History is marked by those moments of change when the old guard is challenged by a new vision of the future. That moment for Hollywood came in the early 1960s when the studio moguls, uncertain and confused by a changing audience, failed to see the future. The 1970s in Hollywood were a fertile time. The emergence of the director, as a legitimate artist in his or her own right, shifted focus from the studios.
Due in part to falling profits and the rise of television, a vacuum arose in the industry that opened the door for fresh ideas. Hollywood was redirected and, as a result, American cinema entered a new age – an age when box-office success did not necessarily preclude sophisticated content in a movie.
The Hollywood studio system, an assembly-line process that had been rolling sturdy entertainment vehicles out of its plants for decades, had finally started to show its age in the early part of the decade. The once reliable stars were getting older, and so were the directors: Hitchcock, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Wilder, all of whom flourished in the 50's and 60's appeared to be losing touch their audience.
Older moviegoers were drifting away to television, and younger ones—well, as the decade wore on and the war in Vietnam escalated, their desires became more and more incomprehensible to the Hollywood power. Young ones didn't know what kind is their movies. But they knew it when they saw it. They knew when they saw Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde in 1967, Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider in 1969, and Robert Altman's M*A*S*H in 1970, each one a film whose success came as a complete surprise to the Hollywood studio executives.
Then the major studios began greenlighting the pictures by young film-makers -- Scorsese's Mean Streets, George Lucas's American Graffiti, Terrence Malick's Badlands, all hit the screens, with studio money behind them. And occasionally, these big studios trusted a young director with a big-budget movie. The result was The Godfather(1972), made by 33-year-old Francis Ford Coppola, who had directed four previous films but never had a hit.
Dissipation of Studio System
The studio system of the 30s and 40s in Hollywood at one time worked very well. Men and women were groomed from the ground up to become great stars. Men were given lessons in boxing, girls took ballet. Each studio had a stable of talent, including directors. Later, a system dependent upon bloated studios couldn't hold their stand. The dissipation of the studio system made for one of the better eras in motion picture history. As the 50s were famous for, Marlon Brando style of performance, stars were truly acting, adopting a chameleon-like approach, taking on challenges.
Movies became more geared to the tastes of certain audiences rather than one streaming mass of movie goers, which meant new kinds of films were being made. In many ways the death of the studios was a boon for good film making as we saw with the films spanning from the mid 60s through the late 70s.
Hungry, Inexperienced Youngsters
Hungry, relentless and buzzing with ideas, the new generation, straight out of film school, reinvigorated Hollywood’s output with an unprecedented degree of autonomy. Suddenly, mainstream Hollywood movies were tackling contemporary issues head on, in a format that was challenging, provocative and wildly entertaining. Subject matter was informed, characterization was believable and visual flair was abundant.
Offbeat comedy drama(Harold And Maude, Midnight Cowboy) sat side by side with revitalized genre offerings(The Godfather, French Connection, Mean Streets). Never before or since, have the Hollywood studios ceded so much creative control to those who know how to use it. As the last remnants of the rigid studio system crumbled and died, new templates for how to make a movie were being created on the spot.
Awards and Money Factor
Universal started a low budget division and United Artists gave complete creative control to John Schlesinger to direct a film based on a novel by an unknown writer. Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy was the first studio film to receive an 'X' rating and went on to win Oscars for Best Film, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
In 1971 Columbia released Peter Bodganovich's The Last Picture Show. Beautifully photographed in black and white the film was nominated for eight Oscars, winning two. The young Martin Scorsese made a film about the streets that he had grown up on in New York. He took it to Paramount who hated it but Warner loved it and Mean Streets became a hit