There is a new movement in American cinema. As the dominant
economic power centred on an aggressively self-promoting culture,
a reflective mood has beset it. Films critical of the moral
directives and doctrines that drive Middle America are
everywhere. The trend has never been as obvious nor better
disguised. This New Cinema is global, influential and deliberate.
The new mood is peeling back the glorious rhetoric of success and
exposing its less lustrous underside - and pulling no punches in
America does not have a tradition of a self-critical
mainstream cinema. There have nevertheless always been filmmakers
willing to express a critical point of view. But not since the
1970's when Coppola, Scorsese, Altman and others created their
intriguing masterpieces have there been such rebels with a cause.
The directors of the New American Cinema are not household names.
But their films - Fight Club, Three Kings, The Insider and
American Beauty - lead the charge.
Intriguingly the New Cinema is well disguised. The films
misrepresent themselves by appearing to be one thing when in fact
they are something else entirely. And surprisingly the major
studios are financing and supporting them.
Today's new directors have been paying attention to their
home-grown masters. The 1970's revolution was grounded in the
belief that the cinema of the time had grown stale and simply
wasn't telling the truth. So they scrambled the American dream
and reinvented genres. Arthur Penn gave us Bonnie and Clyde
whilst Peckinpah blasted us through to the back stalls by
reinventing the Western in The Wild Bunch. Then came Apocalypse
Now and Taxi Driver. Something vital had arrived.
The same thing is happening all over again. But this time the
interpretation has taken on new responsibilities. The filmmakers
have a different agenda. No longer content to dazzle us with
technique, their images are being driven by ideas. What American
Beauty does for the illusion of balance in Middle America, Three
Kings does for military opportunism. What The Insider reveals
about the intrigues of corporate America, Fight Club does for
consumer capitalism. Yet these films have all been mainstream
successes. What's going on?
It's a sly game but underlying it is the premise that
entertainment must at all times be the primary consideration. To
be merely critical or didactic means to fail. So to attract the
attention of a non-critical cinema public, the films are
carefully promoted as something other than what they truly are.
On one level they are brilliantly executed entertainments imbued
with a refreshing moral fragrance. On another they are
subversive. The general public is buying a bucket of popcorn and
sitting back waiting to be elevated into heaven on a cloud of
pixels only to find themselves being flogged and flayed for hours
for being who they are. And they enjoy every minute of it!
Perhaps it is because the New Cinema portrays ordinary people
who recognise their failings in the present and take action by
projecting a new moral confidence into the future, regardless of
the cost. Inevitably the films end on an optimistic note. Yes
they say, the risks are high, but the moral energy driving you
Not everyone is likely to access the films on that level.
Three Kings might just be a raving hoot in the desert for some.
But is anyone likely to miss its critical panning of the pathetic
crusade that was the Gulf War? Whether you pay attention to the
message is another issue. But subversion can be effective if
persistent enough and these new filmmakers are not going to go
away. They are at the frontier redrawing the battle lines.
But this is not a new era for directors. It is better than
that. Where once autocratic producers ruled the studios to be
followed by a generation of powerful stars and directors, what we
are now entering is the age of writers.
People with ideas are drawn to film because they understand it
represents the best conduit for ideas in this age of technology.
For the dissemination of radical perspectives, film offers
intellectuals of whatever persuasion the maximum exposure. People
today read films in the same way they used to read books. A
generation is emerging that is only interested in accessing
information accompanied by a visual component. So when a film
rides on the back of a great story, the medium promotes the
message. The experience of feasting on images is what attracts an
insatiable public to the cinema in the first place. There they
make contact with a message that may never have reached them
Film stimulates our curiosity. It is reinvigorating narrative.
As we emerge from darkened cinemas, this new light force is
transforming us. The new directors know that. They understand how
important their creations are. They also know that they need to
keep sustaining interest in them to balance the hollow centred
B-grade blockbusters that are currently financing their stunning
The message has never been clearer. A moving image in an age
of visual information is making it irresistible. Social criticism
is entertaining us. And we can't get enough. Hopefully we are
heeding the message. In the end, what is driving the success of
the New Cinema is no mystery at all. It is you. Keep up the good