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
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.
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