Article

American Independent Cinema

David Sterritt

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online October 2013 | | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0061
American Independent Cinema

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American independent cinema, often called “indie cinema,” has no clear historical starting point and no single definition. Most broadly, the term refers to films made outside the Hollywood system, although some scholars date independent cinema from 1908, when enterprising filmmakers defied the near-monopoly of the Motion Picture Patents Company, formed by Thomas A. Edison and others hoping to control the rapidly expanding industry. The creation of United Artists in 1919 established a nominally independent studio within Hollywood, although its founders—Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, D. W. Griffith, and Mary Pickford—were celebrated movie stars. The advent of cheap, flexible equipment facilitated truly independent filmmaking during and after World War II, and the prolific producer-director Roger Corman gave the movement a major boost in the 1950s and 1960s. Another pivotal moment came when actor John Cassavetes wrote and directed Shadows (1957, revised 1959), the first of many profoundly personal films (e.g., Faces in 1968 and A Woman under the Influence in 1974) financed in part by his earnings as a top Hollywood star. Subsequent critical and/or commercial successes brought heightened attention to indie cinema, which then entered a New Hollywood period in which a gifted “film-school” or “movie-brat” generation blurred the lines between independent and Hollywood production by drawing on industry resources or setting up alternative studios, even as quasi-independents such as Robert Altman made both Hollywood and non-Hollywood films. In the same era, the “midnight movie” scene began with such radically distinctive pictures as John Waters’s Pink Flamingos (1972), a scatological satire of middle-class Americana, and David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), described by the filmmaker as a “dream of dark and troubling things.” More recent developments include film/video hybrids and “postcinema” films (e.g., The Blair Witch Project in 1999) that extend their fictions into neighboring media such as websites and video games; all the while, drastically individualistic moving-image artists have created avant-garde and “experimental” works ranging from Maya Deren’s oneiric Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) to Stan Brakhage’s dazzling Commingled Containers (1996).

Article.  10022 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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