The Studio System

The Studio System

The Dominance of the Big Five Hollywood Studios

The period between the coming of sound and World War II was dominated by the studios. They controlled the production–including story, the role of the directors, and the selection of actors–distribution, and exhibition (they owned their own theaters). In the 1930s America went to the movies; by the end of the decade some eighty million people saw a movie every week.

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Morals at the American Movies

So the motion picture in the 1920’s. But still further triumphs awaited this popular amusement which had so marvelously evolved from the vitascope of only three short decades earlier. In 1928 Warner Brothers released a new film — Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer. 37 Science had brought together sight and sound: here was the talkie. There had been several prior talking pictures, but the great success of The Jazz Singer marked the turningpoint.

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Gone With The Wind and Romance

The diversity of pictures that sound made possible was the most characteristic feature of the movies in the 1930’s. They were filling the democratic role that the theatre itself had played a century earlier, and nightly programs often showed a startling resemblance to those of the popular playhouses of that earlier day. As well as straight theatre, the movies offered a modern equivalent for the equestrian melodramas, elaborate burlesques, and variety shows which had once had such wide appeal.

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Gangster Movies in the 1930’s

Between the beginning of the Depression in 1930 and the early days of the Roosevelt administration in 1933, when confusion and desperation gripped much of the country, Hollywood momentarily floundered. Not only did the studios have to make the difficult transition to sound, they had to adjust to the rapidly changing tastes of a nation in upheaval. These two variables–sound and the Depression–created a whole new set of aesthetic demands requiring that the old Formula be placed within a new context.

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National Film Traditions

Little by little the various firms reorganized themselves, and American firms either opened branches in France or made arrangements for French distributors to handle their output. Various changes were made on the producing side and by 1915 the industry was once more functioning almost normally. But it had undergone considerable changes. Western Import had opened a big branch in Paris managed by Jacques Haik.

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Nationalism in the Cinema

The United States, the largest consumer economy in the world despite the Depression, remained immune to cultural incursions from abroad, and had no difficulty in following a policy of cultural as well as political isolationism. Elsewhere the commercial power of exported American culture, both of Hollywood and of the consumer goods it celebrated and advertised, was regarded as a threat. In response, governments round the world encouraged cultural nationalism in resistance ‘to the invasions of American-dominated international culture.

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Film and War Propaganda

How far the films were being used as propaganda was another point sometimes raised. Movies played the role in promoting war sentiment through their big navy and aviation films. Working with the US government’s Office of War Information (OWI), one of Hollywood’s wartime roles was to wake the United States up to the end of its period of international isolation.

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Soviet and Nazi Cinema

The ethnic nationality and socio-economic class ascribed to villains in Soviet films have in general coincided with those of real enemies under attack by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In addition, screen villains have usually been depicted as motivated by social goals in the realm of political power.

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