The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960

The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960

The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960

The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960


Acclaimed for its breakthrough approach and its combination of theoretical analysis and empirical evidence, this is the standard work on the classical Hollywood cinema style of film-making from the silent era to the 1960s.


Hollywood as the dream factory: 'How can you tell if people would want drugs so much today, if we still gave them this dream-world on film?' (Ruth Waterbury). Hollywood as an arm of the culture industry: 'The tone adopted by every film is that of the witch handing food to the child she wants to enchant or devour, while mumbling horribly: “Lovely, lovely soup. How you're going to enjoy it!”' (T.W. Adorno). Hollywood as celluloid imperialism: 'Hollywood may be physically situated in this country, but it is an international enterprise.' (Will H. Hays). Hollywood as escape: 'All the adventure, all the romance, all the excitement you lack in your daily life are in-Pictures.' (Advertisement for a film). Hollywood as nostalgia: 'Take a good look, because we'll never see its like again.' (That's Entertainment!). Hollywood as imaginary landscape: 'Hollywood is a place you can't geographically define. We don't really know where it is.' (John Ford).

The number of books promulgating all these versions of Hollywood (and more) would fill the library of a small town in America. Hollywood has been celebrated by cultists and camp followers, castigated by reformers and social theorists, and boosted by an army of publicists. Anthropologists have treated it as a tribal village, economists as a company town. The films of Hollywood have been lumped together as indistinguishable vulgarity, and they have been splintered into a hundred categories: the films of Garbo, of Goldwyn, of Griffith; the Paramount pretties, automobiles in the cinema, the gangster film, the serial, music for the movies; direction by Alfred Hitchcock, costumes by Edith Head, cinematography by Gregg Toland, sets by Van Nest Polglase; silent films, sound films, color films, films noirs.

Yet another treatment of the subject requires some justification. This book is an examination of Hollywood cinema as a distinct artistic and economic phenomenon. We will look at American studio filmmaking much as an art historian would trace the stylistic traits and business transactions of Parisian academic painting in the nineteenth century, or as a historian of music would examine the aesthetic and economic forces involved in the development of Viennese classicism. We take Hollywood seriously, treating it as a distinct mode of film practice with its own cinematic style and industrial conditions of existence.

A mode of film practice is not reducible to an oeuvre (the films of Frank Capra), a genre (the Western), or an economic category (RKO films). It is an altogether different category, cutting across careers, genres, and studios. It is, most simply, a context. And we cannot arrive at this context simply by adding up all the histories of directors, genres, studios, producers, etc.; this would be, as George Kubler suggests, like trying to determine a country's network of railroads by studying the itinerary of every traveler. Just as the railroad system is of another logical order than your or my trip on it, so the Hollywood mode of film practice constitutes an integral system, including persons and groups but also rules, films, machinery, documents, institutions, work processes, and theoretical concepts. It is this totality that we shall study. And while we could justify this book as filling in the background for this or that individual's achievement, our aims go further. We hope to show that understanding this mode of film practice is indispensible to a full grasp of the art and industry of cinema as it has existed in history.

Recent academic film criticism has focused more and more exclusively upon the text. Sophisticated methodologies drawn from anthropology, semiotics, psychoanalysis, and literary criticism have dramatically broadened our sense of how a film works. But too often . . .

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