The Lost Decade: The Fortunes and Films of the 'Hollywood Renaissance Auteur' in the 1980s
thesisposted on 06.08.2020, 16:05 by Chris R. N. Horn
The dominant view of late 1960s and early 1970s American film history is that of a ‘Hollywood Renaissance’, a relatively brief window of artistry and critique based around a select group of directors. In contrast, the 1980s are routinely seen as the era of the blockbuster and of ‘Reaganite entertainment’. While key directors associated with the Renaissance period remained active throughout the 1980s, this work has been obscured by a narrow, singular model of American film history, which has placed undue emphasis on White House occupancy and box-office hits. This is an analysis of 1980s American film history, and of authorship, from a fresh perspective, through the prism of a group of filmmakers who had been lavished with praise for their 1970s films but whose subsequent careers have routinely been dismissed in perfunctory terms. Indeed, the 1980s careers of directors like Robert Altman, Francis Coppola and William Friedkin, far from conforming to a monolithic pattern of decline, show diverse and complex responses to societal and industrial changes. While this is a project that is concerned with industrial contexts, it is also very much about individual films, bringing to light a range of unheralded or obscure work that seems particularly suited to an auteurist interpretation, from the visual experimentation of One from the Heart (Coppola, 1981) to the experimental production contexts of Secret Honor (Altman, 1984) and the stylistic élan of To Live and Die in L.A. (Friedkin, 1985). Behind the homogenous picture of the decline of the auteur in 1980s American cinema are films and careers that merit greater attention and this study offers a new position from which to appreciate individual films, American film history, and the viability of sustained authorial creativity within post-studio era Hollywood.