The Hollywood Social Problem Film: Madness, Despair, and Politics from the Depression to the Fifties

The Hollywood Social Problem Film: Madness, Despair, and Politics from the Depression to the Fifties

The Hollywood Social Problem Film: Madness, Despair, and Politics from the Depression to the Fifties

The Hollywood Social Problem Film: Madness, Despair, and Politics from the Depression to the Fifties

Excerpt

A "Hollywood movie" means more than just a film made in a studio in Southern California. Rather, it implies a whole style of film, a particular approach to film narrative, a peculiar set of cultural and social values. The character of the Hollywood movie is a given in terms of the social problem film, for the genre inherits the core qualities of the Hollywood film as well as its place in the cultural structure of America. It is important, then, to summarize the basic nature of the Hollywood movie in general before analyzing the social problem film specifically. To do this, one must understand the basis of film production within the Hollywood studio. How a movie is made and how it is consumed largely determine the shape of the final product and its impact on the public. The economic structure of the industry thoroughly influenced the process of moviemaking and movie-consuming, imposing certain variables on filmmaking and fostering certain expectations in audiences.

By the early thirties, power in American feature films rested with eight major firms--MGM, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Twentieth Century- Fox, Universal, RKO, Columbia, and United Artists--which had consolidated production, distribution, and exhibition into a monolithic corporate structure monopolizing the industry. The key element in the structure was exhibition. As long as they owned all the first-run theaters, the Big Eight had control over the market and could close it to any nonaffiliated producer. They managed to extend this structure more or less throughout the world, until foreign countries began imposing quotas and in 1947 their own country began dismantling the monopoly. But over the period from 1930 to the fifties, the Big Eight could determine entirely what the public could see, and therefore what pictures were made and . . .

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