The Autumn of the Patriarchs
As everyone knows – scholars, journalists, novelists, poets, pundits and most certainly filmmakers – ‘Hollywood’ is a myth. The subsumption of the American commercial film industry as a whole beneath the name of a Los Angeles suburb has in some measure always been simply a universally convenient shorthand that obscures a great deal of what it denotes. It is a metonym: the use of a part to designate a larger, and certainly in this case a much more complex, whole. In fact, the metonym is doubled, for just as ‘Hollywood’ blurs or brackets the relationship between what Leo Rosten called ‘the movie colony’ nestled amid the palm and orange groves of Southern California and its financial and strategic overseers in grimy Manhattan, so the equally conventional term ‘studio’ emphasises one, highly visible and glamorous, dimension of the motion picture industry over another. By design, the overwhelming focus of mainstream (though not business) media, cultural commentators and politicians – to say nothing of the self-generated torrent of publicity, fan literature and the like – throughout Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’ (1927–45) was always on the physical creation of movie narratives on studio lots and soundstages by writers, producers, directors, technicians, craft workers and of course stars, their creative energies all corralled and driven relentlessly onward by the cigar-chomping production head of popular legend, at the expense of other, more obscure industrial procedures that often took place far away from the shores of the Pacific. Yet these other activities – specifically the distribution and exhibition of motion pictures – were not only chronologically the senior elements in the evolution of the American film industry, they were the raison d’être of the entire system. If the studio lot was the shop floor of the ‘dream factory’, like any other factory its very existence depended in the first place on the strategies and decisions taken by accountants, lawyers and executive boards; its products in turn justified the considerable labour of their own creation not only, or indeed primarily, as expressions of creativity but to the degree they could be brought efficiently and profitably to market.