film reporter

One-time rebels now the established force

The New Hollywood has become the old guard. One of the indelible images from Sunday night's 79th Annual Academy Awards was the sight of Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg congratulating Martin Scorsese as they announced his first Oscar win as best director, for "The Departed."

"I'm overwhelmed with this honor from the Academy," Scorsese said, "and also the honor of being presented by my old, old friends. We go back 37 years."

Thirty-seven years ago, of course, the old studio system was breaking down, and a new generation of stars and directors was challenging it. To the old guard of that era, they were viewed as barbarians at the gate.

Back then, the Academy Awards frequently were caught up in the politics of the time. At the 1970 ceremony, the two generations fought each other to a sort of standoff: "Midnight Cowboy" took best picture, but John Wayne, nominated for "True Grit," prevailed in the best actor race over "Cowboy's" Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight.

The acrimony reached its height in 1975, when Coppola's "The Godfather Part II" was named best picture. At that year's ceremony, producer Bert Schneider, winning the documentary prize for "Hearts and Minds," read a letter from the North Vietnamese government. An outraged Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra quickly cobbled together a disclaimer, and Sinatra announced, "We are not responsible for any political references made on the program, and we are sorry they had to take place this evening." A year later, the so-called New Hollywood effectively clinched its victory in that era's culture war as Wayne, in his final Oscar show appearance, handed the best picture award to Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter," which divvied up a number of the top trophies with another movie critical of the U.S.' Vietnam War adventure, "Coming Home."

America is at war again, but this year's Oscar show was a largely apolitical affair save for repeated calls to combat global warming by turning down the thermostat. The New Hollywood might have morphed into the New Establishment, but in its new role, it's a lot more mellow than the generation it supplanted.

Such artist-moguls as Spielberg and Lucas have little reason to be threatened, of course. Unlike the old studio heads, they are firmly in control of their destinies. They also are much more welcoming to new filmmaking talent. This year's Oscars marked the rise of Mexican-born filmmakers Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron, all of whom have been warmly embraced by Hollywood. And forget about generational conflict: When Milena Canonero accepted her Oscar for best costume design for "Marie Antoinette," she thanked Coppola, "first of all, for introducing me to (his daughter) Sofia when we were doing 'Cotton Club.' "

There might still be a new generation of barbarians at the gate, but they weren't storming the Kodak Theatre. Instead, they were busy posting their homegrown videos on YouTube. The Internet generation might yet prove as disruptive a force to Hollywood as the '70s rebels once were. But that potential threat didn't cast a pall over any of the celebrations Sunday, when the former young turks enjoyed their time at center stage.
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