Looking Back on Hollywood’s Second Golden Age

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Jake Blucker

Hey Hollywooders! For this week’s HollyGOOD Tuesday we’re taking a look at the Second Golden Age of Hollywood.

The 1920s and ‘60s are widely regarded as Hollywood’s Golden Age, but what many people may not know is that Hollywood had what was considered to be its Second Golden Age in the 1960s and ‘70s. This period of time is also known as New Hollywood, the Hollywood Renaissance, or American New Wave.

New Hollywood brought about loosened restrictions on obscenity and controversial, non-family-friendly content in films.

Hollywood’s Second Golden Age: Background 

The Golden Age of Hollywood brought the creation of major film studios like Paramount and Warner Brothers and made the movie industry one of the largest businesses in the United States. American New Wave films featured stylistic choices that set them apart from the traditional films released by these studios.

According to NewWaveFilm.com, Jack Valenti was appointed as the new president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in 1966, bringing revisions to the Production Code. This gave filmmakers the freedom to explore topics that were previously considered taboo in Hollywood such as violence, intimacy, race relations, drugs, politics, and religion.

When Bonnie and Clyde was released in 1967, TIME called this era “the new cinema.” Using new techniques and covering new subject matters, filmmakers began appealing to younger movie watchers and changed audiences’ expectations of films.

Hollywood’s Second Golden Age: Style 

In the 1960s, rules in the filmmaking industry became more lenient, leading filmmakers to experiment with style. Production studios had less influence on films, which allowed directors to assume creative control. Because of this, films grew into more of an art form than simply a money-making product, according to The Take.

Directors in the American New Wave strived for a heightened level of reality and intensity in the films they created. The Director’s Guild of America’s DGA Quarterly reported that filmmakers in this period experimented with sound more, playing with ambient sound and overlapping dialogues from characters.

According to film studies professor and author Todd Berliner, filmmakers from this Hollywood Renaissance borrowed styles from European and Asian art cinema. In his analysis of seventies cinema, Hollywood Incoherent: Narration in Seventies Cinema, Berliner wrote that “Seventies filmmakers… often [modified] classical devices in ways that [resulted] in narrative practices more typical of art cinema than classical Hollywood…”

Todd Berliner also said that the films of the seventies elicited different responses from viewers than those of Old Hollywood, saying “The films often cue spectator responses that fluctuate in unpredictable, incongruous, or uncomfortable ways.” This is likely due to the fact that these movies were covering more serious subject matters than audiences were used to seeing on movie theater screens.

Hollywood’s Second Golden Age: Movies and Directors 

American filmmakers who rose to prominence in the late ‘60s are known as the New Hollywood Generation, according to NewWaveFilm.com. These filmmakers created innovative movies containing complex themes, moral ambiguity, and anti-establishment ideas.

Two of the most defining films of Hollywood’s Second Golden Age are Bonnie and Clyde (1967) directed by Arthur Penn, and The Graduate (1967) directed by Mike Nichols. According to NewWaveFilm.com, the two movies had unexpected box office success and a significant cultural impact, showing that audiences were ready for something new.

NewWaveFilm.com reported that Robert Benton and David Newman were inspired by French New Wave to write Bonnie and Clyde. The movie surprised viewers with its graphic scenes of violence and the mixture of tones throughout the film.

When creating The Graduate, Mike Nichols made bold creative choices that defied the traditional Hollywood movie-making process. He hired a comedy writer to write the script, cast an unknown actor to play one of the lead roles, and pushed the cinematographer to experiment with shots, as reported by NewWaveFilm.com.

Films in this era also explored heavy issues of race. The 1967 film In the Heat of the Night told the story of a Black detective who becomes involved in a murder investigation and calls out the racist ways of the town he’s working in. Directed by Shirley Clarke, Portrait of Jason is a documentary about a Black homosexual prostitute and his life experiences as he reaches toward his dream of being a cabaret performer.

Movies like The French Connection (1971) signaled a new type of thriller. Director William Friedkin included high-velocity action sequences with the intention to captivate the audience with the fast-paced events of the film.

Other notable directors from this era included Martin Scorsese (Mean Streets), Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey), and Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather).

With the help of computer-assisted special effects, this Hollywood Renaissance led to the popularity of the blockbuster with films such as Jaws and Star Wars. This trend continued in the film industry, bringing us the big-budget films that we are used to watching today.

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