Explore The Film School Generation in an Extensive, Insightful Documentary

By  · Published on December 29th, 2016

How Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, Scorsese, and DePalma redefined American cinema.

In American letters, there’s The Lost Generation, that class of ex-pats like Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, and F. Scott Fitzgerald who shaped their impactful literature by absconding to Paris and other parts of Europe post-WWI and pre-WWII; or The Beat Generation, the movement spearheaded by Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs who challenged the existing literary establishment with their irreverent storytelling styles and taboo subject matter.

In American cinema, there’s The Film School Generation, that group of mavericks who after emerging from Southern California in the early 1970s went on to become some of the biggest, most important directors of their or truly any time, directors who didn’t so much subvert the traditional approaches to their medium as much as they reinvented how to use those approaches to appeal to an altered, more modern audience. I’m talking specifically about Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, and Martin Scorsese. Combined, these men have contributed 13 of the top 100 films of all-time, and if you were to diagram every major director who came after them, you’d find a lineage of influence that pretty much makes these guys the Mt. Rushmore of American filmmaking.

So vast and powerful is their individual and collective influence, that no mere interview can capture the magic of their creative ascents, you need a whole whopping mini-doc to do that, and that’s just what we have for you in the following, six-part, hour-long look at the legacy and lasting importance of The Film School Generation, including the aesthetic distinctions of their schools (USC, UCLA, and NYU), their approach to the industry-side of filmmaking, and the medium-shifting impact of films like The Godfather, Star Wars, and Jaws. It’s called, appropriately enough, “The Film School Generation,” and it’s a part of a larger series entitled American Cinema that was made back in 1995. Besides the mentioned men, other interviews include writer-director John Milius, editor and sound artist Walter Murch, and writer-director Paul Schrader.

If we lived in some kind of totalitarian state where you were only allowed to watch one documentary about film, filmmakers, or filmmaking for your whole life, this would be my choice. Famed Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky is famous for remarking, “We all came out from under Gogol’s overcoat,” by which he means his nation’s literature and its particular style and content can be traced to one short story by Nikolai Gogol, “The Overcoat;” it is the tipping point where the entity of Russian Literature began. The Film School Generation is when modern American cinema began, and we all came out from under the megaphone of these directors. Some of these stories you’ll know, some you won’t, but all are invaluable resources not just for folks who want to make films, but really anyone who wants to understand and appreciate the medium better. Make the time for this one, it is no less than vital viewing.

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