Class



CINEMA IN THE AGE OF LATE CAPITALISM

While the politically engaged cinema of the late 1960s and early 1970s attempted to address social issues such as economic oppression, it turned out that most of those who could be defined as "oppressed" preferred to watch escapist films that helped them forget their hardships. By the mid-1970s, the Hollywood film industry had resurrected itself with a number of blockbuster films that revived old formulas and genres. Audiences flocked to pictures such as The Godfather (1972), Jaws (1975), and Star Wars (1977) not for their political critiques (which

(From left), Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent, and Alison Steadman in Life Is Sweet (Mike Leigh, 1990).
some analysts have pointed out) but for their ability to provide simple entertainment. Among the formulas dusted off and repackaged was the Horatio Alger narrative. In Rocky (1976) and Saturday Night Fever (1977), working-class men make better lives for themselves through sheer determination and hard work, with little-to-no discussion of the institutionalized forces that, in the real world, work to inhibit such mobility. Such optimistic messages would continue in popular American film for the rest of the century, from teen comedies such as Risky Business (1983) or Pretty in Pink (1986) to biopics such as Erin Brockovich (2000) or Ray (2004).

Certain trends in European cinema also began celebrating old-fashioned ideas of glamorous wealth and happy workers. Most particularly, the rise of British "heritage films" exuded nostalgia for the era before World War I, reveling in well-groomed manor grounds, lavishly appointed drawing rooms, and tuxedos and satin ball gowns. A number of similarly glossy films from other countries, such as Nuovo cinema Paradiso ( Cinema Paradiso , Italy, 1989), Mediterraneo (Italy, 1991), Como agua para chocolate ( Like Water for Chocolate , Mexico, 1992), and Belle Epoque (Spain, 1993) portrayed peasant life in a golden hue of romanticism. Such films often seemed like cinematic postcards, packaging the country (and its quaint working-class customs) for tourists to purchase.

By the start of the twenty-first century, the communist government of the Soviet Union had collapsed, and China had begun integrating itself into the international economy. A new era of triumphant capitalism (dubbed "late capitalism" by philosopher Herbert Marcuse [1898–1979]) seemed to have dawned. Much of contemporary cinema (and mass media generally) reflects the increased commodification of life. From Hollywood summer blockbusters to Japanese anime, modern cinema functions simultaneously as a product and as an advertisement for related products—the video, the soundtrack CD, the computer game, the collectible figures, the theme park ride. Hollywood studios (and many media companies worldwide) were subsumed into larger international corporate identities toward the end of the twentieth century. Thus, many films were meant to keep the profits flowing from all the various arms of a conglomerate rather than to expose how the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer.

Yet some filmmakers wished to expose the class struggles that remained. Often focusing on groups rather than Horatio Alger protagonists, directors like Mike Leigh (b. 1943) ( Life Is Sweet , 1990) in Britain, Denys Arcand (b. 1941) ( Les Invasions Barbares [ The Barbarian Invasions ], 2003) in Canada, John Sayles (b. 1950) ( Matewan , 1987) in the United States, and Hou Hsaio-Hsien (b. 1947) ( Beiqing Chengshi [ City of Sadness ], 1990) in Taiwan depicted the complex nature of economics and class, and how they interrelate with issues such as gender and sexuality, national identity, history, and religious belief. While their work was often overlooked by audiences, such efforts kept the spirit of such early cinema as The Kleptomaniac alive as the new millennium began.

SEE ALSO Ideology ; Marxism ; Neorealism ; Populism ; Propaganda

Bergman, Andrew. We're in the Money: Depression America and Its Films . New York: New York University Press, 1971.

Ceplair, Larry, and Steven Englund. The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930–1960 . Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1980.

Compaine, Benjamin M., and Douglas Gomery. Who Owns the Media? Competition and Concentration in Mass Media Industry . 3rd ed. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2000. Originally published in 1982.

Downing, John D. H., ed. Film and Politics in the Third World . New York: Praeger, 1987.

Harvey, Sylvia. May '68 and Film Culture . London: British Film Institute, 1978.

Hill, John. Sex, Class and Realism: British Cinema, 1956–1963 . London: British Film Institute, 1986.

Overbey, David, ed. Springtime in Italy: A Reader on Neo-Realism . London: Talisman, 1978.

Ross, Steven J. Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Ryan, Michael, and Douglas Kellner. Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

Youngblood, Denise J. Soviet Cinema in the Silent Era, 1918–1935 . Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1985.

Sean Griffin



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