Main attraction: Politics, sex and music in movies

By Jessica Hergert

The Sweigart Auditorium was filled with film students, professors and movie lovers alike last week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The New Hollywood era in cinema history.

The two-day symposium highlighted a near-decade of films that, for the first time, harnessed “sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll and protest,” the event’s tagline.

In 1968, the Motion Picture Production Code — a set of guidelines applied to the film industry beginning in 1930 — broke down.

With new freedoms in place, writers, directors and producers challenged what cinephiles were used to and created a new movement in cinema now called The New Hollywood.

Although much debate surrounds the exact timeframe of The New Hollywood, many agree it began in 1967 with the film “The Graduate” and ended in 1976 with “Taxi Driver.”

Over the nine-year span, films that emerged were edgier, culturally charged and utilized a realism that had been largely overlooked in the industry until then.

“The movies, in their aesthetic originality, attempt to speak frankly about American politics and values,” said Cynthia Lucia, director of the film and media studies program. “The cultural concerns centered on deeply questioning conventional attitudes and beliefs — and the willingness to protest.”

The symposium kicked off on Feb. 28 with a unique student panel focusing on the 1967 French film “Belle de Jour.”

Moderated by Professor of French Mary Poteau-Tralie, the four student speakers — all studying French — touched upon “sexual frankness” in French films and its influence on The New Hollywood in America.

A packed auditorium greeted the next set of students eager to share their thoughts on the “Precursors to The New Hollywood” in a panel moderated by Lucia.

Sophomore musical theater major Terren Mueller, who highlighted the 1965 British film “Repulsion,” said the movie “blurred the lines between reality and dreams,” a surrealistic concept that had not yet been explored in-depth by filmmakers.

Fittingly, the next panel, also student-led and moderated by Lucia, was called, “The New Hollywood is Born — And Thrives.”

The three student presenters appealed to the audience, which was made up mostly of the Studies of Film Genre: Horror class, by showcasing the films “In Cold Blood,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Carrie.”

“The Graduate” was screened, followed by another student panel from junior English cinema studies major Sean O’Donnell, entitled “Sex, Satire and Music in New Hollywood Cinema,” which highlighted the film.

The first day ended with a special presentation by featured speaker Art Simon of Montclair State University.

A professor of English and cinema, Simon discussed the “deep pessimism” that infiltrated The New Hollywood.

“It’s a metaphor for the impossible rat-race, the crushing misery of the Great Depression and the myth of the American Dream,” Simon said, referring to the film “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”

“The films show forces larger than any protagonist that determine one’s destiny,” he added.

The second day of the symposium began early with “New Wave Influences: Anarchy, Women, Politics and Farce,” focusing on the 1966 Czechoslovakian film “Daisies.”

Following the student panel, a faculty roundtable discussed the implications The New Hollywood had on global cinema.

Moderated by Lucia, the presentation featured Poteau-Tralie and Daria Cohen of the Department of Foreign Languages and German Cardenas-Alaminos and Thomas Simonet of the Department of Fine Arts, each of whom focused on a different work from The New Hollywood period.

Simonet recounted his experience viewing “The Graduate” in San Francisco after being drafted into the Vietnam War.

“I so was not in my right world [in the military], nor were the hippies my world,” he said. “I was in two worlds, and I didn’t belong to either one.”

Drawing upon the emotional struggle this film’s protagonist Benjamin faces, Simonet exposed the core of The New Hollywood saying, “The whole generation felt otherness at this time, and I think that is what [the films] captured.”

Student panels followed for the majority of the evening, including a spotlight on race, gender and politics in “The Night of the Living Dead” and a separate discussion about race and youth in cinema. Students also took a deeper look into horror films of The New Hollywood with “Rosemary’s Baby.”

To conclude the symposium, featured speaker Jerry Rife, professor of music, spoke about use of film music in The New Hollywood, specifically targeting “The Graduate” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Following his presentation, Rife was honored by those attending the reception on account of his retirement.

The final event was an awards ceremony during which students were recognized for their presentations and had the chance to share their own screenplays or films with the audience.

There was a three-way tie for Best Student Presentation between senior graphic design major Mia Tribett, junior popular music culture major Garrett Manyoky and junior theater major Stephanie Hampton.

Best Screenplay went to senior English major Stephanie Curreri with “Central Ave.” Senior digital media major Kelsey Edwards took home Best Student Film with “Endless Reverie.”

Following the jam-packed days, Lucia reflected on the hard work the faculty, staff and students achieved.

“As always, student and faculty presentations created a vibrant and enlightening atmosphere of collaborative learning and exchange of ideas — something especially true also of our featured speakers, Dr. Art Simon and our own Dr. Jerry Rife,” she said.


Published in the 03/07/18 edition. 

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