Not so long ago, I took some cinema history classes, along with a good friend of mine. During these courses, we got to glimpse a bit at the various genres, eras and representatives of world cinema.
Among the topics discussed, was the notorious American Independent Cinema and how it was born and developed.
It was right after the 50s when the big studios finally found an equal rival, with mini-major studios appearing and independent production companies competing with the big players.
Different generations of directors rise:
The 60s generation: Complies with the classic Hollywood traditions but also mixes them up with European Art Cinema. Eg. Robert Altman, Arthur Pen («Bonnie & Clyde», 1967), «Easy Rider» (1969 by Dennis Hopper)
These films showed that there was an audience that could relate to the Cahiers du Cinema of the French reformists. It was a younger, better educated audience that grew up watching TV and could relate to cinema terms.
The 70s generation: Movie brats such as Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, George Lukas, Steven Spielberg – the so called American auteur cinema. A generation of directors who have actually studied cinema at ivy league universities (whilst the classic Hollywood directors mostly came from the theatre). They are familiar with cinema theory, film analysis, production, budgeting and marketing, more than any other generation. We see creative talents, more personal films, complying with the system at a transitional period of the system. American Graffiti (1973) is a really good example: a low budget film, from a director that stood by his vision and actually created a classic film. The director was none other than later on sci-fi guru George Lukas!
Other great examples of the films of this generation are Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) and Star Wars (George Lukas , 1977). These are the first expensive, high-tech movies: blockbusters (the films aim at being an event, so as to complete with TV) that translate to Hollywood hits, thus a marketing product, as well as a cultural phenomenon. In fact Jaws is considered the first blockbuster in the history of cinema. During the 50s the revenue were based on classic films and sometimes there was a box office hit. Now, the aim is the blockbuster.
By definition, an independent film is a film made outside the big studios and is the expression of the personal vision of the director and not the box office hit ambition of the producers.
Main characteristics are that the director has full control of his work; the independent film directors do not share a common vision ideologically or aesthetically. Jim Jarmusch films are a completely different type comparing with Spike Lee's. These are young, talented directors with fresh ideas, addressing to a more educated audience vs the mainstream films that are addressing to a mass audience. Due to lower investment from the producers, the pressure towards the directors is less, thus they are more free to pursue their vision. Less money means fewer options in terms of cast & location. This actually turns out to be an advantage. For example, in Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise, due to low budget and limited filming time, the film's scenes are each a single shot, followed by a few seconds of black screen. This actually became his characteristic.
There are many worthy independent filmmakers, but the most legendary are John Cassavetes and Jim Jarmusch.
John Cassavetes (1929-1989) was an Academy Award nominee for Best Direction in a film (A woman under the influence), Original Script (Faces) and Best Supporting Actor (The Dirty Dozen by Robert Aldrich, 1967) – pretty remarkable accomplishments.
Some of his most famous films are Shadows (1959), Faces (1968), Husbands (1970), Minnie and Moskowitz (1971), A woman under the influence (1974) The killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) and Opening Night (1977).
Jim Jarmusch is another famous representative of indepentend films, with some of his most famous being Permanent Vacation (1980), Stranger than Paradise (1984), Down by Law (1986), Mystery Train (1989), Night on Earth (1991), Dead Man (1995), Ghost Dog: The way of the Samurai (1999), Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), Broken Flowers (2005).
The American Independent Cinema, is a genre definitely worth looking into, with directors that brought classic films and influenced many different generations of filmmakers.
Ever since I first set foot on a cinema theatre, I knew that something magical was happening there....