Academic journal article Film & History

America's Corporate Art: The Studio Authorship of Hollywood Motion Pictures

Academic journal article Film & History

America's Corporate Art: The Studio Authorship of Hollywood Motion Pictures

Article excerpt

Jerome Christensen Americas Corporate Art: The Studio Authorship of Hollywood Motion Pictures Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012. $90 cloth; $29.95 paper. 388 pages

In his introduction to Abnericas Corporate Art: The Studio Authorship of Hollywood Motion Pictures, Jeróme Christensen offers a "studio authorship thesis" which argues syllogistically that uncovering the economic objectives of Hollywood motion pictures requires deep interpretations of individual film texts, which themselves cannot be formulated without the acknowledgement of authorship stemming from corporate hierarchies. Accordingly, Christenson contends that textual analysis and economic histories, while traditionally presented as oppositional binaries in film studies, are in fact inextricably connected; that studios, with their corporate economic aims, continue to lie at the center of mass cultural production. Rather than vainly attempting to pinpoint the locus of cinematic creativity using the well-worn model of auteurship-which the author wryly dubs "the procedures of traditional film criticism"-or through Marxist critique, Christensen instead offers a more sophisticated reading of the complex relationship between the structural power of studios ("embedded, ordered, expansive, and indirect") and the ways in which their films have been refined, marketed, and exhibited.49

Christensen, a professor of Literature and Film at the University of California, is not simply restating Thomas Schatz's argument about various "house styles." In his first chapter, the author skillfully uses The Crowd (1928) as a case study through which MGM (and its most ubiquitous creative force, not King Vidor but Irving Thalberg) incorporated veiled subtexts by positioning the studio-ascorporation as fulfilling a valuable social role: that of compensating patrons for the banality in their own lives through providing simultaneous excitement and safety. For Christensen, "house style" is an aesthetic premise which fails to sufficiently illustrate the startling degree to which texts were employed as allegories to brand studio proprietary authority, as well as to publically admonish dissenters and competitors. Nor is it true that studio practices existed in vacuums; the author details how MGM's release of Mrs. Miniver (1942), for example, reflected the prospect of postwar Anglo-American hybridization and paralleled America's wartime subsidization of goods abroad.

Are corporations simply people too, as certain politicians have been wont to plea to the skeptical public? Christensen seems to be arguing so. In the laissez-faire economic world of the 1920s, corporations were imputed anthropomorphic qualities, and in the aftermath of World War II, they sought to embody the virtues of American goodwill and hard work, concepts further explored in Christensen's second chapter. The author shows that some Hollywood studios even took on authoritarian characteristics, as evidenced by MGM's Gabriel over the White House, which, through its vilification of gangsters (a tacit jab at Warner Brothers' gangster cycle), championed a political system that could best be operated by corporations rather than corrupt individuals. The fear of racketeering, heavily sold to the public by studios, was instrumental in securing New Deal approval for the industry to selfregulate. …

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