April 11, 2011

SCA Family Stories: Drew Casper

Critical Studies Professor Talks About His Career and New Book

If there were a Mount Rushmore of SCA Professors, Dr. Drew Casper’s face would be front and center. Casper is the Alma and Alfred Hitchcock Chair of American Film in the Critical Studies division and the author of several books on cinema, which are widely used in film courses around the country.

The hugely popular SCA professor recently got in touch with SCA Family Stories to tell us a little bit about his upcoming book Hollywood Film 1963-1976: Years of Revolution and Reaction and which films he feels are incorrectly put on a pedestal.

Dr. Drew Casper

-Congratulations on the new book. Did you find any unique challenges with this topic? It was a challenge not to fall into the trap as most have of seeing this period as one in which Hollywood indulged in liberalist critique and thematic and formal experimentation, and thus plugging into the canon but rather also addressing the ideologically conservative product of the industry and more, the centrist texts as well as the period's formal continuity with classical and post-classical paradigms.

-Your book identifies 1963-1976 as a revolution in film. If you can pinpoint one or two aspects, what is it about this time period that makes it so noteworthy? I always marvel at the bold thematic honesty and spontaneous formal innovations that expanded film's vocabulary while at the same time the book contends that this in only part of the picture. What emerges, hopefully, is a more nuanced and complex portrait of this time in Hollywood.

-When most students think about film during the period of 1963-1976, they think about the reconfiguration of the studio system. In the process of writing the book, what struck you the most about the changes in the production and distribution model of the era? Many of the business practices at this time were continuations of the postwar years in Hollywood, such as the mainstreaming of exploitation or the youth movie, while other practices, as with "a film by," though of course significantly influenced by European industrial practices, were a throwback to old, old Hollywood, the time of films by D.W. Griffith or Charles Chaplin or Buster Keaton or Erich Von Stroheim

-In addition to the economic changes, there was a wave of new filmmakers during this time who have become synonymous with the era. What do feel are the most notable characteristics of the new filmmakers of this revolution? The most characteristic elements of the revolutionaries of this time--Nichols, Rafelson, Altman, Peckinpah, Penn, Scorsese, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Donen, Schlesinger, etc. is that they added to film's vocabulary, extended film's language and made an audience aware while they were watching a movie, what the formal elements of film are and how a film is constructed and that film could be considered or deserved to be considered an art form.

-What personally drew you to this topic? I wanted to talk about films and filmmakers who are

The Cover of Hollywood FilmThe Cover of Hollywood Film 1963-1976: Years of Revolution
and Reaction

usually not part of the canon erected by historians who addressed this period, such as the brilliant centrist movie, at once a demythology and remythology of romance and marriage by Stanley Donen called Two for the Road with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney; Martin Ritt's harrowing The Spy Who Came in from the Cold with Richard Burton and his heart-pounding The Molly Maguires, with Sean Connery and Richard Harris that, though done basically in a classical manner offer searing liberalist critique; Fred Zinnemann's just about perfect white-knuckle experience The Day of the Jackal with Edward Fox; Richard Lester's demythed romance Petulia with George C. Scott and Julie Christie; the elegiac True Grit, a centrist movie with John Wayne's roistering performance that leaves Jeff Bridges' interpretation in the remake in the dust; the innovation of Disney's Mary Poppins with Julie Andrews, another centrist film or the classical purity and conservative My Fair Lady by director George Cukor with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison. These and so many other films are so neglected. And, on the other side, there were alot of films that were lauded in this time and keep being lauded in historian's memories that just don't endure the test of time. Anyone, seen Altman's The Long Goodbye lately? Or, Penn's Little Big Man? Hey, come to think of it, how about Streisand's ego-stamping musicals or comedies?

-What, in your opinion, is the most significant film of the era and is it different from your personal favorite film from the era? Midnight Cowboy as most significant. Favorite? Two for the Road breaks my heart every time I see it and I've seen in just recently in my one-ninety class for the maybe the zillionth time. Incidentally, students adore this movie which inevitably gets a long, resounding applause when Finney calls Hepburn "bitch" and Hepburn retorts "bastard" and end credits come up.

-Do you have any book signings or other projects lined up that you would like to feature? I’ll be in Bejiing this July to plug book, a Crystal movie/theater cruise and of course, I will used the book as one of the textbooks on my course in Scorsese next fall and the one in Censorship since the period saw the end of censorship in moves.