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Studio System Is No More Than A ‘Dream Factory’

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It is obvious that no other country can compete with Classical Hollywood when it comes to movies throughout previous decades, as it still has a massive influence on films today. Hollywood was originally led by five Major studios, also known as the big five. The Big Five were vertically integrated which meant that they were responsible for the production, distribution and the exhibition of their movies. They were named “Dream Factories” for good reason as they provided a steady stream of products to theatres that studios owned/partly owned. Their product was storytelling and they attempted to take the element of surprise away from filmmaking, mainly agreeing that movies should be an escape from reality and not a reflection. This style of filmmaking consisted heavily of continuity editing (also known as Classical Hollywood editing), meaning ‘invisible editing’. Instead of drawing attention to the camera work the audience’s attention was brought to the narrative, anything that diverted attention from the story to the filmmaking process was a mistake. The ‘Dream Factory’ also paved the way for Film Stars (i.e. The star system) in which film studios would groom and create idealized protagonists. Any potential scandals were covered up with the cooperation of law enforcement and local press. I will be discussing these points to prove that the studio system is essentially nothing more than a ‘Dream Factory’.

In the 1930s Hollywood, had become a well-established film factory which produced films that offered cinema goers escapism from reality. There were eight major studios in the studio system, The Big Five and The Little Three. The Big Five controlled the industry by vertical integration which created a very profitable business for each studio and by 1945, 17% of theatres were accounting for 45% of domestic film rentals. The early days of American Cinema was seen by politicians and businessmen as a threat to American capitalism as films have persuasive power. At the time both politicians and businessmen used ‘The board of Censors’ to supress films that depicted the grim reality happening at the time. In the late 1910s and 1920s the Hollywood system “turned out comedies, melodramas, mysteries, westerns, and adventure stories that played to the widest possible audience”…”fantasy, of course took many forms: the child who imagined himself or herself as a hero or heroine in the time of Robin Hood or Cleopatra; the young man who dreamed he was more sheikish than Rudolph Valentino; the young woman who saw herself dance in Parisian night clubs”. He also commented that “when it came to class, the fantasies seen in the 1920s films were markedly different from their predecessors”. In the 1920s labour-capital films which focussed on conflict between the classes and represented the American Dream. The plot would normally consist of the ambitious yet poor boy is attracted to a “Golden Girl” and he pursues her both for economic and romantic gain. Because film making was very much an industry, entertainment and fiction were the focus of the studio’s films.

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In regards to ‘Classical Hollywood Style’ the studios movies tended to depict American society as it wanted to see itself. Most motion pictures were built from three basic components: Character, Desire and Conflict. “Emphasis must be laid upon causality and the action and reaction of the human will…Making personal character traits and goals the causes of actions… led to a dramatic form fairly specific to Hollywood”. ‘Classical Hollywood style’ depicted a consistent relationship between cause and effect, it was important for the characters on screen to have ambitions and formulate plans to then undergo steps of action to achieve these objectives. Thus, many Hollywood films exhibited cliques about finding love, therefore, the goal of many characters in the films being winning the love of a man or a woman in the story.

In regards to stylistic elements montage sequencing was a major part of ‘Classical Hollywood’ film style as it offered narrational value to cinema. It accompanied every line of dialogue that posed enigmas and would provide the mechanism for answering them. Thus, much of classical cinema used the montage sequence because it served as the basic constructional activity of a film through its contributions of shot and scene. “In the beginning of the motion picture, we don’t know anything. During the course of the story, information is accumulated, until at the end we know everything”.

Continuity editing also known as invisible editing was also a big part of the ‘Dream Factory’. Stylistic element began to evolve and the changes in the systems of causality, time, and space brought a new approach to filmmaking. An example of these new elements that quickly became essential in the construction of conveying narrative and space and time were, the cut-in, point-of view and eyeline structures, dialogue inter-titles etc. Bardwell, Stagier and Thompson highlight this by writing “Increasingly, the conception of quality in films came to be bound up with the term ‘continuity.’ ‘Continuity’ stood for the smoothly flowing narrative, with its technique constantly in the service of the causal chain, yet always effacing itself. Later, ‘continuity’ came specifically to refer to a set of guidelines for cutting shots together, but the original implications of the term lingered on. The ‘continuity system’ still connotes a set of goals and principles which underlie the entire classical filmmaking system.”

“Hollywood did not require its audience to possess a knowledge of its industrial process in order to enjoy or understand its products. All its Viewers were, however familiar with the stars whose public lives provided a glimpse into melodramatic world of the dream factory”. The Star System was a huge part of the studios ‘Dream Factory’ as actors were under contracts. However, producers, directors, writers, cinematographers, art directors, technicians, etc. where also under contracts meaning that all creative control was given to the studios. All casting was type casting and lead actors were groomed under the “Star System”. “To speak of stardom in Hollywood as a system is to draw attention to how American Film business has employed, and continues to employ, regular strategies for exploiting star performers in the production and consumption of film. Using the word “system” immediately invokes ideas of stardom as involving an organised interrelationship of elements or features.” The Star system was more concerned with camera presence than actual acting ability. Studios would use an actor like a blank canvas and change their name, appearance glamorising their image. Their new persona/look was then managed through the press. The stars’ new identity meant that they were expected by studios to do nothing privately to undermine their believability playing idealized protagonists. “The star system has therefore developed through the emergence of mechanisms for the production of popular identities.”

From my research, I concluded that I agree that the view that the studio system is a ‘Dream Factory’. Firstly because of how the studio system enabled the Big Five to have complete control on each film they distributed meaning they could depict what American society wanted to be and not what is was. Secondly by using certain stylistic components and filming in studio settings it was easier for the studios to create an almost fictional spin on reality and focus more on narrative making visual elements like camera work invisible. Finally, by the invention of ‘on-screen personalities ‘and depicting these characters to the public as real people. By doing this they were easily able to influence the audience because of the relationship they had with the ‘stars’. However big stars didn’t guarantee good cinema, they are mainly used because of the connection they have built with their studios established audience.

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