Analysis of The Changes in Hollywood Towards The 1960s in Relation to The Graduate

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About this sample


Words: 2054 |

Pages: 5|

11 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Words: 2054|Pages: 5|11 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Economic Force
  3. The Societal Force
  4. The Aesthetic Force
  5. The Industry Force
  6. Conclusion
  7. References


Hollywood experienced a drastic change in the late 1960s, Hollywood had its revolution on film production process and administration, filmmaking style and techniques as well as themes of movies. Those changes had pushed Hollywood the widely recognized era called “New Hollywood” or “Hollywood Renaissance”. Four crucial contributing factors had acted as the pushing forces to revolutionize Hollywood in 1960s, namely economic force, societal force, aesthetic force, and industry force. The Graduate (Nichols 1967), as a typical “New Hollywood” movie, reflected the development in relation to those factors. This paper will investigate the changes of Hollywood in 1960s with respect to The Graduate. Drawing on The Graduate as the example, this paper is going to discuss the impacts of economic force, societal force, aesthetic force and industry force on the development of “Hollywood Renaissance”.

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The Economic Force

In the 1960s, Hollywood had encountered a financial crisis that it was on edge to bankruptcy. Hollywood was facing drops in sales tickets and the audience was turning to television. Television transformed the enjoyment of media entertainment to a more convenient and family-friendly way. According to Casper (2011), the weekly attendance of movie-goers dropped from 44 million in 1963 to about 17 to 18 million between 1968 and 1970. In order to attract audience back to the cinema, Hollywood, on one hand, produced films for a variety of specialized target audiences; on the other hand, Hollywood invested considerable funds to produce huge production films. The heavily invested movie The Sound of Music (1965) hit a huge success which provided a false projection regarding huge production films. Filmmakers were lured into producing huge production films. Similar musicals produced after The Sound of Music such as Dr. Dolittle and Star! (Wise, 1968) resulted in great losses, the amounts were up to $11 million and $15 million respectively. Not to mention, the foreign films, mainly from Europe and the United Kingdom, attracted public attention in America that further reduce the source of revenue of Hollywood. Although the losses were partly compensated by the sale of films to television, the gaining of profit halt after television companies started to produce their own programs. All the above factors contributed to the financial issue of Hollywood in 1960s and Hollywood almost collapsed.

However, the breakdown of Hollywood had urged itself to search for a new and secure way to earn profits. The new direction of filmmaking pointed to low-cost production films such that minimize the risk of losses. Take The Graduate as an example, the production was different from classical Hollywood movies, it only cost $3 million. The risk was comparatively lower and the $49 million revenue of the movie was encouraging. Then, low-cost of production became one of the symbols of “New Hollywood” movies.

The financial crisis did bother Hollywood, but Hollywood had figured out a new way to secure the industry and its future. The diversified production strategy turned Hollywood into a more healthy and sustainable industry.

The Societal Force

In the 1960s, youth culture had an essential impact on Hollywood movies, especially on the themes of movies. By the decade of the 1960s, baby boomers in America had become teenagers and adolescents. The number of youth increased from 24 million in 1960 to 35.5 million in 1970, they accounted for 17.5 percent of the total population. Since considerable of the audience, especially middle-aged Americans, had opted for television for entertainment, the baby boomers were seen as a new source of audience and profit.

To appeal to these “New Audience”, Hollywood films altered to comply with the taste of youngsters. The typical features in the movies which generated resonance among the youth were the feeling of isolation and rebellious action. The baby-boomers who mostly came from a wealthy background were reluctant to accept the corrupted middle-class society. They were more self-conscious and pursued truth and beauty. Therefore, these baby-boomers found themselves hard to become someone like their parents or the older generation and confused about their future. This collective sense of alienation and confusion has reflected in movies targeted on teens. For instance, in The Graduate, in the graduation celebration party of the male protagonist Benjamin, a guest recommends Benjamin to get into the plastic industry. The 'plastic' symbolized the prosperous but unreal and corrupted life of the upper-middle-class. Benjamin’s hesitant to the suggestion mirrors his unwillingness to such a future. As discussed in Benjamin and his father’s conversation regarding Benjamin’s future, Benjamin states that he wants a different one. Another scene about Benjamin’s Birthday party also drawn attention to the youth alienation. Benjamin is forced to put on a wetsuit to perform in a swimming pool. The wetsuit played as an insulator that blocks Benjamin from the outside world. He can only hear the sound produced by himself and this shows his inner feeling of alienation. The isolation in Benjamin’s life echoed with the life of many other baby-boomers. Thus, the movie caught the eyeballs of the adolescent at that time.

Apart from the theme of isolation, the sense of rebellious also ebbed in the young generation in the 1960s. According to King (2002), the social upheavals at that time challenged the values of freedom and democracy. To the youngster in 1960s, these values just became the sugarcoat of misconduct, hypocrisy, and indifference of the established authority. They desired the truth. They cared about minority rights such as female rights and devoted in an anti-war protest such as the protest for halting Vietnam war as they wanted to realize those values. However, the established order was contradicting to their pursuit. Therefore, they became rebellious and requested changes. With the rise of this collective sentiment, Hollywood movies responded by inserted themes of rebellion, which also found in The Graduate. The most obvious rebellious action reflected in The Graduate is Benjamin taking the female protagonist Elaine to escape her wedding ceremony. This can be perceived as Benjamin's challenge to the older generations since Elaine’s marriage is arranged and manipulated by her parents to some extent. The protagonists acted in a way that the youth opt for, appreciate and support. Apart from the reluctance to embrace established authority and power, The Graduate also involves the theme of female sexuality which was one of the major concerns of the youth in the 1960s. Female sexuality was suppressed by society at that time. The challenge of suppression of female sexuality can be taken as the questioning of established order too. Although Mrs. Robison, who seduced Benjamin into a love affair, took a morally questionable way to liberate herself from patriarchy power and satisfy her sexuality, the film drew attention to female right and sexuality that conforms to the interest of adolescent and teenagers.

The themes of isolation and rebellion were adopted in many films during the “Hollywood Renaissance”. They became the sell-point of the movies. The film producers intended to present what the youngsters wanted to see and desired. Such strategy won a huge success and revived the dying industry.

The Aesthetic Force

In the 1960s, the American audience was fond of foreign films such as British films and European films and this trend urged Hollywood to advance their filming style. The foreign movies were highly innovative under several film “revolution” such as Italian Neorealism and The French New Wave. Under these movements, foreign films tended to explore new themes and filming techniques such as editing and visual style. This wave also hit the young directors in Hollywood since they want more say in film production instead of playing the role of puppets of the money men. More importantly, the investors of the film also realized the growing public interest found in foreign films. This enables more rooms for directors to carry out experiments on filming.

The employment of the protagonist point of view to reflect the mood was one of the filming styles that learned from foreign films. According to Monaco (1993), such practice was recognized as self-consciously artistic visual design in Germany 1920s, yet such filming style was not appreciated until 1960s. The Graduate was one of many 1960s Hollywood films that recognized such style, the cinematographer Surtees attached a camera to Benjamin’s car to film Benjamin’s driving in the Los Angeles’s streets from the actor’s point of view.

Another filming technique that inspired by foreign movies was the utilization of very long lenses in filming Benjamin (Monaco, 2003). Benjamin’s floating in the swimming pool was the typical scene that employed long lenses. The very long focal length enabled the lonely and isolated atmosphere to surround Benjamin. This visual design reinforced the theme of the movie.

Other than cinematography, editing style in Hollywood movies has also innovated by the inspiration of the movements. The transition of Benjamin drifting in the pool to Benjamin lying on Mrs. Robison’s body in The Graduate was widely discussed. With reference to Monaco (2003), the transition between the scenes was very smooth and he suggested that the associational montage strengthened the sentiment of loneliness, isolation, and ambivalence.

In addition, character design in Hollywood films also encountered a breakthrough. Casper (2011) suggested that the classical “hero vs villain” dialectic vanished gradually in 1960s Hollywood films. Evil and beauty coexist in the characters. For instance, the male protagonist Benjamin in The Graduate is easily seduced by a married woman into a love affair although he knows it is morally unacceptable. It is the evil inside him which drag him into this situation. The “villain” he needs to defeat lives inside his soul, and he saves himself by his courage to pursue true love - Elaine. By reflecting both the good and bad sides of the character in the movie, the character seemed more realistic and complex like a human in real life.

The influence of foreign films on Hollywood in 1960s was strong and the multiple movements in the European film industry spread to Hollywood. This provided the foundation and pushed Hollywood to advance their film productions in multiple aspects like cinematography and editing.

The Industry Force

In the 1960s, Hollywood faced drastic changed in the film production system, the vertically integrated studio system collapsed. The factory-like system allowed Hollywood to have control over film production, distribution, and exhibition. Small production entities were difficult to enter film market in America. Therefore, Hollywood was sued by the Federal for monopolizing the film market. Since then, major Hollywood corporations like Warner Brothers, Universal and Paramount had to end the system.

The evaporation of system paved the way to the rise of independent productions. At that time, as suggested by King (2002), over 50 percent of films were either produced outside the studio, co-products or foreign pickups. The Hollywood studio had transformed from film production hub to administrative centers which studios assisted independent producers in financing. Young talented young directors were able to get rid of the interruption of film investors during the production. They had more freedom to adopt any style they wanted to use and any themes they wanted to discuss. This unleashed the creativity and power of film producers. The Graduate was a successful example of independent production. According to Cinephilia & Beyond, the director Nichols employed his power to reject the screenplay written by famous writer Calder Willingham and hired Buck Henry the comedy writer. Besides, Nichols allowed the cinematographer Surtees to adopt an innovative approach in filmmaking. Nichols had huge power to in charge of the film production of The Graduate which was the gift and fortune offered by the “Hollywood Renaissance”.

The non-traditional and creative way of film production made huge success and filmmaking no longer confined to the studio system. The power and influence of directors witnessed a rise in the 1960s.

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Hollywood in 1960s experienced multiple changes, the economic, societal, aesthetic and industry forces at that time triggered transformations in film production such as production process and administration, filming styles and techniques as well as themes of the movies. The breakthroughs in these areas promoted the advancement of Hollywood. In the thriving of “Hollywood Renaissance”, Hollywood made history in the 1960s.


  • Casper, D. (2011). Hollywood film 1963-1976 : years of revolution and reaction. Chichester, West Sussex ; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • King, G. (2002). New hollywood cinema: an introduction. London: IB Tauris & Co Ltd.
  • Maltby, R. (2003). Hollywood cinema (2nd ed.). Malden, Massachusetts: Wiley- Blackwell.
  • Monaco, P. (2003). The sixties, 1960-1969. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • New Hollywood: American New Wave Cinema (1967-69). (n.d.). Retrieved from
  • 'The Graduate': Mike Nichols' Sophomore Effort that Shook the United States. Cinephilia & Beyond. (2018, November 6). Retrieved from that-shook-the-united-states/
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Analysis Of The Changes In Hollywood Towards The 1960s In Relation To The Graduate. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from
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