In this chapter I consider the autonomy and independence of creative talent in the American ﬁlm industry of the 1970s and 1980s, through a case study of the ﬁlm director Hal Ashby. As Yannis Tzioumakis has argued, deﬁnitions of independence and independent cinema are much contested and ‘independent cinema’ may be best conceived of as a discourse that changes over time and is continually redeﬁned by a range of constituencies including audiences, critics and the industry itself (2006: 11). It is worth, then, brieﬂy reﬂecting on some diﬀerent connotations of the discourse of ‘independence’. First, in a purist sense it connotes the idea of free-choice, unconstrained by market forces. Here, creative decision-making aims for ‘true’ or ‘free’ artistic choices rather than ‘false’ or ‘constrained’ market ones. This discourse suggests that independence requires creative control over the production process. Second, independence can be thought of in terms of genre, form or style: a discursive formation that can be identiﬁed and decoded by audiences and critics. Third, to describe a ﬁlm or ﬁlm-maker as ‘independent’ is to make an ideological as well as aesthetic or industrial judgment, and such independence is usually seen as a positive quality (consequently, lacking independence tends to be viewed as negative). Such discourses,
as Tzioumakis notes, capture just some of the attributes of cinema we understand as ‘independent’, and as Geoﬀ King – via Bourdieu – has suggested, claiming independence is also bound up with processes of discrimination and judgment (King 2005; 2009). Yet commercial or artistic independence is rarely absolute in cinema, outside of amateur or avant-garde ﬁlms, but instead is a matter of degree. Film-making is a collaborative enterprise, with ﬁlm-makers able to exercise more creative control at some times than others, while some ﬁlms are perceived to have more ‘indie’ qualities than others. These factors shift over time and depend on cultural and historical contexts. Chuck Kleinhans points out that ‘independence’ and ‘independent cinema’ are relational to what he calls the ‘dominant system’ (1998: 308). Therefore they are also contingent, subject to historical revision and contestation.