The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview


The Hollywood Studio System


Around the year 1910 a number of film companies set up business in and around the small suburb of Hollywood to the west of Los Angeles. Within a decade, the system they created came to dominate the cinema, not only in the United States but throughout the world. By concentrating production into vast factory-like studios, and by vertically integrating all aspects of the business, from production to publicity to distribution to exhibition, they created a model system-the 'studio system'-which other countries had to imitate in order to compete. But attempts at imitating the American system were only partially successful, and by 1925 it was the ' Hollywood' system, rather than the studio system as such, which dominated the market from Britain to Bengal, from South Africa to Norway and Sweden. By that time, Hollywood had not only seized control of the majority of world markets but had made its products and its stars, such as Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, the most famous cultural icons in the world.

Throughout the period of its inexorable rise, Hollywood fashioned the tools of modern business, from economics of scale to vertical integration, to give it the edge over all possible competitors. It developed cost-effective methods of production, extended the market for its product to cover the entire globe, and ensured the flow of films from producer to consumer by acquiring ownership of key theatres in major cities, not just in the United States but in other countries as well. European nations tried various protectionist measures, such as special taxes, tariffs, quotas, and even boycotts, to keep Hollywood's domination at bay, but to no avail. Although the Japanese market remained hard to penetrate, and the Soviet Union was able to close its frontiers against foreign imports in the mid-1920s, as far as the rest of the world was concerned it was only a matter of time before the Hollywood film became standard fare on the nation's screens.

The emergence of Hollywood as the centre of this allpowerful industry can be found in the failures of the Motion Picture Patents Company's attempt to monopolize the film business. This was a combination of ten leading American and European producers of movies and manufacturers of cameras and projectors, who in 1908 combined to form a 'Trust' to inflate the prices of equipment they alone could manufacture. The Trust pooled patents and made thousands of short films. Only co-operating companies, licensed by the Trust, could manufacture 'legal' films and film equipment. The Trust extracted profits by charging for use of its patents. To use a projector legally an exhibitor needed to hand over a few dollars; to make movies, producers paid more.

However, the Trust found it difficult to maintain control, and in the space of half a dozen years ( 1909-14) independents such as Carl Laemmle and William Fox rose in opposition to the Trust, sowing the seeds of what we now know as Hollywood. Adolph Zukor put together Paramount; Marcus Loew created what was to become MGM; William Fox fashioned his movie empire.

These and other independent exhibitors and moviemakers differentiated their products, making longer and more complicated narratives while the Trust tended to stick with two-reel, fifteen-minute stories. The independents raided pulp magazines, public domain novels, and successful plays for plots. Westerns supplied the most popular of these 'new' movie genres and helped spark interest in shooting on location 'out West'. In time the independents found their home in southern California, 2,000 miles away from the New York headquarters of the Trust and, with its temperate climate, cheap land, and lack of unions, an ideal place to make their new low-cost 'feature-length' motion pictures.

By 1912 the independents were producing enough films to fill theatrical bills. Each movie became a unique product, heavily advertised. With more than 20,000 cinemas open in the USA by 1920, the ever-increasing number of feature-length 'photoplays' easily found an audience. Distribution into foreign markets proved a bonus; in this era of the silent cinema, specialists quickly translated intertitles, and produced foreign versions for minimal added production costs.

The independents also began to take control of exhibition in the USA. They did not attempt to buy up all the 20,000 existing movie houses, concentrating instead on the new movie palaces in the largest cities. By 1920 these 2,000 picture palaces, showing exclusive first-runs, were capturing over three-quarters of the revenue of the average film. From these chains of movie palaces from New York City to Chicago to Los Angeles, the major Hollywood


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The Oxford History of World Cinema
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Contents xi
  • Special Features xv
  • List of Colour Illustrations xvii
  • General Introduction xix
  • 1 - Silent Cinema 1895-1930 1
  • Origins and Survival 6
  • Early Cinema 13
  • Transitional Cinema 23
  • The Hollywood Studio System 43
  • The World-Wide Spread of Cinema 53
  • The First World War and the Crisis in Europe 62
  • Tricks and Animation 71
  • Comedy 78
  • Documentary 86
  • Cinema and the Avant-Garde 95
  • Serials 105
  • French Silent Cinema 112
  • Italy- Spectacle and Melodrama 123
  • British Cinema from Hepworth to Hitchcock 130
  • Germany- The Weimar Years 136
  • The Scandinavian Style 151
  • Pre-Revolutionary Russia 159
  • The Soviet Union and the Russian émigrés 162
  • Yiddish Cinema in Europe 174
  • Japan- Before the Great Kanto Earthquake 177
  • Music and the Silent Film 183
  • The Heyday of the Silents 192
  • 2 - Sound Cinema 1930-1960 205
  • The Introduction of Sound 211
  • Hollywood- The Triumph of the Studio System 220
  • Censorship and Self-Regulation 235
  • The Sound of Music 248
  • Technology and Innovation 259
  • Animation 267
  • Cinema and Genre 276
  • The Western 286
  • The Musical 294
  • Crime Movies 304
  • The Fantastic 312
  • Documentary 322
  • Socialism, Fascism, and Democracy 333
  • The Popular Art of French Cinema 344
  • Italy from Fascism to Neo-Realism 353
  • Britain at the End of Empire 361
  • Germany- Nazism and after 374
  • East Central Europe before the Second World War 383
  • Soviet Film under Stalin 389
  • Indian Cinema- Origins to Independence 398
  • China before 1949 409
  • The Classical Cinema in Japan 413
  • The Emergence of Australian Film 422
  • Cinema in Latin America 427
  • After the War 436
  • Transformation of the Hollywood System 443
  • Independents and Mavericks 451
  • 3 - The Modern Cinema 1960-1995 461
  • Television and the Film Industry 466
  • The New Hollywood 475
  • New Technologies 483
  • Sex and Sensation 490
  • The Black Presence in American Cinema 497
  • Exploitation and the Mainstream 509
  • Dreams and Nightmares in the Hollywood Blockbuster 516
  • Cinéma-Vérité and the New Documentary 527
  • Avant-Garde Film- The Second Wave 537
  • Animation in the Post-Industrial Era 551
  • Modern Film Music 558
  • Art Cinema 567
  • New Directions in French Cinema 576
  • Italy- Auteurs and after 586
  • Spain after Franco 596
  • British Cinema- The Search for Identity 604
  • The New German Cinema 614
  • East Germany- The Defa Story 627
  • Changing States in East Central Europe 632
  • Russia after the Thaw 640
  • Cinema in the Soviet Republics 651
  • Turkish Cinema 656
  • The Arab World 661
  • The Cinemas of Sub-Saharan Africa 667
  • Iranian Cinema 672
  • India- Filming the Nation 678
  • Indonesian Cinema 690
  • China after the Revolution 693
  • Popular Cinema in Hong Kong 704
  • Taiwanese New Cinema 711
  • The Modernization of Japanese Film 714
  • New Australian Cinema 722
  • New Zealand Cinema 731
  • Canadian Cinema/Cinéma Canadien 731
  • New Cinemas in Latin America 740
  • New Concepts of Cinema 750
  • The Resurgence of Cinema 759
  • Index 785
  • List of Picture Sources 823


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