Third Cinema in the United States, 1960-67




O'Brien, Michael William

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This dissertation explores how cinema was an important outlet that artists and activists in the 1960s turned to in order to engage in cultural battles against various forms of institutional oppression. It links the aims and struggles of Americans making socially conscious films about racial discrimination to a broader category of image warfare known as Third Cinema. Third Cinema is generally applied to the notable proliferation of politically engaged films and revolutionary filmmaking theories developed in economically depressed and/or colonially exploited countries. This project seeks to answer the question of what Third Cinema might look like in a First World country in an attempt to better understand the social, cultural, industrial and political struggles involved in using film to foster social change. In connecting black-themed, revolutionary-inspired filmmaking in the United States from 1960-1967 to a broader atmosphere of global resistance to physically and mentally oppressive hegemonic forces, this dissertation provides a critical framework that offers a more informed and flexible approach to understanding the history and significance of representation and revolution in film.

The year 1960 signaled a turning point for the representation of black Americans on national movie screens. The independent, black-themed filmmaking from this period generally has been overlooked for reasons explored throughout this dissertation. This dissertation aims to reexamine, recontextualize and ultimately redeem a collection of texts that have been dismissed or ignored because of their lack of access to distribution channels and/or low production values. Each chapter considers the production and reception of a set of black-themed films from the 1960s and discusses them alongside developments in the American filmmaking industry, international and revolutionary cinematic movements, and the civil rights struggle. The films are analyzed for the ways in which they articulate a revolutionary impulse and the desire to promote social, cultural, and political change. Taken together, these film texts and the artists who created them demonstrate the possibilities of a radical cinema in America.


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