In Jaap’s 12:30 – 1:45 recitation, we began the class by briefly going over the midterm essay assignment. We discussed the logistics of the paper as well as the possible topics we could explore.
Following this, we dived into the material for the week with a presentation on Biskind’s article. Primarily, the presentation looked at Steven Spielberg and George Lucas in addition to touching on other directors like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. We discussed the careers, philosophies and personal lives of these directors, and examined their lasting imprint on the film industry.
After this presentation, Jaap initiated a discussion of Thomas Schatz’s article, which led to a larger talk of what was and was not a blockbuster. Jaap introduced Schatz’s concept of a “New Hollywood” and the major conditions (Shift to independent movie productions/changing role of studios/introduction of malls/commercial TV) and characteristics (Star value/production values/reward-risk factor (marketing through TV)/presold films/lived-in world of Star Wars) that marked this time in the industry. This idea also gave rise to new kinds of films: movies that had a high-concept that could be succinctly described, sleeper hits that were less expensive, and alternative or independent cinema. Jaap then screened a scene from the James Bond film Goldfinger. The class debated if the film was a blockbuster as it was released before Jaws, which is generally praised as the first blockbuster film. We seemed to come to a consensus that it fit into the confines of a blockbuster, but did not signify the shift towards producing a number of blockbusters as Jaws did.
Jaap then posed the question of why we continue to return to these films, and the class made a number of good points about why franchises and sequels exist for films like Star Wars and Jaws, which still resonate even decades after their initial release. Star Wars in particular was the focus of the conversation, as we mentioned at length how the universe feels not only lived in but has been so fleshed out in other mediums like novels and video games that the franchise has a number of points of entry for fans. We did also focus on some of the issues of a film like Star Wars, such as the possible racial implications of Darth Vader’s outfit or the way droids are treated in the Cantina, but the topic also circled back to the subject of blockbuster popularity. Jaap mentioned the pitches for films like Jaws and Alien, and also showed us the posters for these films that were meant to instantly grab viewers.
Finally, we ended class with a presentation Kael’s article, during which the presenter took a modern approach to the points of the article. Focusing on why movies are bad in modern times, the presentation covered the convoluted system of production and writing credits currently in place, as well as discussed briefly how Hollywood staples like the Black List of scripts and actor influences have aided or proved a disservice to the moviemaking process.