SOLUTION: Film Post War American Cinema Discussion

SOLUTION: Film Post War American Cinema Discussion.

• Cold War/Atomic Age
• House Un-American Activities Committee
(HUAC)/red scare
• Genres and allegory: science fiction, Westerns, film
• Baby Boom
• Audience segmentation
• Anti-Trust Ruling/Paramount Decision
• Television
• Widescreen
Post-war U.S.
• Post-war U.S. (mid-1940searly 1960s) was marked by
economic prosperity and
consumer culture (with an
attendant rise in the cost of
• Cultural images of
conformity, family norms,
and suburbanization
Economic Boom

Economic boom:
Gross domestic product:
1940: $200 billion
1950: $300 billion
1960: $500 billion
• U.S. more productive, but also more consumer spending
• Tax rates significantly higher
• Rise in social programs and infrastructure (expansion of
interstate highway system)
Cold War
• Following WWII, there emerged a
prolonged tension between the U.S.
and the U.S.S.R.
• Two world super powers with
incompatible politics
• Containment policy: attempt to
prevent the spread of Communism
(battles in Korea, Cuba, and
• “Red Scare” (reds = communists)
Cold War
• Virulent fear of
communism and difference
• With a high standard of
living and patriotism,
anxiety about threats to
property, family, and
HUAC and Hollywood Blacklist
• House Un-American Activities
Committee, 1938-69
• House of Representatives investigation
• Renamed House Committee on Internal
Security 1969-75
• Absorbed by House Judiciary Committee,
• Most famous for communist witchhunts
in government and Hollywood
• Communism was fairly common political
affiliation in U.S. in 1920s and 30s
HUAC and Hollywood Blacklist
• Investigations of communists and
communist-sympathizers in Hollywood
begin in 1947
• Screenwriters, in particular, were targeted
• Industry personnel were asked to testify and
name known or suspected communists
• Communists were blacklisted from working
in the industry
• Some leading filmmakers named names,
others refused
• Ruined careers, created permanent tensions
Cold War
• McCarthyism
• Late 1940s-50s: Red Scare
• Senator Joseph McCarthy known for
aggressive investigations and heated
speeches related to threat and fear
of communists in the U.S.
• Separate from HUAC (House v.
• Excessive intimidation, paranoid
Cold War
• Rationale for anti-communist
investigations was platform of
protecting “national security”
• Homosexuals were also fired from
government positions because they
were viewed as too vulnerable to
blackmail: “the lavender scare”
• Homosexuality was still classified as
a mental illness; there were some
gay bars in major cities but not an
open and public gay culture at the
“Atomic Age”
• Anxiety about mass annihilation
following bombings of Hiroshima and
• Arms race between U.S. and U.S.S.R.
• Not direct fighting but building up of
military-industrial complex and
weapons reserves
• By outspending each other on new
weapons technology, we would win
war of intimidation
• Educational films to “duck and cover”
Film as allegory
• A metaphoric narrative that offers a way of
working through a political or cultural issue
Science Fiction

Sci-Fi (often with thriller or horror tendencies)
emerged as one of the most pervasive genres of
the post-war period

Generally produced by independent producers
and studios, not a major studio genre
Low budgets, dark black-and-white styles
Presumed teen boy audience

Recurring themes of invasion and contagion
Danger to American way of life
Science gone awry, threats from external forces,
or even the threats of conformity
Less about venturing into space, more about
invasion of the Earth (specifically, the U.S.)
Dread of difference, loss of power, loss of
• Invasion of the Body
• Dir. Don Siegel, 1956
• “Pod people” take over
small town
• They are a foreign, extraterrestrial invasion
• People look the same but
have lost their souls, their
emotions, their individuality
Film as allegory
• Reading Invasion of the Body Snatchers as allegory:
• Pod people are threatening because they are largely invisible
• They look like everyone else
• Echoes of anxieties about communists and homosexuals: they could be
• They can only be stopped through containment and military force
• Government intervention is necessary to protect the American way of life
• Could be read as being as much about the threat of communist invasion
as about cultures of conformity
• Westerns

One of the most popular genres of the
postwar period
Popular across film and television through
into 1960s
Re-entrenched mythology of American past
during Cold War
Majestic panoramic landscapes
Nationalism and masculinity
Outlaws in an era of social conformity
Popular concurrently with instances of
popular nationalism in Mexican and Indian
Narratives of conquering and “civilizing”
the land
“Manifest destiny” vs. “Settler colonialism”
Revisionist westerns of the 1970s-90s would
question the representations of Native
Americans and American heroism

The Searchers
Dir. John Ford
Starring John Wayne

Epitomized classic Western
From low budget b&w b-picture to bigbudget Technicolor widescreen spectacle
Iconic American landscape of Monument

Epitomizes “cowboys and Indians” narrative
Redface casting
Presents Native Americans as savage threat
to civilization

Second clip: John Wayne as an individualist,
framed in doorway, never to be
domesticated or fully integrated into the
Film Noir

Film Noir
French term: dark/black films
Term coined retrospectively by French film

Post-war cycle of crime and detective films
1940s-mid 1950s

Prefigured by German Expressionism and
French Poetic Realism
Morally compromised

Stylized cinematography meets location

Low key/chiaroscuro lighting

Studio and independent productions
Film Noir
• Fatalistic
• Rough characters, nihilistic
• Pessimism, trauma
• Often feature flashbacks,
structures of regret
• Females, wicked and
seductive: femme fatale
• Reflects anxieties of threat
to American way of life, yet
also features protagonists
who refuse to conform to
the rules

Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955, U.S., in English,
106 min.)

Late film noir
Morally compromised private eye in Los Angeles

The Box: atomic weapon
Mention of Manhattan Project and Los Alamos
Referenced in Pulp Fiction

Fantasy of the unattached playboy in the age of nuclear
Playboy (1953)

Los Angeles in transition
Downtown: Bunker Hill and Angel’s Flight before
redevelopment and skyscrapers
Freeway “under construction” by Washington Blvd: 10
Multicultural city: African-Americans, Greeks, Italians
Curious absence of Latinos
Post-war culture
• Baby boom:
• 1946-64: Increase in U.S.
• Following the war, with the
return of soldiers and rise of
housing developments
• Nuclear families expanded
• Created a bubble of youth
and young adults by the end
of the 1960s
• Rise of “youth culture” in
the post-war period
Youth Culture
• Rise of “teens” and youth culture
• During 1950s, rise of teens as an
identifiable target market
• Bored and isolated suburban youth,
beginning of youth rebellion
• Rise in concerns about juvenile
• Exploding youth population
• Exploitable teen audience for films
Audience Segmentation
• 1930s-40s: Hollywood made feature films for
general audiences
• 1950s: beginning of the splintering of the
• Films target teens, children, adults
• Clip
• Rebel Without a Cause
• Nicholas Ray, 1955
• Parents don’t understand
• Teens form alternative
• James Dean becomes a
youth hero
Adult Films

Art films, foreign films
Serious dramas, often based
upon recent plays

Sexuality comes to be a site of
tension in cinema

Production Code is seen as too
Begin to see pushing against
boundaries of the code

Post-War Culture

Pop-Freudianism emerges in popular

Hysteria, the subconscious, and
Sex drive vs. death drive
Castration anxiety
Oedipal narratives
Sexuality as central to human life

Method acting
Sense memories and internalization of
character motivation
Adult Drama

A Streetcar Named Desire
Dir. Elia Kazan, 1951

Based upon successful Tennessee
Williams play

Sexual violence vs. sexual
Animal instincts vs. hysteria
Method acting
Psychological realism
Made Marlon Brando a star

Feature Screening

Rear Window
Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1954

Hitchcock as most recognizable, celebrated and studied
Hollywood auteur
“Master of suspense”

A bored photojournalist spies on his neighbors
Post-war US paranoia
Subversives, communists and homosexuals an invisible threat

Film as metaphor for film viewing

Psychoanalytic reading:
Emasculated male
Phallic telephoto camera lens
Woman as image/to-be-looked-at
Post-War Hollywood Industry

During the post-war period, despite economic boom, Hollywood studios
were in crisis

Theater attendance peaked in 1946 and declined ever-after
Between 1947-57, box office dropped 74%

Domestic entertainment patterns shifted
European markets imposed quotas to limit Hollywood dominance
Economic structure of the industry also dramatically changed
Anti-Trust Ruling
• Anti-trust Ruling, 1949
• Also called the Paramount Decision
• Major Hollywood studios had been
vertically integrated (productiondistribution-exhibition)
• Minor studios were in cahoots with
the system
• The industry was an oligopoly (a
handful of companies controlled the
Anti-Trust Ruling
• Government began move toward antitrust efforts in 1940
• Break up oligopoly and vertical control
of industry
• Ruling in 1949 that studios had to divest
their theaters (eliminate the exhibition
part of vertical integration)
• Ruling, usually called “the Paramount
decision” affected all major studios
• 1949-54, all studios divested their
theater chains
After-effects of Anti-Trust Ruling
• Impacted major studios more than minors or
independents, but it changed the economic
stability of the industry as a whole
After-effects of Anti-Trust Ruling
• Now, each film had to compete and
stand on its own
• Films not guaranteed screens
• Pressure for each film to perform and
to be differentiated in the market
• Rise in marketing costs
• Opens up market for independent and
foreign films
After-effects of Anti-Trust Ruling

Studios make fewer films, but they
make bigger films:
(Biblical) Epics, such as The Ten
Musicals, such as Oklahoma, My Fair
Lady, The Sound of Music, and West
Side Story
These genres are in contrast to the lowbudget genres of sci-fi, film noir, and
teen films—many of which were made
by independent studios

Dir. William Wyler
• Historical epic of ancient
Rome, intersects with the
story of Christ
• Ambitious, spectacular
• Widescreen, 212 minutes,
thousands of extras and
• Attempt for Hollywood to
compete with TV
• Narrative of populist
The End of Classical Hollywood

Talent now longer under contract
Talent would be free agents by 1960s
Liz Taylor was last contracted star

Production Code had weakening
enforcement in 1950s-60s
Replaced by ratings system in 1968

Studio shifts:
Buena Vista, Disney’s distribution
company, formed in 1953
RKO went out of business in 1957
In 1960s, numerous studios would be
acquired by non-media conglomerate
Hollywood’s Decline

The Bad and the Beautiful
Dir. Vincente Minnelli, 1952

A film about Hollywood, excesses,
egos, and betrayals
Beginning of the decline of
But also a post-HUAC narrative?

Industry: Television

Television becomes a mass medium in
the mid-1950s

Offers convenience and free (after
paying for TV set) entertainment

Seen as direct competitor with films,
even though radio had long competed
and was always more popular than
Industry: Television

Although seen as a threat to the film
industry, TV became a lifeline

Studios sold rights to their film
libraries for broadcast, earned new
revenues on old titles

Studios began to produce television
programs to make up for decline in
feature film production
Post-war Culture: TV

All That Heaven Allows
Dir. Douglas Sirk, 1955

Women’s film/melodrama

Insensitive children give their
widowed mother a TV set to
keep her company
Film denigrates TV culture
Gendered associations: TV as
feminine medium

Industry: Television

Television becomes a mass medium in
the mid-1950s

Offers convenience and free
Appealing with surburbanization and
growing families

Seen as direct competitor with films,
even though radio had long competed
and was always more popular than

Theatrical film exhibition would later
compete with home video in the 80s
and streaming in the 2010s
Industry: Television

Although seen as a threat to the film
industry, TV became a lifeline

Studios sold rights to their film
libraries for broadcast, earned new
revenues on old titles

Studios began to produce television
programs to make up for decline in
feature film production
Industry: New Formats

To compete with television:

Films introduce technological gimmicks to differentiate theatrical exhibition
from TV broadcasts

Widescreen formats (Cinemascope, VistaVision, Cinerama)
Former “academy ratio” 1.33×3 (4×3) replaced by widescreen aspect ratios,
such as 1.85×1, 2.39×1, etc
Emphasis on spectacle, larger-than-life images

Industry: New Formats
• To compete with television:
• Color (Technicolor, Deluxe, Eastman color) becomes standard by
• Color saturation: brighter and bolder than real life
• Black-and-white used primarily for “serious” dramas, films noir,
art films, low-budget exploitation
• TV screens at the time were small, square, grainy, and blackand-white
Industry: New Formats
• To compete with television:
• 3D and other immersive gimmicks (such as Percepto and Smell-o-Vision)
• Sensory experience that could not be replicated by TV
• Recent return to 3D to compete with streaming video and HDTV
• Higher ticket prices for 3D = more revenues
Industry: Drive-Ins

Sprawling and decentered public
It is more effort and more expensive to go to the

Teens, who want to get out of the house and
who have disposable income, become core

Drive-ins: low-cost, sprawling way to exhibit films
and appeal to car culture
Watch movies in your car, outdoors
Admission price per car, not per person

Widescreen, Color

The Girl Can’t Help It
Dir. Frank Tashlin, 1956

Animator for Warner Brothers (Looney

Opening sequence plays with film frame
and color, pointing to technological
gimmicks and changing form of 1950s
Use of rock’n’roll reinforces rise of
youth culture and tastes

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SOLUTION: Film Post War American Cinema Discussion

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