The ABCs of Classic Hollywood

The ABCs of Classic Hollywood

The ABCs of Classic Hollywood

The ABCs of Classic Hollywood

Synopsis

'The ABCs of Classic Hollywood' examines four movies from the 1930-1945 period when the American Studio System reached the peak of its economic and cultural power: Grand Hotel, The Philadelphia Story, The Maltese Falcon, and Meet Me in St. Louis.

Excerpt

Speaking about the kind of filmmaking now known as classic Hollywood, the most popular and influential cinema ever invented, Vincente Minnelli once gave away its secret: “I feel that a picture that stays with you is made up of a hundred or more hidden things. They’re things that the audience is not conscious of, but that accumulate.” How would we go about finding those things? What method would enable us to retrieve them and, by doing so, to understand better how Hollywood films got made? This book attempts to answer those questions by looking closely at four movies from classic Hollywood, the 1930–1945 period when the American studio system had reached the peak of its economic power and cultural influence. In an ideal world, I would provide two simultaneous introductions, one justifying the choice of subject matter (why these four films?), another explaining the method of study (why the discrete, alphabetized entries?). The spirit of what follows, however, suggests that even this introduction should issue from a specific cinematic detail.

Thus, I will say that this book began for me with a single image from Grand Hotel, that ghostly MGM antique, winner of the 1932 Academy Award for Best Picture. To the extent that it is remembered at all, Grand Hotel survives as the source of Greta Garbo’s defining line, “I want to be alone,” spoken with utter desolation and weariness by her character, the fading ballerina Grusinskaya, returning to her hotel room after yet another aborted performance. The next moments, however, interest me more. Having dismissed the hotel’s housekeepers and her own attendant, Grusinskaya goes to the window, where a night breeze stirs the curtains. She closes the window and draws the heavy drapes, thinking she has achieved the privacy she needs to take her own life. In fact, she is not alone; an aristocratic jewel thief (John . . .

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