Following the surprise commercial success of Easy Rider in 1969 Hollywood found its approach to filmmaking increasingly out of step with the times. In the years after Easy Rider, it would search again for that magic formula of how films could connect with popular audiences amidst the social upheaval of the counterculture generation, civil rights protests at home, the Vietnam war abroad and Watergate. In this search they gave the greenlight to outsiders and mavericks before the equally unexpected arrival of the blockbuster in the shape of Jaws (1974) and Star Wars (1978).
In this period, between the demise of classic Hollywood and the rise of the modern franchise, we glimpse an independent style of filmmaking being made and distributed within the increasingly corporate studio system: a parallel ‘dream-factory’ universe as it were, rich in visual and thematic ambiguity, complexity and nuance.
1971 marked Independent Hollywood’s zenith with films like Two Lane Blacktop directed by Monte Hellman (who sadly passed away earlier this year) produced by Universal Studios, Alan J. Pakula’s Klute, Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs Miller by Warner Brothers, Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show and Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces by Columbia all released that year. These films rewrote the traditional genre rule book or indeed threw the rule book away and took the audience on an existential journey where the only ending possible was the film to burn in the projector gate. All of them though were shaped by and, in different ways, reflected on the social and political turmoil engulfing the United States at the end of the 60s and the beginning of a new decade.
Whilst the period has popularly been defined as The New Hollywood it has also been defined by its male directors. However, women were central to this creative moment whether in front of the camera: Jane Fonda (Klute), Julie Christie (McCabe and Mrs Miller) and Cloris Leachman (who won a Supporting Actress Oscar® for The Last Picture Show and passed away earlier this year); or behind the camera: Polly Platt (The Last Picture Show) and scriptwriter Carole Eastman (Five Easy Pieces).
1971 The Year Hollywood went Independent provides an opportunity to reassess these films 50 later, see them back on the big screen with a range of guest speakers and reflect on and recognise the contribution made by women.
Presented by Cinema Rediscovered and Park Circus, 1971: The Year Hollywood Went Independent tours to venues across the UK as part of Cinema Rediscovered on Tour (Aug - Oct), a Watershed project with support from BFI awarding funds from The National Lottery and MUBI.