Sunday, 18 September 2011

City of Angels: The Studios - The Studio Era, Part 10

Read the last instalment of my series on Hollywood, the studios, and the studio era. For all previous posts on this series, please refer to the archives on the bottom of this page!

If anything, through advantageous and synergic takeovers and mergers like Time/ Warner/ AOL, Viacom/ Paramount, and Sony/ Columbia, the studios, and films in general, even benefited from those new media, at least financially.

As for the quality of the films, I can’t help thinking that although not all that glittered was gold in Hollywood’s golden era, what the moguls brought to their jobs was a proficiency and a profound love for the industry they created. A buccaneer-spirit paired with the vigour and pluck of the pioneers they were.

But the Hollywood of the studio era is irrevocably gone.
And after all, it probably never was much more than one huge, gigantic factory of dreams spread out over various parts of The City of Nets as Otto Friedrich referred to Hollywood in his autobiography.

I for my part, however, choose to think of it as another world, another universe, created by Hollywood’s founding fathers and inhabited by one big, enormous, dysfunctional, royal family, in the form of the big studios, with the moguls as the powerful patriarchs of the family’s various branches.

City of Nets by Otto Friedrich is highly recommended reading for anybody interested in Hollywood's golden age. Though very anecdotal, it is a first hand account by someone who lived and worked in the studios but not on the front lines, but rather in the background. Friedrich was a brilliant observer whose scrutinising eye escaped nothing.

For more books on Hollywood there's no better place than Larry Edmunds legendary bookshop on 6644, Hollywood Boulevard.

Click HERE to visit their website!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

City of Angels: The Studios - The Studio Era, Part 9

Pauline Kael

The all pervading atmosphere of terror, brought on by the committee’s shenanigans did nothing to nurture what remained of Tinseltown’s creative spirit, which is exactly what Hollywood needed most to win the battle against television and in its struggle to get audiences back to the big screen.

Today, agencies have replaced the big studios, setting up package deals between writer, director, producer and star, who tend to be all under contract to the same agency. Studios are reduced to a mere distributing role, and to letting space to independent producers, who usually consist of the film’s director or star. As an independent production they rent space, or other studio facilities, at a particular studio over a certain amount of time. And even though studios still produce -or co produce- films, the better part of the activity on the lot is dedicated to television.

Francis Ford Coppola

Alan J. Pakula

Martin Scorsese

Hal Ashby

Re-emerging after the sorry years of the 1950s, Hollywood entered a second golden age towards the end of the 1960s, or, to quote famous film critic Pauline Kael, Hollywood’s only golden age. With the Old Guard gone, the Production Code abolished, and the studios mostly run and owned by huge conglomerations, in which the studio itself was but a minor asset, a new herd of film makers entered the scene, who, with their verve and idealism infused Hollywood with a string of remarkable movies. Influenced by the Vietnam War, the rise of Women’s Lib, and a new sexual freedom, film makers like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, William Friedkin, Alan J. Pakula, Robert Altman, Arthur Penn, and Hal Ashby led the way to what would later be dubbed as the New Hollywood, producing films that went beyond mere entertainment, analysing, scrutinising and dissecting human behaviour and society as a whole. Steven Spielberg changed all that.

When his film Jaws (1975) was released nationwide and subsequently breaking all box-office records, the age of the blockbuster was born, as studios and producers realised that given the right product and an adequate marketing and distributing strategy, millions of dollars could be made with just one film. Spielberg, who had astonished cinema goers with two remarkable, off-beat, low-budget films, done well before he entered blockbuster territory , Duel (1971) and Sugarland Express (1974), went on to become commercially the most successful director of all time.

Entering the 1980s, it is interesting to take a look at the Academy Awards, whose significance as indicator for the excellence of films has greatly diminished, but which have assumed the role of a magnifying glass for the zeitgeist: In comparison to the 1970s, where films that won the Best Picture award were commercial as well as critical successes, the 1980s presented a different scenario, as hardly any of the top box-office grossers were awarded the Oscar for Best Picture. In that respect, the 1980s, the business-orientated politics of the Reagan notwithstanding, reflected the Hollywood of the past, where the Academy tended to value quality higher than box-office returns.

But with society changing constantly, and with a world-wide shift towards the political right, accompanied by an ever-increasing hunger for profit and economic growth, during the 1990s grosses took precedence over quality, and the Academy Awards for Best Picture was usually bestowed upon films that were box-office winners, with little or no regard to their artistic merits. Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1993), and Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1994) being an exception to the rule inasmuch as both works were artistically as well as commercially triumphant.

This trend continues to the very day, and Hollywood today is indeed the factory of films it was thought to have been during the studio era. A lot of money is lavished upon the production of a major studio release, but other than the fact that yet another box-office record was once more broken, the finished result is mostly forgettable. As a reaction to this trend, a new, independent cinema has emerged, producing low budget films with a focus on the story and, luckily, quality, and some studios even set up an independent branch, such as Warner Brothers’ New Line to counterbalance its big budget releases.

Cinema attendance has been soaring for the past twenty years, disproving prophets of doom who, at the onset of the 1950s and the sorry time that followed, predicted the death of cinema and the end of motion pictures. The reverse is true, however. American cinema, after having survived HUAC, successfully battled the onslaught of television, videos, DVD players, and home computers.