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The cinema of the United States has had a profound effect on cinema across the world since the early 20th century. Its history is sometimes separated into four main periods: the silent film era, classical Hollywood cinema, New Hollywood, and the contemporary period (after 1980). Since the 1920s, the American film industry has grossed more money every year than that of any other country.

In 1878, Eadweard Muybridge demonstrated the power of photography to capture motion. In 1894, the world's first commercial motion picture exhibition was given in New York City, using Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope. The United States was in the forefront of sound film's development in the following decades. Since the early twentieth century, the U.S. film industry has largely been based in and around Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. Picture City, FL was doubtfully also a planned site for a movie picture production center in the 1920s, but due to the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane, the idea collapsed and Picture City was returned back to the original name of Hobe Sound. Director D. W. Griffith was central to the development of film grammar and Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941) is frequently cited in critics' polls as the greatest film of all time.[1] American screen actors like John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe have become iconic figures, while producer/entrepreneur Walt Disney was a leader in both animated film and movie merchandising. The major film studios of Hollywood are the primary source of the most commercially successful movies in the world, such as Star Wars (1977), Titanic (1997), and the contemporaneous Avatar (2009), and the products of Hollywood today dominate the global film industry.[2]

Contents

History

Origins

The second recorded instance of photographs capturing and reproducing motion was Eadweard Muybridge's series of photographs of a running horse, which he captured in Palo Alto, California, using a set of still cameras placed in a row. Muybridge's accomplishment led inventors everywhere to attempt to make similar devices that would capture such motion. In the United States, Thomas Alva Edison was among the first to produce such a device, the kinetoscope, whose heavy-handed patent enforcement caused early filmmakers to look for alternatives.

In the United States, the first exhibitions of films for large audiences typically followed the intermissions in vaudeville shows. Entrepreneurs began traveling to exhibit their films, bringing to the world the first forays into dramatic film-making.

In the earliest days of the American film industry, New York was the epicenter of film-making. The Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, built during the silent film era, was used by the Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields. Chelsea, Manhattan was also frequently used. Mary Pickford, an Academy Award winning actress, shot some of her early films in this area. Other major centers of film production included Chicago, Florida, California and Cuba.

The film patents wars of the early 20th Century led to the spread of film companies across the US. Many worked with equipment for which they did not own the rights, and thus filming in New York could be dangerous; it was close to Edison's Company headquarters, and to agents the company set out to seize cameras. By 1912, most major film companies had set up production facilities because of the location's proximity to Mexico, though the region's optimal year-round weather is generally sited as the primary reason.[3]

Golden Age of Hollywood

During the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood, which lasted from the end of the silent era in American cinema in the late 1920s to the late 1950s, thousands of movies were issued from the Hollywood studios. The start of the Golden Age was arguably when The Jazz Singer was released in 1927, ending the silent era and increasing box-office profits for films as sound was introduced to feature films. Most Hollywood pictures adhered closely to a formula - Western, slapstick comedy, musical, animated cartoon, biopic (biographical picture) - and the same creative teams often worked on films made by the same studio. For example, Cedric Gibbons and Herbert Stothart always worked on MGM films, Alfred Newman worked at 20th Century Fox for twenty years, Cecil B. De Mille's films were almost all made at Paramount, and director Henry King's films were mostly made for 20th Century Fox. At the same time, one could usually guess which studio made which film, largely because of the actors who appeared in it; MGM, for example, claimed it had contracted "more stars than there are in heaven." Each studio had its own style and characteristic touches which made it possible to know this — a trait that does not exist today. Yet each movie was a little different, and, unlike the craftsmen who made cars, many of the people who made movies were artists. For example, To Have and Have Not (1944) is famous not only for the first pairing of actors Humphrey Bogart (1899–1957) and Lauren Bacall (1924–) but also for being written by two future winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature: Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), the author of the novel on which the script was nominally based, and William Faulkner (1897–1962), who worked on the screen adaptation.

After The Jazz Singer was released in 1927, Warner Bros. gained huge success and was able to acquire their own string of movie theaters, after purchasing Stanley Theaters and First National Productions in 1928. MGM had also owned the Loews string of theaters since forming in 1924, and the Fox Film Corporation owned the Fox Theatre strings as well. Also, RKO (a 1928 merger between Keith-Orpheum Theaters and the Radio Corporation of America[4]) responded to the Western Electric/ERPI monopoly over sound in films , and developed their own method, known as Photophone, to put sound in films [1]. Paramount, who already acquired Balaban and Katz in 1926, would answer to the success of Warner Bros. and RKO, and buy a number of theaters in the late 1920s as well, and would hold a monopoly on theaters in Detroit, Michigan.[5] By the 1930s, all of America's theaters were owned by the Big Five studios - MGM, Paramount Pictures, RKO, Warner Bros., and 20th Century Fox. [2].

Movie-making was still a business however, and motion picture companies made money by operating under the studio system. The major studios kept thousands of people on salary — actors, producers, directors, writers, stunt men, craftspersons, and technicians. And they owned hundreds of theaters in cities and towns across the nation, theaters that showed their films and that were always in need of fresh material. In 1930, MPDAA President Will Hays created the Hays (Production) Code, which followed censorship guidelines and went into effect after government threats of censorship expanded by 1930 [3]. However, the code was never enforced until 1934, after the Catholic watchdog organization The Legion of Decency - appalled by Mae West's very successful sexual appearances in She Done Him Wrong and I'm No Angel [4]- threatened a boycott of motion pictures if it didn't go into effect [5]. Those films that didn't obtain a seal of approval from the Production Code Administration had to pay a $25,000.00 fine and could not profit in the theaters, as the MPDDA owned every theater in the country through the Big Five studios [6].

Throughout the 1930s, as well as most of the golden age, MGM dominated the film screen and had the top stars in Hollywood, and was also credited for creating the Hollywood star system altogether [7]. Some MGM stars included "King of Hollywood" Clark Gable, Lionel Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Jeanette MacDonald and husband Gene Raymond, Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, and Gene Kelly [8]. Another great achievement of US cinema during this era came through Walt Disney's animation company. In 1937, Disney created the most successful film of its time, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs [9]. Also in 1939, MGM would create what is still, when adjusted for inflation, the most successful film of all time, Gone with the Wind [10].

Many film historians have remarked upon the many great works of cinema that emerged from this period of highly regimented film-making. One reason this was possible is that, with so many movies being made, not every one had to be a big hit. A studio could gamble on a medium-budget feature with a good script and relatively unknown actors: Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles (1915-1985) and often regarded as the greatest film of all time, fits that description. In other cases, strong-willed directors like Howard Hawks (1896-1977), Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) and Frank Capra (1897-1991) battled the studios in order to achieve their artistic visions. The apogee of the studio system may have been the year 1939, which saw the release of such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights, Only Angels Have Wings, Ninotchka, and Midnight. Among the other films from the Golden Age period that are now considered to be classics: Casablanca, It's a Wonderful Life, It Happened One Night, the original King Kong, Mutiny on the Bounty, City Lights, Red River and Top Hat.

Decline of the studio system

The studio system and the Golden Age of Hollywood succumbed to two forces that developed in the late 1940s:

In 1938, Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released during a run of lackluster films from the major studios, and quickly became the highest-grossing film released to that point. Embarrassingly for the studios, it was an independently-produced animated film that did not feature any studio-employed stars.[6] This stoked already widespread frustration at the practice of block-booking, in which studios would only sell an entire year's schedule of films at a time to theaters and use the lock-in to cover for releases of mediocre quality. Assistant Attorney General Thurman Arnold—a noted "trust buster" of the Roosevelt administration — took this opportunity to initiate proceedings against the eight largest Hollywood studios in July 1938 for violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.[7][8] The federal suit resulted in five of the eight studios (the "Big Five": Warner Bros., MGM, Fox, RKO and Paramount) reaching a compromise with Arnold in October 1940 and signing a consent decree agreeing to, within three years:

  • Eliminate the block-booking of short film subjects, in an arrangement known as "one shot", or "full force" block-booking.
  • Eliminate the block-booking of any more than five features in their theaters.
  • No longer engage in blind buying (or the buying of films by theater districts without seeing films beforehand) and instead have trade-showing, in which all 31 theater districts in US would see films every two weeks before showing movies in theaters.
  • Set up an administration board in each theater district to enforce these requirements.[7]

The "Little Three" (Universal Studios, United Artists, and Columbia Pictures), who did not own any theaters, refused to participate in the consent decree.[7][8] A number of independent film producers were also unhappy with the compromise and formed a union known as the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers and sued Paramount for the monopoly they still had over the Detroit Theaters — as Paramount was also gaining dominance through actors like Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake, Betty Hutton, crooner Bing Crosby, Alan Ladd, and longtime actor for studio Gary Cooper too- by 1942. The Big Five studios didn't meet the requirements of the Consent of Decree during WWII, without major consequence, but after the war ended they joined Paramount as defendants in the Hollywood anti-trust case, as did the Little Three studios also [11]. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that the major studios ownership of theaters and film distribution was a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. As a result, the studios began to release actors and technical staff from their contracts with the studios. This changed the paradigm of film making by the major Hollywood studios, as each could have an entirely different cast and creative team. This resulted in the gradual loss of the characteristics which made MGM, Paramount, Universal, Columbia, RKO, and Fox films immediately identifiable. But certain movie people, such as Cecil B. DeMille, either remained contract artists till the end of their careers or used the same creative teams on their films, so that a DeMille film still looked like one whether it was made in 1932 or 1956. Also, the number of movies being produced annually dropped as the average budget soared, marking a major change in strategy for the industry. Studios now aimed to produce entertainment that could not be offered by television: spectacular, larger-than-life productions. Studios also began to sell portions of their theatrical film libraries to other companies to sell to television. By 1949, all major film studios had given up ownership of their theaters.

Television was also instrumental in the decline of Hollywood's Golden Age as it broke the movie industry's hegemony in American entertainment. Despite this, the film industry was also able to gain some leverage for future films as longtime government censorship faded in the 1950s. After the Paramount anti-trust case ended, Hollywood movie studios no longer owned theaters, and thus made it so foreign films could be released in American theaters without censorship. This was complemented with the 1952 Miracle Decision in the Joseph Burstyn Inc. v Wilson case, in which the Supreme Court of the United States reversed its earlier position, from 1915's Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio case, and stated that motion pictures were a form of art and were entitled to the protection of the First amendment; US laws could no longer censor films. By 1968, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had replaced the Hays Code-which was now greatly violated after the government threat of censorship that justified the origin of the code had ended- with the film rating system.

The 'New Hollywood' and Post-classical cinema

'Post-classical cinema' is a term used to describe the changing methods of storytelling in the New Hollywood. It has been argued that new approaches to drama and characterization played upon audience expectations acquired in the classical period: chronology may be scrambled, storylines may feature "twist endings", and lines between the antagonist and protagonist may be blurred. The roots of post-classical storytelling may be seen in film noir, in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and in Hitchcock's storyline-shattering Psycho.

'New Hollywood' is a term used to describe the emergence of a new generation of film school-trained directors who had absorbed the techniques developed in Europe in the 1960s; The 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde marked the beginning of American cinema rebounding as well, as a new generation of films would afterwards gain success at the box offices as well[12]. Filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Brian de Palma, Martin Scorsese, William Friedkin and Steven Spielberg came to produce fare that paid homage to the history of film, and developed upon existing genres and techniques. In the early 1970s, their films were often both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. While the early New Hollywood films like Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider had been relatively low-budget affairs with amoral heroes and increased sexuality and violence, the enormous success enjoyed by Coppola, Spielberg and Lucas with The Godfather, Jaws, and Star Wars, respectively helped to give rise to the modern "blockbuster", and induced studios to focus ever more heavily on trying to produce enormous hits.

The increasing indulgence of these young directors didn’t help[citation needed]. Often, they’d go overschedule, and overbudget, thus bankrupting themselves or the studio[citation needed]. The two most famous examples of this are Francis Coppola’s One From The Heart and particularly Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, which single-handedly bankrupted United Artists.

Blockbusters

The drive to produce a spectacle on the movie screen has largely shaped American cinema ever since. Spectacular epics which took advantage of new widescreen processes had been increasingly popular from the 1950s onwards. Since then, American films have become increasingly divided into two categories: Blockbusters and independent films. Studios have focused on relying on a handful of extremely expensive releases every year in order to remain profitable. Such blockbusters emphasize spectacle, star power, and high production value, all of which entail an enormous budget. Blockbusters typically rely upon star power and massive advertising to attract a huge audience. A successful blockbuster will attract an audience large enough to offset production costs and reap considerable profits. Such productions carry a substantial risk of failure, and most studios release blockbusters that both over- and underperform in a year.

Independent film

Studios supplement these movies with independent productions, made with small budgets and often independently of the studio corporation. Movies made in this manner typically emphasize high professional quality in terms of acting, directing, screenwriting, and other elements associated with production, and also upon creativity and innovation. These movies usually rely upon critical praise or niche marketing to garner an audience. Because of an independent film's low budgets, a successful independent film can have a high profit-to-cost ratio, while a failure will incur minimal losses, allowing for studios to sponsor dozens of such productions in addition to their high-stakes releases.

American independent cinema was revitalized in the late 1980s and early 1990s when another new generation of moviemakers, including Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith, and Quentin Tarantino made movies like, respectively: Do the Right Thing; Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Clerks; and Reservoir Dogs. In terms of directing, screenwriting, editing, and other elements, these movies were innovative and often irreverent, playing with and contradicting the conventions of Hollywood movies. Furthermore, their considerable financial successes and crossover into popular culture reestablished the commercial viability of independent film. Since then, the independent film industry has become more clearly defined and more influential in American cinema. Many of the major studios have capitalised on this by developing subsidiaries to produce similar films; for example Fox Searchlight Pictures.

To a lesser degree in the 2000s, film types that were previously considered to have only a minor presence in the mainstream movie market began to arise as more potent American box office draws. These include foreign-language films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero and documentary films such as Super Size Me, March of the Penguins, and Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11.

Rise of the home video market

The 1980s and 1990s saw another significant development. The full acceptance of home video by studios opened a vast new business to exploit. Films such as The Secret of NIMH and The Shawshank Redemption, which performed poorly in their theatrical run, were now able to find success in the video market. It also saw the first generation of film makers with access to video tapes emerge. Directors such as Quentin Tarantino and P.T. Anderson had been able to view thousands of films and produced films with vast numbers of references and connections to previous works. This, along with the explosion of independent film and ever-decreasing costs for filmmaking, changed the landscape of American movie-making once again, and led a renaissance of filmmaking among Hollywood's lower and middle-classes—those without access to studio financial resources.

With the rise of the DVD in the 21st century, DVDs have quickly become even more profitable to studios and have led to an explosion of packaging extra scenes, extended versions, and commentary tracks with the films.

Hollywood and politics

Hollywood is also an endless pool of money for any presidential candidate. The relation between Hollywood and Washington began with a need for Hollywood to acquire a status of power by being seen with politicians and that relation is today reversed with Washington’s need for Hollywood’s money.

It all started in the beginnings of Hollywood, mostly during the moguls’ era, the founders of the studios. Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford were used to sell war bonds for World War 1 and their image worked to attract crowds. It wasn’t so long until the moguls began looking for something else than fame and money from their successful businesses. Most of the moguls and power figures of Hollywood in the 1920s were Jews. Being a Jew in this era was seen as negative, in a time when Jews were not welcomed in America. Despite their success, the moguls did not have the respect or the social status that they wanted. By being seen with powerful politicians, they would raise their social status and assure the respect they wanted. MGM’s powerful executive Louis B. Mayer accomplished this desire by being a good friend with candidate Herbert Hoover. The role of Hollywood in national politics began with this friendship between Mayer and Hoover. From this friendship, Hoover gained the support of Mayer’s friend William Randolph Hearst, press lord and producer, in his cause. Mayer was a strong supporter of Hoover who eventually became the 31st President of the United States, and Mayer succeeded in being well respected and became an even more powerful figure in Hollywood.[9]

In the 1930s the Democrats and the Republicans saw a huge pool of money in Hollywood. President Franklin Roosevelt saw a huge partnership with Hollywood. He used the first real potential of Hollywood’s stars in a national campaign. Melvyn Douglas toured Washington in 1939 and met the key New Dealers. Endorsements letters from leading actors were signed, radio appearances and printed advertising were made. The use of a star was to draw a large audience into the political view of the party. By the 1960s John F. Kennedy and Frank Sinatra had a strong friendship in this glamour era when young Kennedy was a new face for Washington. The last moguls of Hollywood were gone and young new executives and producers began generating more liberal ideas. The celebrity and the money attracted the politicians into the high-class glittering Hollywood life-style. As Ronald Brownstein wrote in his book “The Power and the Glitter”, the television in the 1970s and 1980s was an enormously important new media into the politics and Hollywood helped in that media with actors making speeches on their political beliefs, like Jane Fonda against the Vietnam War.[9] In this era we saw former actor Ronald Reagan became Governor of California and then President of the United States. It continued with Arnold Schwarzenegger as California’s Governor in 2003.

Today Washington’s interest is in Hollywood being a money provider, with its huge pool of money. On February 20, 2007, for example, Senator Barack Obama had a $2300-a-plate Hollywood gala, being hosted by David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg at the Beverly Hilton.[10] Hollywood is a huge donator for presidential campaigns and this money is attracting politicians into Hollywood. Not only is Hollywood influencing Washington with its glamour and money but Washington is also influencing Hollywood. With the help of the Pentagon and, based on Jean-Michel Valantin analysis in “Hollywood, le Pentagone et Washington”, Capitol Hill and the White House influence most notably the War films of Hollywood with their politics and ideologies.[11]

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ Village Voice: 100 Best Films of the 20th century (2001). Filmsite.org; Sight and Sound Top Ten Poll 2002. BFI. Retrieved on June 19, 2007.
  2. ^ "World Culture Report 2000 Calls for Preservation of Intangible Cultural Heritage". UNESCO. 2000-11-17. http://www.unesco.org/bpi/eng/unescopress/2000/00-120e.shtml. Retrieved 2007-09-14.  "Summary: Does Globalization Thwart Cultural Diversity?". World Bank Group. http://www1.worldbank.org/economicpolicy/globalization/thwart.html. Retrieved 2007-09-14. 
  3. ^ Jacobs, Lewis; Rise of the American film, The; Harcourt Brace, New York, 1930; p. 85
  4. ^ Thumbnail History of RKO Radio Pictures
  5. ^ The Paramount Theater Monoply
  6. ^ Aberdeen, J A (2005-09-06), "Part 1: The Hollywood Slump of 1938", Hollywood Renegades Archive, http://www.cobbles.com/simpp_archive/paramountcase_1slump1938.htm, retrieved 2008-05-06 
  7. ^ a b Aberdeen, J A (2005-09-06), "Part 3: The Consent Decree of 1940", Hollywood Renegades Archive, http://cobbles.com/simpp_archive/paramountcase_3consent1940.htm, retrieved 2008-05-06 
  8. ^ a b Brownstein, Ronald (1990). The power and the glitter : the Hollywood-Washington connection . Pantheon Books. ISBN 0394569385
  9. ^ "Politicians Are Doing Hollywood Star Turns". nytimes.com. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/06/movies/awardsseason/06holly.html. Retrieved 2008-02-05. 
  10. ^ Valantin, Jean-Michel (2003). Hollywood, le Pentagone et Washington : les trois acteurs d'une stratégie globale. Autrement. ISBN 2746703793

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