Tuesday, September 24

Entering a new era in filmmaking

UCLA film professor contrasts the movie-going traditions from the '60s to the present

The threat of closure of the historic Bruin and Village Theaters in the heart of Westwood gives a warning to the moviegoers of UCLA and Los Angeles alike. With the recent buzz around films such as “Avatar” and “Alice in Wonderland,” it is hard to say that interest in movies has decreased, but the culture that exists in this town of filmmakers has undergone a great transformation from the artistic surge of the 1960s and ’70s.

The height of the Vietnam War and a new age of cinema drove UCLA students into a frenzy. Film and television professor and UCLA alumnus Myrl Schreibman noticed an extremely intimate feeling in Westwood at the time.

“There was a lot of interactivity with students. … Everyone wasn’t just a number,” Schreibman said.

He described a typical night as one of going to the local hangout, The Village Deli, and heading over to the then-Fox Village Theater to see a movie.

The overall interest in movie-going spanned well outside of Westwood, as Los Angeles and its industry of choice were undergoing a huge change in the films that were being made.

Richard Lagravenese, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and a producer and director of the documentary “A Decade Under the Influence,” which gives a detailed look into the cinematic work of the 1970s, remembers growing up during this tumultuous time of filmmaking.

“I got to see a lot of things at a time when movies were breaking ground in terms of language, sexual content and subject matter in general,” Lagravenese said.

The filmmakers of the ’60s and ’70s experienced a newfound freedom as the studio system was in a large downswing.

Peter Bogdanovich, director of “The Last Picture Show” among many other titles, was one of these directors who revolutionized the craft.

“We were interested in the films that came from Europe,” Bogdanovich said. “Films were more exciting and unusual; the early ’70s was an interesting period for American cinema.”

In his making of “A Decade Under the Influence,” Lagravenese said that he discovered that not only did the filmmakers of the ’70s have a lot of leeway, but audiences showed a different interest: They became concerned with movies relating to their lives.

“Clearly the audiences were favoring the more honest, naturalistic and reflective cinema,” Lagravenese said.

These slower-moving, character-based films have not disappeared but there is no question that today’s audiences have a high demand for fast-paced films and special effects. There is no longer an influx of mentally driven films on everyone’s must-see list.

“You really have to kill yourself to get one of them made,” Bogdanovich said of contemporary independent films.

The films of the ’60s and ’70s that were nominated for Academy Awards did not differ much in subject from those nominated now. However, the noted films then were the most popular films of the day, whereas currently, these highly regarded movies do not reach a very wide audience and are largely considered to be art house pictures.

“Filmmaking is still amazing, but I wonder if younger audiences would be into the kind of storytelling that existed in the ’70s,” Lagravenese said.

He equated the groundbreaking subject matter of the ’70s with the groundbreaking technology of our modern times. Such innovation is greatly affecting the way that people see movies.

Schreibman points to television and the Internet as the new modes of experiencing movies.

“It will never replace the experience of sitting in the dark theater,” Schreibman said. “They’re (movie viewers) just looking at the movie and not the art that went behind making that movie.”

The easy-access mentality now influences the kinds of movies that are made. The studios take cues from the audiences and what they enjoy seeing.

Lagravenese pointed out that the audience shares responsibility for films that make it to theaters.

“If people see good movies, (the studios) will make good movies,” Lagravenese said.

The corporations that have come to run Hollywood play a large part in the vast differences between the culture that existed in Los Angeles and Westwood in the ’60s and ’70s and that which exists now.

“Now the word “˜business’ means more than the word “˜show,’” Schreibman said.

While change is inevitable, what is most important is the art and vision that filmmakers put into their work, no matter what the time period.

“What is not going to change is a good story with good characters,” Schreibman said.

Lagravenese emphasized the importance of staying away from chasing the marketplace.

“One has to stay excited as an artist within all of it,” Lagravenese said.

There may never be a return to those pivotal filmmaking days of the ’60s and ’70s, but the interest in well-made films continues to exist.

“Maybe there is hope in the young people turning it around. I would like to think so,” Bogdanovich said.

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