’60s Hollywood: Power Shifted (or Did It?)

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THE story of what is often called New Hollywood, the era of the easy riders, raging bulls, to borrow the title of Peter Biskind’s 1998 best seller, has been told numerous times. It goes something like this: By the early 1960s the old studio system was in shambles, run by old men who, out of touch with the times-they-are-a-changin’, were churning out pricey duds like “Cleopatra” to shrinking, indifferent audiences.

Just in the nick of time a new movie-savvy generation of directors, influenced by European art cinema, stormed the studios and reinvigorated American cinema with their independent visions. “Now,” the director John Milius exulted, “power lies with the filmmakers.” Alas, that power went to their heads, and filmmakers indulged themselves into a creative dead ends (“At Long Last Love”) and financial calamities (“One From the Heart”). The Age of Aquarius and the auteurs gave way to high-concept hits driven by the corporate bottom line and toy tie-ins. The rest is history and the end of times known as Michael Bay.

Over this past decade New Hollywood — usually bracketed by the bloody sensational wow of “Bonnie and Clyde” in 1967 and the two-blockbuster punch of “Jaws” and “Star Wars” in the mid-1970s — has been the subject of so much popular adulation and academic scrutiny as to become a veritable fetish. This was the era, or so its enthusiasts insist, when American movies grew up (or at least started undressing actresses); when directors did what they wanted (or at least were transformed into brands); when creativity ruled (or at least ran gloriously amok, albeit often on the studio’s dime). Needless to say, there’s more to this rise-and-fall saga, one worth revisiting with the release of a new DVD box from Criterion, “America Lost and Found: The BBS Story.”...

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