Note: The following short essay looks at Robert Lindsey’s “All Hollywood Loves a Blockbuster—And Chips Off the Old Blockbuster,” an article published in the New York Times in May 1976. The analysis was originally submitted for course credit at Queens College in October 2016. I later covered the topic in greater detail here.
It has long been the hallmark of the cineaste to survey Hollywood’s latest offerings and remark, with particular unrestraint, on the alarming state of the American film world. Such criticisms inevitably turn towards the proliferation of blockbusters: films with outsized budgets, superstar casts, and a shared indescribable quality that seems to connect them all. Despite their recurring presence throughout the entirety of the 20th century, the “blockbuster era” to which we presently belong is typically traced only to the 1970s, specifically June 1975 with the release of Jaws. The purpose of this paper is not to explore the significance of the trend but rather to briefly examine how contemporary audiences, particularly critics, understood and reacted to the shift underway in Hollywood at the time.
In May 1976, the New York Times published just one of several articles that would detail the increasing prevalence of the blockbuster. Complete with a large cartoon featuring a shark-infested, money-hungry Hollywood landscape, L.A. correspondent Robert Lindsey’s article, “All Hollywood Loves a Blockbuster—And Chips Off the Old Blockbuster” is replete with interviews of industry executives on both sides of the debate. While his article intended to make sense of the growing trend of “super budgets, super salaries and a superabundance of sequels,” it also did not refrain from passing judgment. Less than a year later, William Paul would provide a far more extensive and scathing critique of the industry in an article for the March/April 1977 issue of Film Comment entitled “Hollywood Harakiri.” While the latter word, Japanese for ritual suicide by disembowelment, may have been unclear, the article’s subtitle “On the Decline of an Industry and an Art” left little doubt to Paul’s intent. Withering in its criticism, his eleven-page rebuke reads not unlike many alarmist articles from recent years. However, for having been written at the cusp of Hollywood’s evolution, it remarkably possesses both reflective and prescient qualities that enable the author to trace both the trend’s causes and its future potential. Keep Reading