Directory of World Cinema: American Hollywood

Directory of World Cinema: American Hollywood

by Lincoln Geraghty (Editor)


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Directory of World Cinema: American Hollywood by Lincoln Geraghty

With its sprawling celebrity homes, the Walk of Fame, and the iconic sign on the hill, Hollywood is truly the land of stars. Glamorous and larger than life, many of the most memorable motion pictures of all time have emanated from its multimillion-dollar film industry, which exports more films per capita than that of any other nation.

Directory of World Cinema: American Hollywood lays out the cinematic history of Tinseltown—the industry, the audiences, and, of course, the stars—highlighting important thematic and cultural elements throughout. Profiles and analyses of many of the industry’s most talented and prolific directors give insights into their impact on Hollywood and beyond. A slate of blockbuster successes—and notable flops—are here discussed, providing insight into the ever-shifting aesthetic of Hollywood’s enormous global audience.

User-friendly and concise yet containing an astonishing amount of information, Directory of World Cinema: American Hollywood shows how truly indispensable the Hollywood film industry is and provides a fascinating account of its cultural and artistic significance as it marks its centennial.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781841504155
Publisher: Intellect, Limited
Publication date: 07/15/2011
Series: IB - Directory of World Cinema Series
Pages: 302
Product dimensions: 6.70(w) x 9.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Lincoln Geraghty is a principal lecturer and course leader for film and television studies at the School of Creative Arts, Film and Media at the University of Portsmouth, UK.

Read an Excerpt

Directory of World Cinema American Hollywood Volume 5

By Lincoln Geraghty

Intellect Ltd

Copyright © 2011 Intellect Ltd
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84150-520-6




The History of Hollywood is bound up with the history of America. As a nation growing to become an international superpower during the twentieth century, America took the lead in global politics, manufacturing and business. Likewise, as Hollywood grew to become the leading producer of films in the early part of the century, it defined what makes film popular: the story. Hollywood makes stories, it is after all dubbed the 'dream factory', and whether they be complex dramas or spectacular blockbusters, the story is what makes people go out to the cinema, go out and buy the DVD or watch a rerun on TV. A good story, the film's narrative, will always attract an audience. The following short 'history' is about how making stories became the main aim of Hollywood and is, in essence, the reason why Hollywood still reigns supreme; for stories entertain and, whether or not we like to see it in such simple terms, audiences want to be entertained.

In the late nineteenth century, film was considered a technological marvel; an attraction to wow an audience and advertise the technical genius of the film-maker. Those who made films, early short recordings of everyday life screened to select audiences, considered the new medium emblematic of scientific advancement rather than a necessarily artistic practice. Louis and Auguste Lumières's projected images on the wall of the Grand Café in Paris grabbed people's attention but offered no story to keep it and make it last. Workers Leaving the Factory (1895), a recording of people leaving their workshop, showed that film had the potential to capture attention but their films, a mixture of actualities, scenics, and topicals, only played back images that people could experience for real in the everyday. Alternately, France's Georges Méliès, a magician and film-maker, saw the potential in film to really challenge the intended audience. His films differed from the actualities made by the likes of the Lumières and were far more fantastical, using camera tricks, magical illusions, stages and props deliberately to confuse the audience – taking them, momentarily, to another world beyond the confines of their daily lives. The use of tinted film, early special effects such as smoke and stop motion, allowed Méliès to create alternate worlds on screen: his Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902) and Voyage à Travers l'Impossible (1904) depicted, albeit rather inaccurately, the possibility of life on other planets. His films can be considered paintings that viewers could gaze upon. Both examples of early film-making constitute a period in film history dubbed 'The Cinema of Attractions'. Méliès, like the Lumières brothers, used the new medium to delight and astonish the audience. For example, A Trip to the Moon may have depicted space travel and extraterrestrial life but what fascinated Méliès even more was the potential for the 'scenario' to act as 'pretext' for stage effects, tricks, and a 'nicely arranged tableau' (Méliès cited in Gunning 1990: 57).

In contrast, America's Edwin S Porter used film to tell a story. With the aid of Thomas Edison's newly developed camera and projection equipment, his adaptations of American classics such as Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1903 and variations on the Wild West theme seen in The Great Train Robbery (1903) are examples of narrative becoming central to the film-maker's art. As audience tastes became more sophisticated film-makers had to develop new ways to keep people engrossed and entertained. Thrilling scenes of daring-do could only entertain for as long as the story that got people to that point was interesting and captivating in its own right. As film became more of a business than a form of artistic expression, producers and exhibitors trying to make a profit believed that longer and more engaging stories would pack more people into the nickelodeons and get them coming back for more. Hollywood's greatest achievement was to take a technological wonder that the Lumières and Méliès experimented with and make it into a money-making form of storytelling. At this point in film history the medium truly became American.

The dominance of narrative over spectacle is perhaps central to film becoming the popular form of entertainment it is today. Film clearly had the potential to make some people a lot of money – producers, actors, writers, stars, exhibitors, for example – but for a lone entrepreneur the profit margins were small. What Hollywood did was to make film a business, make it profitable and adaptable to suit differing audience tastes. As cinemas opened up in every town and city across the country, owners cried out for more movies to show. Demand was met by Hollywood, which, by 1911, had established itself as the most suitable location for film production. At the heart of it, the new fledgling studios started to perfect the techniques and methods of making multiple films at the same time. Film production became more like the factory line seen in the American manufacturing industry and the formula that made it work was the adoption of the 'classical norms' of film-making. Classical Hollywood Cinema, as we know it today, 'put emphasis on narrative continuity and the coherent ordering of space'. As a result, the techniques of film-making were linked to 'a unified mode of storytelling' (Grainge, Jancovich & Monteith 2007: 74).

Making ten films in the same time that it used to take to make one or two drove studios to maximize time and effort. The division of labour on film projects allowed for a team of writers to concentrate on writing scripts, or parts of scripts, that could be taken on by a team of directors who would use the stages and backlots of the studio at the same time but shooting different scenes. Similar plots for similar stories meant also that props and sets could be reused and recycled for different films. Set designers, lighting technicians, cameramen and editors could work on different films contiguously, as the production schedule called for them to join at different stages of production. These deliberate and segmented modes of film-making relied on the adoption of the continuity script which meant films were made according to the availability of location, staff or stage set rather than the order in which each scene came in the story. The linear narrative of the film was brought to life through the editing of footage after it was finally shot, piecing together scenes that perhaps happen at the same time in the story but in different places. Thus narrative film was largely defined by the establishment of production techniques designed to keep costs low and increase output to satisfy audience demand.

Due to the nature of the studio system and the classical norms of Hollywood, film-making genres were, and still are, reliable means through which producers could maximize profits and guarantee an audience. Studios set up to make a certain type of film, using the same sets, directors, stars, and writers for example, became known for a particular genre since that was what they made in the most cost-effective fashion. Film genres created expectation on the behalf of audiences, who knew what they wanted to see, that they would get it, and studios fulfilled demand based on a system of factory-line production. Tom Ryall stated that 'Genres may be defined as patterns/forms/styles/structures which transcend individual films, and which supervise both their construction by the film maker, and their reading by an audience' (cited in Hutchings 1995: 65–6), therefore genres not only offer the primary framework for Hollywood storytelling but they also determine how we ourselves categorize films. This volume is in some ways all about the categorization of Hollywood film, but, in defining what genre a film is and thinking about the relationship between different films of the same genre, we are forced to take notice of the industrial drives that influence the production and reception of individual films. Recognizing that genres are bound up with the history of storytelling in film acknowledges both the level at which films are conceived and made industrially and how we, as an audience, are innately familiar with how stories speak to us culturally. For Steve Neale, 'genres function to move the subject from text to text and from text to narrative system, binding these instances together into a constant coherence, the coherence of the cinematic institution' (cited in Hutchings 1995: 72).

So the history of Hollywood is not one history but an amalgam of histories: a history of spectacle versus narrative, technological change and development, industrial practices, artistic differences, economic forces, and the formation of a set of norms. Out of these histories come the popular and entertaining genres we still enjoy today and the variety of Hollywood films discussed in this book.

Lincoln Geraghty



April 2010 was a key month for the student of signs in the cinema. That was the month that the literal Hollywood sign – the 45-feet-tall creation of wood and metal on Cahuenga Peak – was rescued from demolition. The rescue of the sign, facilitated by Playboy owner Hugh Hefner, was truly a symbolic moment. Arnold Schwarzenegger mused that the sign would continue to serve as 'a symbol of dreams and opportunity' (Child 2010: para. 3). Essentially, Hefner's gesture meant that it would continue to do its bit to signify the brand values of Hollywood; to mark a border between the regular world and dreamland. This is important because the American production capital has been under continual threat in recent times. Other people make films; moreover, American-based companies make films elsewhere. At the same time, the digital era, in all its manifestations, is presenting fundamental challenges to Hollywood's traditional command of the visual image.

Hollywood elsewhere

Of course, Hollywood has always been a brand, a place built on inspiring images of people, places and, importantly, itself. But, significantly, it is also a place where things (pre-eminently films and TV programmes) are made. So Hollywood is at once a dream land and a dream factory and the two processes are intimately connected; as Nick Roddick described:

... in the entertainment industry carefully fostered and disseminated images are as vital a part of the product as more tangible material manufactures on which that image is built. (Roddick 1983: 4)

In other words, Hollywood both fosters and furnishes our dreams. The manufacturing side has been profoundly affected by two main factors: the demands of post-Fordist production (i.e. the disassembling of the old studio systems of film manufacture) and wider processes of globalization. Writing in 1986, Douglas Gomery asserted that 'Hollywood has come to symbolise [a] particular industrial arena, with ... cavernous sound stages, multi-acre lots and secret special effects' (Gomery 1986: 8). But the economies of scale and factory methods which characterized the old studio system no longer apply. Today, many aspects of film production are out-sourced and Hollywood companies struggle to compete for work on a global stage.

Of particular significance to the stability and self-image of Hollywood has been the 'runaway' production: films financed largely by American companies but produced away from the entertainment capital. This is not a new phenomenon. In the immediate postwar era, Hollywood companies filmed overseas as a means of expending their 'frozen' profits in foreign lands. In the process, they found that runaway production frequently offered other advantages, including cheaper labour, tax concessions, exotic locations and favourable exchange rates. Ben Goldsmith and Tom O'Regan suggest that such inducements 'are still very much in evidence today' (Goldsmith & O'Regan 2005: 9), but the world of runaway film production has become ever-more competitive as nations, and even home states, vie to offer the most attractive deals to American producers.

The United Kingdom has been the traditional home to the runaway company, but during the noughties a succession of countries – Canada, New Zealand, Australia and (notably) the Czech Republic – managed to attract big American dollars. Recently, other European companies such as Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria have lured American companies by dint of their depressed economies and attendant 'cheap labour, materials and facilities' (Longwell 2008: 9). In addition, further pressure has been exerted on the physical Hollywood studios, and the technicians in their employ, by competition between American states. In 2002, Louisiana and New Mexico both introduced concessions as the means of combating the movement of film production to Canada (New Mexico returns 25 per cent of spend to producers); later, Michigan offered 40-42 per cent tax credits to film companies (Moore 2008: 24). Then, in February 2009, California attempted to entice films back to the West coast by announcing a five-year programme of tax incentives for producers (Diorio 2009: 67).

The runaway production has a long and complex history, but the various movements – including the recent internecine conflicts – have all exerted a dissipating effect on the image of Hollywood as the home of the movies. Trends in digital entertainment have weakened the Hollywood brand further, to the point of questioning the very authority of the film image.

The digital universe

Digital technologies have influenced each of the three phases of the film industry: production, distribution and exhibition. But, for all of the ballyhoo about the 'digital revolution' in film production (as marked by developments in CGI and, latterly, 3D technologies), the decisive effects will probably be felt most in the second and third phases. The Hollywood film industry is challenged by convergent technologies because they revise the ways by which we consume, and ultimately relate to, moving images. We can see this if we consider the shifting, and sometimes interlocking, stories of films, DVDs and mobile telephones.

In retrospect, the 1980s was a decisive period for Hollywood film culture. That decade saw the growth of the multiplex and the attendant phenomenon of the blockbuster. At the same time, and despite initial fears from the majors, film viewing moved away from the theatre and into the home via bought and rented video tapes. As Richard Maltby has demonstrated, the VCR boom provided the pre-conditions for the subsequent rise of DVD and for the contemporary situation where 'Movie production has become ... the creation of "filmed entertainment" software, to be viewed through several different windows ...' (Maltby 2003: 190). It is estimated that DVD sales account for 70 per cent of a film's profits. Inevitably, the rise of the DVD has led to the reconfiguring of cinema. On John Ellis's famous terms, cinema-going endures as a public 'event' (Ellis 1992: 26), a dynamic alternative to home- based entertainment. But, paradoxically, the success of the DVD has finally led to it becoming the main event, to the point where the film showing becomes virtually a method of pre-selling.

In turn, the DVD has provided the pre-conditions for the emergence of other forms of convergent distribution of movies, via the WWW, cable and mobile receivers. Barbara Klinger has written of the Home Theatre as a 'fortress technology' which 'depends on importing the newest and best products from the outside in order to generate ... a self-sufficient, inviolable interior space' (Klinger 2006: 242). Clearly, DVDs are an essential part of the armoury, but their major asset is their portability and their intimation of control (the fantasy of owning the film). But, then, DVDs are now in a state of decline. In 2008, Digital Entertainment Group reported a 32 per cent decline in overall sales. The Hollywood majors have also been alarmed by the poor performance of Blu-Ray and disappointed by the diminishing returns from View on Demand (VOD) screenings: these net them just 33 per cent of the revenues that they derive from DVD sales (Grover 2009a: para. 2).

The above pressures are forcing movies onto increasingly smaller screens. Paramount has expressed a particular interest in distribution and exhibition via the web. Its President of Digital Entertainment, Thomas Lesinski, revealed much about his company's relationship with the moving image via his observations of February 2009:

You can use the internet to launch a film like you use a movie theatre. The trick will be to ramp up electronic distribution without tanking the DVD business. (Grover 2009b: para. 7)

The decline of the cinema as a public sphere has been indicated also by recent talk among the majors of near 'date and time' (i.e. simultaneous) releases of DVDs with cinema screenings. But the biggest threat to the authority of the movie image probably comes from mobile technologies. Since 2006, the Hollywood majors have all expressed a strong interest in exploiting the market for downloaded movies via 3G (Third Generation) mobile telephones. The advantages to the companies are obvious. In June 2006, the Market Intelligence Centre predicted that mobile phone ownership would increase, worldwide, by 33 per cent by 2010 (Koranteng 2006: 22). The new technology also affords companies the chance to establish new download markets on more advantageous terms. In this regard, mSpot announced a deal in October 2009, involving Paramount, NBC Universal and the Weinstein Company, for instant access streaming of films at $4.99 a shot (Netherby 2009: 9, 23).


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Table of Contents

Introduction by the Editor

Hollywood: A History?
The Hollywood Film Industry
     Clint Eastwood
     John Ford
     DW Griffith
     Steven Spielberg
Crime Film
Science Fiction
Historical Films
War Films

Recommended Reading
Online Resources
Test Your Knowledge
Notes on Contributors

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