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ix Preface this project was originally sparked by two seemingly separate but ultimately interrelated fascinations: the role that screen violence plays in our complex attraction to and enjoyment of movies, and the ostensibly sharp divide that separates Hollywood cinema of the 1970s from Hollywood cinema of the 1980s. The amount of scholarship about American film in the 1970s is voluminous, and it is axiomatic for many to declare it one of the richest and most evocative periods of cinema not only in the United States but in the world. Meanwhile, the decade of the 1980s, when written about, has been frequently dismissed as a period of artistic and ideological retreat in which movies became simplified and empty— vacuous entertainment for an increasingly conservative culture that had elected a former movie actor to the most powerful position in the world. Similarly, violence in movies of the 1960s and 1970s, which is frequently viewed as a kind of formative moment in the aesthetic and ideological development of screen bloodshed, has been scrutinized quite heavily, as has screen violence of the 1990s. However, scholars have written comparatively little about screen violence in the 1980s, which is ironic, given its prevalence on American movie screens during the Reagan era. Thus, it seemed to me that the intersection of screen violence and the shifts in American filmmaking at the juncture between the 1970s and the 1980s could offer rich possibilities in terms of exploring how movies ebb and flow with the times. As a lens, screen violence provides an intriguing perspective for exploring the constantly shifting nature of Hollywood cinema—the aesthetic, social, and industrial continuities and changes, some which are subtle, some of which are radical. In short, I was interested in screen violence not so much for its own sake but for what it could tell us about what was happening culturally and institutionally in Hollywood. Of course, characterizing any given era in Hollywood history is always a dangerous endeavor because each historical period, however defined and delineated, is invariably rife with contradictions, volatility, and diversity . Each era has “characteristic” films, filmmakers, and production trends that are used in summation as convenient shorthand, but they Kendrick Frontmatter.indd 9 2/5/09 7:40:58 AM PREFACE x consistently fail to capture the depth and complexity of what the Hollywood film industry represents at any given time. Such is the case with the two eras that are contrasted in this book: the 1970s and the 1980s. The former is conventionally understood as an era of experimentation, social consciousness, artistry, and boundary-pushing, while the latter is often seen as a period of conservative ideological entrenchment and commercial conformity. Each era is usually viewed through the prism of its political culture, with the 1970s seen as an era of upheaval and disorientation , while the 1980s is seen as a period of focused conservatism. And, on some level, both characterizations are right, but to stop there is to see only a fraction of the whole. Digging just slightly beneath the topsoil reveals that the fabled New Hollywood of the late 1960s and 1970s, the same era that produced such critical landmarks as The Graduate (1967), The Godfather (1972), The Exorcist (1973), Chinatown (1974), Nashville (1975), and Taxi Driver (1976), was routinely dominated at the box office by sentimental romance (1970’s Love Story), musicals (1971’s Fiddler on the Roof and 1978’s Grease), disaster epics (1974’s The Towering Inferno), and science fiction (1977’s Star Wars). Thus, we can see in only that cursory overview that, as Peter Lev puts it, “for sheer diversity of aesthetic and ideological approaches, no period of American cinema surpasses the films of the 1970s” (xvii). Similarly, while we like to see the so-called Reagan era as a period overrun by the “Lucas-Spielberg Syndrome” and conservative blockbuster filmmaking, a slightly deeper investigation unveils a twisting maze of contradictions and heterogeneity that includes a noted increase in the exhibition of documentaries (Plantinga) and the rise to prominence of controversial filmmakers such as David Lynch, Spike Lee, Abel Ferrara, David Cronenberg , and Oliver Stone. Yet, in writing the many histories of Hollywood, it is quite natural to fall back on the practice of periodizing, which by its nature tends to privilege the historical “breaks” that separate one period from another. However, as Murray Smith argues, it is important that, in trying to understand the historical trajectory of Hollywood’s development and the changes in...


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