The success of Sex, Lies, and Videotape and Reservoir Dogs gave rise in the ‘90s to an “independent” film movement on the environs of Hollywood. The indie inspiration continues in recent films such as Juno and NoCountry for Old Men, with “independent” signifying a relative state of autonomy from the commercial calculations circumscribing form and content in Hollywood. In her book Hollywood Independents: ThePostwar Talent Takeover (published by University of Minnesota Press), Denise Mann reminds us that something analogous occurred in the years following World War II.
The UCLA film professor illuminates the often ill-understood shift in power that happened as the old Hollywood studio system splintered and a new regime of independent producers became prominent. From 1948 through 1960, prodded by a Supreme Court ruling that ended the big studios’ control over cinema chains and the rise of a small-screen competitor, television, studio employees such as director Billy Wilder and actor Burt Lancaster established themselves as producers, working with a network of increasingly powerful talent agencies.
Hollywood Independents is valuable for its close examination of the economic, political and social changes in postwar Hollywood that encouraged a proliferation of more personal films whose intentions were often artistic and not solely for entertainment. “The Hollywood studio system has exhibited considerable pliability in financing and distributing films that incorporate oppositional content and/or anamolous aesthetics—provided, of course, that the films in question have commercial potential,” Mann writes with insight. The confused landscape of the postwar movie industry, reeling under the assault of McCarthyism, encourated the studios “to push the thematic and stylistic envelope” more than usual in a raft of provocative classics such as Sweet Smellof Success, The Man With the Golden Arm and All About Eve.