United States Cinematography in the 1980’s and 1990’s

On the other hand, the two Lucas films were super-productions, but only thanks to the special effects departmentthat nascent digital technology had made possible without the scenographic expenditure of the classic studio era. From that moment on, major computer graphics firms and laboratories emerged, such as Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, responsible for the most amazing effects seen on screens up to then. Indeed, the 1980s were marked by this development, which made films such as Ridley Scott’s Blade runner (1982), Paul Verhoeven’s Total recall (1990; Act of Force), The Terminator (1984; Terminator) and Terminator 2 possible: Judgment day (1991; Terminator 2 – Judgment day) directed by James Cameron, not to mention the sagas inaugurated by the same Lucas and Spielberg, from that of Star wars (from 1977 to 2002) to those of Indiana Jones (1981 to 1989) and Jurassic Park (1993 to 2001).

There is no doubt that the cinema of the last twenty years of the century marked, as a film billboard announced, ‘the return of the great adventure’. But it was no longer the western film, the exotic film or the war film, all of which were expressions of a decidedly inappropriate conception of expansionism in an era of anti-colonial revision. The great adventure was now in a space, like the virtual one, whose colonization did not offend anyone, or in any case in an infinite cosmic space in which, as in the first television and then film Star Trek saga, one could live adventures without necessarily preaching a ideology of conquest. In this key one can also read the Afro-American cinema of the last period, the one that saw the rising star of John Singleton and Mario van Peebles (son of Melvin) whose Boyz’n the hood (1991) and New Jack City (1991) have, yes, met the favor of the majors, but only because, in updated ways, they deal with violent and metropolitan issues, confining themselves to confirming the stereotypes of life in the black ghettos. Different is the case of Spike Lee (the first black director to rise to world fame), of bourgeois extraction and considerable culture, who approached cinema with stylistic features from Nouvelle vague (She’s gotta have it, 1986, Lola darling) and who he then developed his own coherent discourse on the contradictions of racism. Although with even greater difficulties, in the Eighties the first black directors also made their debut,

Unlike color cinematography, that of the American Indians, in the figures of directors and producers, does not boast an equally significant tradition, and spaces in festivals and reviews have only recently been dedicated to it. Among the directors we should mention George Burdeau (Backbone of the world: the blackfeet, 1997), who has been involved for thirty years in the diffusion of Native American culture, Sherman Alexie (Smoke signals, 1998) writer and poet, and Wes Studi (Bonnie Looksaway’s iron art wagon, 1997), best known as an actor for playing the lead role in Walter Hill’s Geronimo: an American legend (1993; Geronimo). Puerto Rican cinema, on the other hand, has recently integrated with the US one, offering an open look to subjects that are not limited to ethnic groups: among the directors, Marcos Zurinaga.

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But other changes had long since changed the face of US cinema. His relations with television, for example, are fundamental for understanding its evolution. From the beginning, the relationship was, so to speak, business: the large production companies sold packages of films for programming to the various television channels. But over time the big houses themselves realized that it would be easier to expand their commercial scope to include television itself. Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount etc. they then created their own channels with comic and dramatic series, while also continuing to produce cinematographic works which, in their intentions, they would then exploit with television broadcasting. The television market (together with that of home video) turned out to be very rich, so much so that not infrequently it covered the losses of this or that film in theaters. To make a film more appealing to the small screen, however, the entire script and shooting setup was changed to match the format and pace of television. The television show is in fact enjoyed in more relaxed ways than the cinematic one, the very logistical nature of the medium allows distractions and wellness supplements (the same interruptions of commercial announcements fall within this logic after all), to which the film is good to adapt with dead moments. On a formal level, moreover, the small screen does not allow shots of great depth of field, so the foreground and the American level (or at most some total) become the privileged formats. In other words, the last twenty years of the 20th century. has launched a sort of reduction of cinema to television, thus decreeing the primacy of the latter medium. On the other hand, albeit in limited terms, television has in turn subsumed genres that in the past had been almost the total prerogative of cinema. For example, in the first twenty years of the life of American television there were very few series of fantastic characters (the best: The twilight zone, 1959-65, At the edge of reality, by Rod Serling), whereas at the end of the century they they are multiplied, sometimes even directly taking up suggestions provided by this or that successful film. In any case, the direct line established between cinema and television has been increasingly evident in Hollywood production, which has gladly drawn on television imagery to package his proposals. This practice, however, falls within the broader and more general one of the contamination of once autonomous areas: comics, for example, despite having attracted the attention of cinema since the advent of sound, has found in the Hollywood of the years Nineties and Two Thousand Greater Hearing and Exploitation, from Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (1990) to Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2001).

In short, American cinema has transformed from a great entertainment show into a huge and omnivorous fresco of the most diverse and up-to-date instances of contemporary popular culture. Where in the past its organization reflected that of an equally ordered bourgeois society, with clearly delimited fields of operation, at the end of the twentieth century it once again reflected the reality within which it operated, a chaotic, controversial, multicultural, superficial reality, the whose tension towards the fantastic was no longer, as it once had been, an ephemeral escape route, but the mark of a new and widespread sensitivity towards an alternative world devoid of any ideological and political purpose. It is no coincidence that the production system was no longer headed by some tycoons-masters, far-sighted tyrants who forged the greatness of that cinema also through their flaws. At the beginning of the 21st century, Hollywood cinema was instead in the hands of faceless multinationals, efficient operating machines characterized not by a will, a personality, a taste, but, at most, by the results of market research. It is, after all, a sort of ‘American globalization’, a real zeroing of the cinema show at its lowest common denominator, which is still the product of the richest and most powerful film industry in the world and therefore realizes in productions of high technical quality and not infrequently of considerable financial commitment.

United States Cinematography in the 1980's and 1990's

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