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Robert Gomez
Robert Gomez

Movie Industry

The American film industry, often referred to as Hollywood (from the place name of its birth), is the industry leader in the form of artistic expression that came to dominate the twentieth century and continues as a popular art form at the beginning of the twenty-first century. While the Lumiere Brothers are generally credited with the birth of modern cinema, it is indisputably American cinema that quickly became the dominant force in the industry.

movie industry

In early 1910, director D.W. Griffith was sent by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company to the west coast with his acting troop consisting of actors Blanche Sweet, Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, and Lionel Barrymore, among others. They started filming on a vacant lot near Georgia Street in downtown Los Angeles. The company decided while there to explore new territories, traveling several miles north to a little village that was friendly and enjoyed the movie company filming there. This place was called "Hollywood." Griffith then filmed the first movie ever shot in Hollywood, In Old California (1910), a melodrama about California in the 1800s, while it was still part of Mexico. Biograph stayed there for months and made several films before returning to New York. After hearing about this wonderful place, in 1913 many movie-makers headed west to avoid the fees imposed by Thomas Edison, who owned patents on the movie-making process. In Los Angeles, California, the studios and Hollywood grew. Before World War I, movies were made in several U.S. cities, but filmmakers gravitated to southern California as the industry developed. They were attracted by the mild climate and reliable sunlight, which made it possible to film movies outdoors year-round, and by the varied scenery available there. Several starting points for American cinema can be distinguished, but it was Griffith's Birth of a Nation that pioneered the filmic vocabulary that still dominates celluloid to this day.

In the early 1900s, when the medium was new, many immigrants, particularly Jews, found employment in the U.S. film industry. Kept out of other occupations by religious prejudice, they were able to make their mark in a brand-new business: the exhibition of short films in storefront theaters called "nickelodeons," named after their admission price of a nickel. Within a few years, ambitious men like Samuel Goldwyn, Carl Laemmle, Adolph Zukor, Louis B. Mayer, and the Warner Brothers (Harry, Albert, Samuel, and Jack) had switched to the production side of the business. Soon they were the heads of a new kind of enterprise: the movie studio. (It is worth noting that the United States had at least one female director, producer, and studio head in these early years, Alice Guy Blaché.) They also set the stage for the industry's internationalism; the industry is often accused of Amero-centric provincialism, but simultaneously has employed a huge number of foreign-born talent: from Swedish actress Greta Garbo to Australian Nicole Kidman, from Hungarian director Michael Curtiz to Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón.

Many great works of cinema emerged from this period of highly regimented film making. One reason was 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 widely regarded as one of the greatest movies of all time, fits that description. In other cases, strong-willed directors like Howard Hawks (1896-1977) 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, Only Angels Have Wings, Ninotchka, and Midnight. Among the other films in the Golden Age period that remain classics to the present day: Casablanca, It's a Wonderful Life, the original King Kong, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The studio system and the Golden Age of Hollywood itself succumbed to two forces in the late 1940s: (1) a United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. federal antitrust action that separated the production of films from their exhibition; and (2) the advent of television. As a result of that antitrust act, actors and technical staff were gradually released from their contracts by movie studios. Now, each film made by a studio could have an entirely different cast and creative team, resulting in the gradual loss of all those "characteristics" which made MGM, Paramount, Universal, Columbia, RKO, and Twentieth-Century Fox films immediately identifiable. But certain movie people, such as Cecil B. DeMille, either remained contract artists until 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, and John Ford's later Westerns were frequently as good as his earlier ones. With the advent of television, the number of movies being made dropped sharply, even as the average budget soared, marking a change in strategy for the industry. Studios aimed to produce entertainment that could not be offered by television: Spectacular, larger-than-life productions. At the same time, other studios lost the rights to their theatrical film libraries to outside companies that sold them to television.

Though television broke the movie industry's hegemony in American entertainment, the rise of television would prove advantageous, in its way, to the movies. Public opinion about the quality of television content soon declined, and by contrast, cinema's status began to be regarded more and more as a serious art form worthy of respect and study as a fine art. This was complemented with the Supreme Court's reversal of its earlier position and decision that motion pictures were, in fact, an art form entitled to the protection of the First amendment.

"The New Hollywood" and "post-classical cinema" are terms used to describe the period following the decline of the studio system in the '50s and '60s and the end of the production code. It is defined by a greater tendency to dramatize such things as sexuality and violence, and by the rising importance of the blockbuster movie.

The drive to produce spectacle on the movie screen has largely shaped American cinema since the breakdown of the studio system. Spectacular epics which took advantage of new widescreen processes were increasingly popular from the 1950s onwards. Since then, American films have become increasingly divided into two categories: blockbusters and independent films. Studios rely 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 under-perform in a year.

A major change to American filmmaking occurred during the 1970s when a new breed of young directors who had degrees from film schools and who had absorbed the techniques developed in Europe in the 1960s emerged. Directors like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Brian de Palma, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg produced films that paid homage to the history of film, further developing existing genres and techniques. Their movies were often both critically acclaimed and successful at the box office. Coppola, Spielberg, and Lucas in particular are credited with shaping the blockbuster model in its current form, with the colossal successes of The Godfather, Jaws, and Star Wars, respectively. These movies, which each set the all-time box office record during their releases, induced studios to focus even more heavily than before on trying to produce popular hits.

Studios supplement the blockbusters with independent productions, made with small budgets and often independently of the studio corporation. Movies made in this manner typically emphasize a high professional quality 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 filmmakers, including Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith, and Quentin Tarantino made movies like, respectively, Do the Right Thing, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Clerks, and Pulp Fiction. These films were innovative and often irreverent, playing with and contradicting the conventions of Hollywood. 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 capitalized on this trend by developing subsidiaries to produce similar films; such as 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. 041b061a72


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