Posted on Friday, May 11th, 2012 by Jordan Hoffman
I like the fact that the band is still called Sonic Youth, even though they’re all in their 50s. Similarly, there’s the term New Hollywood, which represents a very specific time in which the studio bosses gave free reign to independent-minded, radical filmmakers looking to push the artistic boundaries of film. It is a cinema movement that came out guns blazing in 1967 with Bonnie and Clyde and suffered its first wound from Jaws in 1975, then sank into the mud under its own weight by 1977 with Sorcerer. (Yeah, that’s right, Roy Scheider represents the end of New Hollywood from both directions.)
But these movies still feel “new.”
These were films made by a generation influenced by European Art Cinema, reacting against big studio bloat and, in many cases, taking advantage of new technical advances. There are a hundred books you can read about this movement, and the safest bet it to check out Peter Biskin’s “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” as a primer.
Like most people my age, New Hollywood is a sweet spot – and it was a real chore to limit myself to just eight underrepresented gems. My initial brainstorm had twenty-five titles that all fit the “obscure” and “great” parameters. Maybe I’ll revisit this column with a Volume II if there are calls for it in the comments. (The people have the power!)
Hats off to Twitter’s @MoviesByBowes for the suggestion.
Who’s That Knocking At My Door (1967); Martin Scorsese, director.
Nine years before Taxi Driver delivered us the perfect blend of New Hollywood via a brooding, artistic, gunshot to the head, Martin Scorsese put together this scrappy low budget New York City mini-masterpiece. It has the jazzy cuts of French New Wave, documentary-style performances found in John Cassavetes’ work, plus moody, music-driven montages. Story-wise, it is something of a precursor to Mean Streets, which some still consider his REAL debut.
You’re A Big Boy, Now (1966); Francis Ford Coppola, director.
Ya don’t normally think of FFC as a comic filmmaker, but his first studio film as a director is a spry, youth-oriented, woe-is-me love story filled with music, antics and a marvelous use of the main branch of the New York Public Library.
You’re A Big Boy, Now is bursting with attitude and is just subversive enough to hint at where this unpredictable artist/entrepreneur would take his career. No shortage of women in boots and mini-dresses, either.
Hi, Mom(1970); Brian De Palma, director.
Oh, no! Another underground movie set in New York from an Italian-American director. Are we seeing a trend? Well, I promise this is the last one, but Hi, Mom! is probably my favorite of the bunch. It has all the drive of an angry young radical, with an artistic prankster streak that makes Banksy look like an underachiever.
In some ways, Hi, Mom! is a sequel to De Palma’s earlier Greetings, though the Richard Lester-ish frivolity of that film is swapped out for a “burn, baby, burn” mentality. The film takes a mid-picture tangent when the lead, “peep artist” Robert De Niro, agrees to be in an experimental theater piece called “Be Black, Baby” which doesn’t just break the fourth wall, it shatters it.
There are stories-within-stories here (and a nice play on Rear Window using a genuine, and controversial for its time, Greenwich Village apartment complex) and it can be difficult to know what is fantasy and what is the “real movie.” I have a hunch that was very much De Palma’s intent.
Brewster McCloud (1970); Robert Altman, director.
Hard to pick just one Robert Altman film, but I’m going with this whacked-out screwball comedy starring Bud Cort as a bird-obsessed youth stashed away at the top of the (new!) Astrodome as a string of violent crimes tear Huston society apart.
This is a real movie-lovers’ movie, as it plays a lot with, as professors like to say, “formal conventions.” There are many tricks in the sound design, playful editing techniques and a self-mocking use of the opening credits. Rene Auberjonois (yes, Odo from Deep Space Nine) acts as a Greek Chorus, giving a series of bizarre speeches on avian topics until his slowly turns into a bird. Hey, just go with it.