Classical and Post-Classical Hollywood Cinema

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Classical and Post-Classical Hollywood Cinema


During the course of this essay it is my intention to discuss the differences between Classical Hollywood and post-Classical Hollywood. Although these terms refer to theoretical movements of which they are not definitive it is my goal to show that they are applicable in a broad way to a cinema tradition that dominated Hollywood production between 1916 and 1960 and which also pervaded Western Mainstream Cinema (Classical Hollywood or Classic Narrative Cinema) and to the movement and changes that came about following this time period (Post-Classical or New Hollywood). I intend to do this by first analysing and defining aspects of Classical Hollywood and having done that, examining post classical at which time the relationship between them will become evident. It is my intention to reference films from both movements and also published texts relative to the subject matter. In order to illustrate the structures involved I will be writing about the subjects of genre and genre transformation, the representation of gender, postmodernism and the relationship between style, form and content.

Classical Hollywood

Classical Hollywood is a tradition of methods and structures that were prominent American cinema between 1916 and 1960.Its heritage stems from earlier American cinema Melodrama and to theatrical melodrama before that. Its tradition lives on in mainstream Hollywood to this day. But what is it?

Classic narrative cinema is what Bordwell, Staiger and Thompson (The classic Hollywood Cinema, Columbia University press 1985) 1, calls “an excessively obvious cinema”1 in which cinematic style serves to explain and not to obscure the narrative. In this way it is made up of motivated events that lead the spectator to its inevitable conclusion. It causes the spectator to have an emotional investment in this conclusion coming to pass which in turn makes the predictable the most desirable outcome. The films are structured to create an atmosphere of verisimilitude, which is to give a perception of reality. On closer inspection it they are often far from realistic in a social sense but possibly portray a realism desired by the patriarchal and family value orientated society of the time. I feel that it is often the black and white representation of good and evil that creates such an atmosphere of predic...

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... ed (BFI, 1990) we read … “contrary to all trendy journalism about the ‘New Hollywood’ and the imagined rise of artistic freedom in American films, the ‘New Hollywood’ remains as crass and commercial as the old…”


1. Bordwell, Staiger and Thompson (The classic Hollywood Cinema, Columbia University press 1985)

2. Bordwell, Thompson Film Art, An Introduction ,7th ed (Mcgraw Hill, 2004)

3. Pam Cooke(ed) The Cinema Book,1st ed (BFI, 1990)

4. Susan Hayward Cinema Studies The Key Concepts(, Routledge, 1999)

5. Jill Nelmes (ed) An introduction to film studies 3rd edition (Routeledge,



TOUCH OF EVIL (Orson Welles, USA, 1958)

Dracula (Tod Browning, Universal, US, 1931)

Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (Rouben Mamoulian, Paramount, US, 1931)

The War of the Worlds (Byron Haskin, Paramount, US, 1953)

Invasion of the body snatchers (Don Siegel, Allied Artists, US, 1955)

Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, Shamley, US, 1960)

Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, Image Ten, US 1968)

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, Warner, US 1980)

Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, Columbia, US, 1976)

Blue velvet (David Lynch, De Laurentis, US, 1986)

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