American Cinema of the 1980s: Themes and Variations (Screen Decades: American Culture/American Cinema)

American Cinema of the 1980s: Themes and Variations (Screen Decades: American Culture/American Cinema)

Stephen Prince

Language: English

Pages: 280

ISBN: 0813540348

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


During the 1980s, American cinema underwent enormous transformations. Blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., and The Empire Strikes Back grabbed huge revenues for the studios. At the same time, the growth of home video led to new and creative opportunities for independent film production, resulting in many of the decade's best films. Both large- and small-scale filmmakers responded to the social, political, and cultural conditions of the time. The two-term presidency of Ronald Reagan spawned a new Cold War with the Soviet Union, which Hollywood film both embraced and critiqued. Also during this time, Hollywood launched a long-awaited cycle of films about the Vietnam War, exploring its impact both at home and abroad. But science fiction remained the era's most popular genre, ranging from upbeat fantasies to dark, dystopic visions.

Bringing together original essays by ten respected scholars in the field, American Cinema of the 1980s examines the films that marked the decade, including Ordinary People, Body Heat, Blade Runner, Zelig, Platoon, Top Gun, Aliens, Blue Velvet, Robocop, Fatal Attraction, Die Hard, Batman, and sex, lies & videotape.

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Witness. Leger Grindon finds a spirit of resistance to mainstream political culture in Platoon, Aliens, The Fly, Hannah and Her Sisters, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Blue Velvet. Jack Boozer explores films that mirror national scandals in RoboCop, House of Games, and Wall Street, and also examines the salience of Vietnam War films and those examining the broadcast media. Deron Overpeck finds contradictions between the ideology about America and the actual social conditions so important in Big,

highlighted masculinity and its capacity to metamorphose, mutate, and sustain hegemonic/heroic control. Many of these films were equally as nostalgic for classical film forms and actively drew from classical genres in their approach. Although its Cold War themes would seem to suggest an utterly contemporary focus, Stripes recycles material from the military comedies of the World War II era. The film focuses on an unlikely group of enlistees whose experiences in basic training provide grist for broad

situation: she is talentless, powerless, penniless, alienated, isolated, marginalized, and self-destructive. Seidelman made the film for $80,000 soon after graduating from New York University (as well as directing, she also co-wrote the screenplay and edited and produced the film). Smithereens earned a reputation at film festivals (including Cannes, where it became the first independently produced American film to be accepted in the main competition) before receiving a limited commercial release. Two

disconcerting electronic effects. Schanberg arrives alone in an airport while his photographer, Al Rockoff (John Malkovich), is asleep and hung over in a seedy hotel room. When the two go to an outdoor café for breakfast a terrorist bomb explodes nearby, transforming Rockoff from a babbling eccentric into a highly professional photographer, as he snaps up and begins shooting the carnage. Schanberg’s translator Dith Pran breathlessly arrives and tells of reports of U.S. bombing of a civilian

men. Aliens cultivates cynicism. The military is inept in spite of its overpowering technology, and rather than allowing for the crisis to bond the fighters, as is common in war films, the movie slaughters its characters until only mother and child remain. “The Company,” the all-powerful corporate sponsor of the expedition, readily trades human life for profits. This overarching institutional villain, inherited from Alien, remains unchallenged. The war movie model refers to Vietnam, and Aliens plays

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