The article offers an intimate and personal overview of the shifting New Hollywood cinema. Focusing on George Lucas, Scorsese, Spielberg, Altman, and Coppola, Biskind traces the relationships, personal mindsets and business ventures that characterized New Hollywood as opposed to that described by Thomas Schatz.
The article opens with a few facts about Lucas’ background such as his anti-authority attitude (which he would later illustrate in his films), his distaste for Hollywood, and his view of Coppola as a fatherly figure. Biskind follows Lucas’ creative process: while planning Star Wars, he read through dozens of old fairytales and myths in hopes of creating a moral film for kids. He believed that the over-exposed kids of the time had no fantasy world and no filmic depictions outside of those based in constant violence and action. Like many of his peers, Lucas considered himself an artist, and Graffiti had reminded him how much he liked making positive films. He wanted to be taken seriously as an auteur, and he felt that with Graffiti he had created an American version of Fellini’s I Vitelloni.
Biskind covers the conflict between Coppola and Lucas over the distribution of points for Graffiti, and by doing so he recreates for us the competitive environment that all of these directors worked in. This is something we can see depicted in their films. For instance, Lucas put Coppola in his film as Han Solo, thereby depicting his feelings toward the older director. Biskind shows that the financial disagreements between the directors lead to Coppola’s failure to launch American Zeotrope and ultimately left him no choice but to remain dependent on Hollywood to fund his productions. What we find is a group of young, arrogant, brilliant directors in search of independence from the Hollywood system who are hampered by their tendency to get in their own way.
Graffiti allows Lucas to negotiate a better deal for Star Wars, a move that proved decisive in his career and those who followed him. He gained the merchandising rights, changed the way movies were advertised, and earned for himself, after many struggles, the right to do with his films whatever he wanted. Biskind suggests that this way of filmmaking, utilized by both Spielberg and Lucas, was altogether different from what the directors originally set out to do. They found a way to make films within the studio system that somehow still allowed them to maintain control of their own pictures. Unlike Coppola, Scorsese, or Altman, who were all children of literature and theatre, Spielberg and Lucas were T.V. kids brought up on immense visual stimulation. Their upbringing ultimately caused their films to be more visual than vocal. This filmic overstimulation used sound and visual cues to tell the story and used the narrative to drive the visual, rather than the other way around. Other directors felt that Spielberg and Lucas destroyed the film industry by feeding the audience watered down, “dumb” movies that opposed the artsy, intellectual films they were used to.
In any event, what we find is a hunger for independence from the norm and the ambitions of young, aspiring auteurs to create a filmic age to parallel that of the French New Wave. Biskind does not give a definitive answer as to whether or not the New Hollywood accomplished this. Instead, he leaves the reader to decide.