The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era

Overview

In The Genius of the System, Thomas Schatz recalls Hollywood's Golden Age from the 1920s until the dawn of television in the late 1940s, when quality films were produced swiftly and cost efficiently thanks to the intricate design of the system. Schatz takes us through the rise and fall of individual careers and the making-and unmaking-of movies such as Frankenstein, Casablanca, and Hitchcock's Notorious. Through detailed analysis of major Hollywood moviemakers including Universal, Warner Bros., and MGM, he ...

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Overview

In The Genius of the System, Thomas Schatz recalls Hollywood's Golden Age from the 1920s until the dawn of television in the late 1940s, when quality films were produced swiftly and cost efficiently thanks to the intricate design of the system. Schatz takes us through the rise and fall of individual careers and the making-and unmaking-of movies such as Frankenstein, Casablanca, and Hitchcock's Notorious. Through detailed analysis of major Hollywood moviemakers including Universal, Warner Bros., and MGM, he reminds us of a time when studios had distinct personalities and the relationship between contracts and creativity was not mutually exclusive.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this original, monumental survey of Hollywood's film studios during their most glorious period, Schatz, professor at the University of Texas and author of Hollywood Genres , in contrast with the directorial theories of Andrew Sarris and other film historians, describes the creative give-and-take, the symbiotic accord between creators and front offices, in which the styles of writers, directors and stars fused with studio management structures, production operations, talent pools, narrative traditions and market strategies. Analytically and with anecdote examining the financial as well as creative workings of MGM, Warner Bros., Para mount, Universal and RKO in the era of Thalberg, Selznick, Zanuck and Hitchcock, Schatz demonstrates that at the heart of each studio's house style were the star-genre formulations (Bette Davis melodramas, Humphrey Bogart thrillers, Boris Karloff horror films, Gene Kelly musicals) that nowadays, as they are recirculated and rediscovered by young viewers, are all that remain of the great studios and of the vigorous, dynamic men and women who sustained them. Photos. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Several other histories of Hollywood's studio system have already been published, including Robert Stanley's The Celluloid Empire (LJ 5/15/78), Douglas Gomery's The Hollywood Studio System (LJ 1/86), and Ethan Mordden's The Hollywood Studios (LJ 5/15/88). All these books have some value, but Mordden and Schatz win top honors. Larger libraries should purchase both books, as they complement each other. Mordden's primary interest is aesthetics; Schatz's is business. Mordden's writing is sometimes brilliant, while Schatz's is only good, but Schatz has obviously done a lot of research, and he puts it to good use in a very readable book. John Smothers, Monmouth Cty. Lib., Manalapan, N.J.
From the Publisher
"There was much to criticize in the Hollywood system, and much to marvel at. But one can't do either without the means to make sense of it. This book provides that. —Elizabeth Kendall, The New York Times Book Review

"Brings the pace and confusion and inspiration of filmmaking to life...Schatz has made a lasting contribution to film history." —Directors Guild of America Newsletter

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816670109
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
  • Publication date: 3/16/2010
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 1,402,362
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Schatz, Professor of Radio-TV-Film at the University of Texas in Austin, is also the author of Hollywood Genres.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Preface: The Center of Gravity ix

Introduction: "The Whole Equation of Pictures"

Part I The 1920s: Beginnings

1 Universal: the System Takes shape 15

2 MGM: Dawn of the Thalberg Era 29

3 Selznick at MGM: Climbing the Executive Ranks 48

4 Warner Bros: Talking Their Way to the Top 58

Part II 1928 - 1932: The Powers That Be

5 Selznick at Paramount: From Boom to Bust 69

6 Universal: Renaissance and Retrenchment 82

7 MGM and Thalberg: Alone at the Top 98

8 Selznick at Rko: At the Helm of a Foundering Studio 125

9 Warner Bros: The Zanuck Era 135

Part III The 1930s: Golden Age

10 MGM in the Mid-Thirties: Charmed Interval 159

11 Selznick International Pictures: Going Independent 176

12 Warner Bros.: Power Plays and Prestige 199

13 Universal: Playing Both ends Against the Middle 228

14 MGM: Life after Thalberg 252

15 Selznick and Hitchcock: Balance of Power 271

Part IV 1941-1946: War Boom

16 Warner Bros.: Warfare at Home and Abroad 297

17 David O. Selznick Productions: Packaging Prestige 322

18 Universal: The Best of Both Worlds 340

19 MGM: The High Cost of Quality 359

20 Selznick and Hitchcock: Separate Ways 381

Part V 1947-1960: Decline

21 Warner Bros.: Top of the world, end of the Line 411

22 MGM: Last Gasp of the studio Era 440

23 UNIVERSAL: Blueprint for the Television age 463

24 Epilogue: Into the new Hollywood 482

Notes on Sources 493

Photograph Credits 508

Index 509

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