Anthology Film Archives


December 4 – December 20

The United States in the 1950s was a nation in the midst of seismic transformations. A time of postwar prosperity, an ever-increasing car culture, and the eclipse of movies by the new medium of television, the era also brought the crystallization of a creature that had only recently emerged as a full-blown social and demographic phenomenon: the Teenager. Comprising an enormous segment of the nation’s population, teenagers represented, from the perspective of the merchants of entertainment, an audience ripe for exploitation.

Into this breach stepped American International Pictures, the independent film production house that looms large in the memories of anyone who grew up watching movies in the U.S. in the 1950s-70s (or who find themselves drawn to that era today). Founded in 1954 (initially as American Releasing Corporation) by theater owner James H. Nicholson and attorney Sam Arkoff, AIP seized on the teenage market – and its newfound natural habitat, the drive-in theater – with a vengeance. It was said that AIP was devoted more to quantity over quality, speed over careful craft, and promotional ingenuity over production values (in many cases, Nicholson conceived of titles and designed posters first, and only later assigned the projects to a writer). But the company was responsible for dozens of films of astonishing energy and creativity, and became a breeding ground for some of the most extraordinary cinematic talents of its time: Roger Corman produced and/or directed more than 40 films for the company, and filmmakers from Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola to Monte Hellman and Peter Bogdanovich cut their teeth working on AIP productions.

This past summer, Anthology launched a multi-part survey of AIP’s catalog. In December the celebration continues, with a month of juvenile delinquent, racecar, and counter-culture themed films, as well as a generous selection of the biker flicks that AIP began churning out following the immense success of Roger Corman’s THE WILD ANGELS. This chapter of the series extends into the mid-to-late 1960s, when AIP demonstrated its quick-response flexibility in adapting to the changing tastes of its target audience, and pivoted to embrace the era’s increasing rebelliousness, social and political upheaval, and loss of innocence. This was the period in which old genres took on new forms, and a whole new breed of performer came on the scene, embodied by actors such as Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson, and Dennis Hopper.

Special thanks to Jacques Boyreau & Scott Moffett (Cosmic Hex Film Archive); Chris Chouinard (Park Circus); Sebastian del Castillo (American Genre Film Archive); Harry Guerro; and Andy Uhrich (Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive).

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