18 September 2006

Contemporary American Cinema

Contemporary American Cinema
Contemporary American Cinema, edited by Linda Ruth Williams and Michael Hammond, is the first book to attempt a truly comprehensive examination of post-classical cinema (that is, American filmmaking since 1960, after Hollywood's golden age).

The book implicitly positions itself as an unofficial sequel to The Classical Hollywood Cinema (by David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson, and Janet Staiger). It was only published this year, so only time will tell if it can earn as high a reputation as Bordwell et al., though it does gain instant significance as the first study of its kind.

Major trends are all covered in some depth: the decline of the studio system and the rise of New Hollywood in the 1960s, big-budget blockbusters in the 1970s, bombastic action movies and indie cinema in the 1980s, and "Smart Cinema" in the 1990s. (Maybe it's still too soon for a clear appreciation of 1990s cinema, as the "Smart Cinema" tag doesn't seem substantial enough.)

Of the book's contributors, only Kim Newman really stands out, though co-editor Linda Ruth Williams and her husband and co-writer, Mark Kermode, are also excellent writers. I can't help but contrast Contemporary American Cinema with The Oxford History Of World Film, whose format is similar though whose collection of contributors and essays is far superior. That may be an unfair comparison, though I make it only because, in their introduction, Williams and Hammond say that they commissioned "some of the best film writers and academics in the world" to write "a series of first-class essays".

Although it was written as a university film studies textbook, complete with suggested essay questions, it can also be read as a work of general film history. As a survey of trends in American cinema circa 1960-2000, it's a unique and important book.