Hollywood: The Shock of Freedom in Films

  • Two girls embrace, then enjoy a long, lingering kiss that ends only when a male intruder appears.

    A vulpine criminal in a sumptuous penthouse pulls aside a window curtain to look down at the street. When he releases the curtain, he is abruptly in another apartment. He crosses the thickly carpeted living room to peer into a bedroom; when he turns back, the living room is empty and bare-floored.

    In the midst of an uproariously funny bank robbery, a country-boy hoodlum fires his pistol; the tone of the scene shifts in a split second from humor to horror as the bloodied victim dies.

    At first viewing, these scenes would appear to be photomontages from an underground-film festival. But The Fox , based on a D.H. Lawrence story with a lesbian theme, is soon to be released nationally, starring Sandy Dennis. Point Blank , with Lee Marvin, is in its plot an old-fashioned shoot-em-down but in its technique a catalogue of the latest razzle-dazzle cinematography. Bonnie and Clyde is not only the sleeper of the decade but also, to a growing consensus of audiences and critics, the best movie of the year.

    Differing widely in subject and style, the films have several things in common. They are not what U.S. movies used to be like. They enjoy a heady new freedom from formula, convention and censorship. And they are all from Hollywood.

    Poetry and Rhythm
    Hollywood was once described as the only asylum run by its inmates. It was the town where, as George Jean Nathan said, "ten million dollars' worth of machinery functions elaborately to put skin on baloney." There is still plenty of machinery out there putting skin on baloney. But the most important fact about the screen in 1967 is that Hollywood has at long last become part of what the French film journal Cahiers du Cinema calls" the furious springtime of world cin ema," and is producing a new kind of movie.

    Newness is not merely a matter of time but of attitude. Despite the legacy of such rare masters as D.W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein, the vast majority of films a decade ago were little more than pale reflections of the the ater or the novel. The New Cinema has developed a poetry and rhythm all its own. Traditionally, says Cahiers editor Jean-Louis Comolli, "a film was a form of amusement — a distraction. It told a story. Today, fewer and fewer films aim to distract. They have be come not a means of escape but a means of approaching a problem. The cinema is no longer enslaved to a plot. The story becomes simply a pretext."

    Whether or not filmmakers want to tell a story, they no longer need adhere to the convention that a movie should have a beginning, middle and end. Chronological sequence is not so much a necessity as a luxury. The slow, logical flashback has given way to the abrupt shift in scene. Time can be jumbled on the screen — its foreground and background as mixed as they are in the human mind. Plot can diminish in a forest of effects and accidents; motivations can be done away with, loose ends ignored, as the audience, in effect, is invited to become the scenarist's collaborator, filling in the gaps he left out. The purposeful camera can speed up action or slow it down; the sound track can muddle a conversation or overamplify it to incoherence. Black-and-white sequences intermingle with color.

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