Post-Classical Hollywood: Film Industry, Style and Ideology since 1945

By Barry Langford | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Modernising Hollywood

At the end of World War II, Hollywood moviemaking was typified by a distinctive style that had, over some three decades, proven itself durable, efficient and trustworthy. The specific attributes of what film scholars subsequently came to call with varying degrees of enthusiasm and consensus ‘the classical Hollywood style’ were influenced both by the (evolving) structure of the film industry and by social and cultural factors dating back to the silent era. Its stylistic priorities were to communicate narrative information effectively and clearly, and as an aid thereto to maintain the coherence and legibility of onscreen time and space. A distinctive notion of ‘realism’ (we might rather say verisimilitude) was frequently invoked by filmmakers to benchmark their practice, but the essential purpose of the style, it hardly needs stating, was not aesthetic harmonisation but profit; this mode of narrative cinema had proven acceptable to audiences since the early silent era, but heterogenous elements, notably various kinds of spectacle, could be and were regularly accommodated. The Hollywood style was highly conventionalised and relied upon the combined efforts of numerous skilled craft workers, working according to well-established professional protocols in accomplishing a set of procedures repeatedly and to the same high level of technical competence. This was undertaken for the most part in an undemonstrative and indeed conservative way. The nature of the studio system promoted standardisation, a degree of routinisation and a minimum of fuss and elevated these qualities into an aesthetic in which practitioners took professional pride; however, it also offered considerable room for innovation, if rather less for experiment.

At the core of the classical Hollywood style was storytelling. American cinema’s commitment to narrative predated California’s ascendancy over other production centres and was closely related to the movies’ swift rise (over little more than a decade from the first publicly projected motion pictures in 1896) from novelty status, through rivalry with other early-twentieth-century

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