1 Hollywood: Cyclical History, 1927-present

Cyclical History of Hollywood, 1927-present

Book Proposal

Emanuel Levy, Ph.D.

Professor of Film and Sociology

Author of 9 film books (see short resume)

For purposes of intellectual property protection, this proposal is registered with the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Introduction

My proposed book, American Cinema: Cyclical History of Hollywood, offers a new way of looking at the American cinema by focusing on the concept of film cycle, a rather unexplored idea in film studies.

The book’s time frame is nearly a century, from the beginning of the sound era, in 1927, to the present.

Written in serious yet popular style (like my other 9 books), The America Cinema: Cyclical History of Hollywood has strong potential to be used as a textbook in various courses of film studies, as well as being read and enjoyed by lay (non-academic) readers, who love movies and wish to know more about them.

Structure and Contents:

Three major ideas define the innovative approach of my book.  As such, they distinguish the proposed book from other prevalent “histories” of the American cinema.

Cycle Vs. Genre, Cycle Vs. Series (Franchise)

There have been books about the prevalent genres in American cinema, past and present. My book’s central concept is that of a film cycle, a group of films that are linked together by a major theme and idea, which cut across and intersect with various genres. 

In other words, a similar idea (concern, motif) or type of character can appear in comedies and dramas, westerns and thrillers and so on.

For example, The Thin Man movies constituted a popular series of seven films, made between 1934 and 1941. They featured the same major stars, William Powell and Myrna Loy, but they were written and helmed by different directors.  However, in my conception, The Thin Man pictures form a series, not a cycle.  To qualify as a cycle, there must be other similar films–private eyes with comedic touch–made by different studios, helmed by different directors, and featuring different stars.

Cycle VS. Socio-Historical Context 

Almost every decade in American history has witnessed the rise, decline and fall of particular film cycles.  Cycles are often launched by a particular film, whose critical and/or commercial success goes on to spawn a cluster of movies that deal with similar issues and/or revolve around similar characters.

The appearance (and dominance) of new movie cycles is conditioned by both filmic and extra-filmic factors, such as the shifting socio-economic and the cultural-political contexts of American society at large.

For example, the book will explore the reasons for the emergence of the “Beach Party” cycle in the early to mid-a960s, and their decline at the end of the decade.

In the same vein, the cycle of conspiracy (paranoia) films in the 1970s was not conditioned by cinematic factors, but rather by the socio-political contexts of American society.  These contexts were, defined by the political assassinations, the Vietnam War and anti-Vietnam War protests, the Watergate scandal and its aftermath, President Nixon’s resignation.

 Cycles Vs. Directors and Stars

The 1930s were a particular fertile decade for movie musicals, such as the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers dance musicals, made at RKO in the 1930s.  Those constitute a series, linked by the same stars, but they do not form a cycle either thematically or stylistically.

In contrast, musical movies of the early Depression era, such as 42nd Street and the Gold Diggers movies, constitute a cycle, largely made by the same studio (Warner Bros.), with the same choreographer (Busby Berkeley), and featuring a similar cast, often headed by William Powell and Ruby Keller.

Movie cycles are sometimes created or revolve around the same director, who works with the same cast of actors, jointly generating features linked by similar themes and motifs.  Take, for example, John Hughes and the cycle of high-school movies that he made in the 1980s, with (more or less) the same ensemble of actors. Why and how it emerged in the early 1980s? Why and how it declined in the late 1980s?

Cycles: Thematic Scope and Historical Duration

Colleagues and students have often asked me about the thematic scope and historical duration of film cycles.  The answers to those issues are tricky but intriguing.  While every decade from the 1940s on has produced film noirs, they appeared in cycles, lasting about three to five years.  The first cycle of film noir (even before the term was invented by French film critics) began in 1941, with the appearance of two films, High Sierra, and The Maltese Falcon.  Coincidentally or not, both films featured Humphrey Bogart, catapulting him to major stardom.  But they were helmed by different directors, Raoul Walsh and John Huston.  The first noir cycle reached its apogee in 1944, with the release of Billy Wilder’s first masterpiece, Double Indemnity, one of the few film noirs to be nominated for the best Picture Oscar. (The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, and its prestigious Oscar Award have always been suspicious of dark, grim, rather pessimistic views of the American Dream).

As noted, a particular successful film, say Ridley Scott’s Alien of 1979, often launches a whole series of films (the Alien movies, which continue to be made at present).  However, in order to constitute a describable cycle, the films must go beyond the particular director (Scott), star (Sigourney Weaver), and the studio in which it originated (Fox). And indeed, Alien turned out to be a seminal picture in launching not only the Alien film series, but a whole new type of film, a hybrid of sci-fi, horror, and action, blending the conventions of different genres.

In some cases, a particular film cycle declines (and disappears, at least for a while) due to the fact that the potential ideas and themes have been exhausted narratively and subsequently the moviegoing public is “getting tired” of them, In other cases, cycles appear and disappear due to the changing socio-cultural political landscape. It is no coincidence that many “feel good” and “optimistic” films were made during the conservative Reagan administration, which encouraged old-fashioned patriotic movies (the Rambo series, Top Gun).

Below please find a detailed Table of Contents, which is divided into 14 chapters.  Each chapter will describe and analyze the rise, evolution, decline, and end of a particular film cycle. The various chapters emphasize the thematic and stylistic innovations and the socio-historical-political conditions responsible for its emergence, duration, and decease.

Table of Contents  

Chapter 1: Crime-Gangster Cycle, 1927-1933

Key Films:

Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, Scarface

Chapter 2: Depression Era Musicals, 1933-1936

Key Films:

Forty-Second Street, The Gold Diggers of 1933 (and its sequels)

Chapter 3: Film Noir, 1941-1944 

Key Films:

The Maltese Falcon (1941), High Sierra (1941), both starring Humphrey Bogart

Double Indemnity (1944)

Chapter 4: Sci-Fi Cycle, 1950-1954

Key Films:

The Thing

A cycle of movies dealing with mutation size, manifest in disastrous dislocations in size: giant scorpions, claw monsters, spiders, ants.

Chapter 5: Historical Epics—Old Testament, 1949-1954

This cycle is often described as “Sand and Sandals” movies, shot in Widescreen, CinemaScope, and made by most studios in order to compete with the fast rise of TV as a rivaling medium.

Key Films:

Samson and Delilah; Quo Vadis; The Robe;

Chapter 6: Juvenile Delinquency Cycle

Key Films:

The Wild One (1953), starring Brando; Rebel Without a Cause (1955), starring James Dean

Chapter 7: Gay and Lesbian Cycles, 1961-1962; 1967-1970

Key Films of First Cycle:

Walk on the Wild Side, The Children’s Hour; Victim

Key Films of Second Cycle:

The Fox; Reflections in Golden Eye; Midnight Cowboy; The Boys in the Band

Chapter 8: Beach Party Cycle, 1963-1966

Key Films:

Beach Party; Muscle Beach Party; Bikini Beach; Pajama Party; Beach Blanket Bingo

Chapter 9: Blaxploitation Cycle, 1967-1975

Key Films:

Shaft

Chapter 10: Disaster Films, 1970-1978

Key Films:

Airport; The Poseidon Adventure; Earthquake; The Towering Inferno

Chapter 11: Conspiracy (Paranoia) Film Cycle, 1971-1976

Key Films:

Klute; The Parallax View; All the President’s Men

Chapter 12: Sci-Fi Horror Cycle

Key films:

Alien and its sequels

Chapter 13: Yuppie Cycle: Male-Dominated Films

Key Films:

Risky Business; Lost in America; After Hours; Desperately Seeking Susan; Into the Night; Ghost; The Fisher King (Jeff Bridges as ex-yuppie)

Chapter 14: Yuppie Cycle–Female-Dominated Thrillers

Key Films:

Jagged Edge (1985), Fatal Attraction (1987), both starring Glenn Close; The Hand that Rocks the Cradle; Single White Female

Chapter 15: Darkly Comic Crime (Heist) Cycle, 1990s

The Tarantino Effect: It’s hard to think of another director (not even Hitchcock or Scorsese or Spielberg) who has had such a profound influence on a whole new generation of filmmakers, often operating in the independent milieu.

Key films: Reservoir Dogs; Pulp Fiction; The Usual Suspect

Chapter 16: Animation Cycle (Disney Domination)

Beauty and the Beast (first animation nominated for Best Picture); establishment of separate Oscar category for Best Animation

Chapter 17: Comic Strip Superheroes Movies, 2000-present

Key Films: Batman, Superman, Spider Man, Dark Knight

Conclusion

Theory and Practice:

The importance of using the concept of cycle. How the concept helps us to examine more thoroughly and better understand the history, sociology and politics of the American Cinema of the past century.

Appendices 

List of Films by cycle (A to Z)

List of Directors by cycle (A to Z)

Select Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

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