Italian-American like Coppola. Like this and many other New Hollywood stars and directors, he came from the school of B-movie producer Roger Corman , who had built a well-functioning and very lucrative off-Hollywood studio system. It was here that the later stars of directing learned their craft, and actors such as Nicholson, Hopper, De Niro, Dern and Sylvester Stallone played their first roles with Corman.

Scorsese first impressed in 1973 with Hexenkessel , an emphatically realistic portrait of New York street thugs. In 1976 he achieved a timeless masterpiece with Taxi Driver . Robert De Niro shone in the role of an uprooted Vietnam veteran who starts a campaign of revenge on the streets of New York. The oppressive boxer drama Like a Wild Bull - with a legendary portrayal of De Niro - became another classic in 1980.

Until the mid-1970s, established New Hollywood veterans such as Nichols, Altman or Penn made films on a regular basis, with varying, often declining success. Other directors such as B. George Roy Hill , Sydney Pollack , Miloš Forman or Alan J. Pakula made films such as The Clou (1973), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) or The Untouchables (1976) in a modern, interesting, commercially successful style The traditions of New Hollywood were discreetly usable, but were staged in a way that was emphatically compatible with the masses.

Lucas, Spielberg and the blockbuster cinema

The decline of New Hollywood occurred in parallel with the rise of directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg . Former television director Spielberg, who drew attention to himself with the thriller Duel (1971), was unsuccessful at the box office with the ambitious Bonnie & Clyde variant Sugarland Express (1973). His follow-up film Jaws (1975), however, became a commercial hit. The great white shark became a kind of blueprint for all future summer blockbusters . With the optimistic, visually spectacular UFO film Uncanny Encounters of the Third Kind , Spielberg set a clear counterweight to the apocalyptic science fiction visions of previous years.

Even more successful than Spielberg at this time was George Lucas, who had his first hit in 1973 with the wistful American graffiti . In 1977 he broke all records with the space adventure Star Wars and established a kind of substitute religion for pop culture. Star Wars was a fine, emotionally engaging science fiction film that glorified the struggle between idealists (good) and egoists (evil). For decades he defined Hollywood's new, globally accepted hit film formula (the good guys defeat the bad guys, the boy gets the girl, lots of special effects). The blockbuster film including worldwide merchandising (three sequels and three prequels ) became a recipe for success that Hollywood continues to use to this day.

The 1980s

During the Reagan era of the 1980s, an optimistic-patriotic hit cinema established itself ( Rambo II - The Order , Top Gun ). Spielberg and Lucas cemented their position as directors / producers on the assembly line to produce highly successful commercial series films ( Star Wars , Indiana Jones , Back to the Future ) that offered harmless entertainment and were upgraded with expensive special effects. Elaborate action films without ambitions in terms of content such as Aliens - The Return or Die Hard became global hits and established a successful new sub-genre. The surface stimuli of commercials and music videos were successfully adapted for the big screen ( Flashdance , 9 1/2 weeks ).

Important New Hollywood filmmakers such as Coppola, Penn and Nichols made routine films as commissioned directors. The careers of Friedkin, Bogdanovich, Ashby, Altman, Scorsese stagnated.

The era of New Hollywood was forever over, even if veterans like Altman or Scorsese were critically acclaimed again in the 1990s.

Essential New Hollywood Movies

The most important New Hollywood directors with selected films


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Article in DER SPIEGEL at the beginning and end of New Hollywood