The Classical Hollywood Cinema era took place after the silent cinema era. This was roughly between the late 1920s and 1960s. The start of this “Golden Age of Hollywood,” began with the film, The Jazz Singer, which was released in 1927. It was the first movie to have used synchronized voices as a Vitaphone talkie. This was how they brought sound into the films. Unfortunately, the vitaphone ended up putting the silent film actors out of work, eventually putting an end to the silent cinema era.
After The Jazz Singer was released, box-office sales increased due to the introduction of sound, presenting a new feature to the cinematic experience that would forever pervade the art of moviemaking. The classical Hollywood cinema era was kindled by the period in which codes of cinematic storytelling were established. This was when the studio system was created. The studio system entailed the production, editing, and the distribution of films. It is the practice of large motion picture studios that produce Hollywood movies.
Hollywood filmmakers produce movies mostly through their own directing, utilizing the work of many long-term employees (such as: actors, producers, directors, writers, stuntmen, craftspersons, and technicians) that often are held under long-term contracts. The studio system can also pursue vertical integration through ownership, effective control of film distributors, and contracting with movie theaters. This way it will guarantee additional sales of films in post-production by manipulating different booking techniques.
The Motion Picture Association of America group (also known as the MPDDA), was established in 1930, although it was not enforced until 1934. It was one of the major preoccupations of filmmaking that took place during the classical Hollywood era. The MPDDA was a code that pursued censorship guidelines after government threats. For example, in the book, An Introduction in Film Studies the production code stated that “When there was a depiction of crime, producers were not allowed to include scenes on how to commit a crime, inspire the audience to imitate the crime, or make criminals seem heroic or justified” (Nelmes p 43-44).
Other things that were not seen as ethical in the production code were things such as bad language, interracial couples, sexual dancing, etc. If films did not attain approval from the Production Code Administration, they had to pay a fine of$250,000 and were not able to receive any profit in the theaters. This was due to the fact that the MPDDA controlled all of the theaters in the country through the major film studios. Some of the most popular genres that evolved during the peak of the classical Hollywood era were: westerns, gangster films, musicals, screwball comedies, and melodramas, among others.
Westerns are one of the oldest genres of film. In these films, generally, you would see the cowboy-hero, the comparatively civilized rancher or lawman, the prostitute with the heart of gold, the settler wife, the sheriff (good or bad), a cultivated Easterner, and a Native American (Altman 34). For example, in The Searchers, directed by John Ford (1956), the plot depicts a classic western storyline of a Cowboy and an Indian. A Civil War veteran returns to Texas in hopes of finding a home for his family. He then undergoes a year-long journey in hopes of finding, or possibly avenging the death of, his niece that was kidnapped by the Indians.
Westerns are popular because audiences can identify with the desire to have a dangerous-but-secure lifestyle like the characters do in Western films. Audiences can relate to the good and evil forces of the world, and the western is one of the most effective genres at creating this juxtaposition and the plots that ensue. Audiences are also captivated by the central conflict between civilization and savagery, and because of this ability to identify with the genre; the western set itself as an everlasting genre. The gangster genre became popular around the 1930s.
These films would consist of sound capacities such as loud machine gun fires, screeching of the tires, sharp streets that electrified the screen, and mass amounts of cash and street smarts (or lack thereof). According to the historian Robert Warshow, the formula for all gangster films typically involves, “…a poor immigrant so desperate for the American dream–money, position, flashy clothes and cars–that he falls prey to a life of crime. His rise is feverish and his downfall complete, usually culminating in a spectacularly violent death” (para 5).
The climactic endings within gangster films were necessary, in part, by censorship’s demands for compensating moral values. Filmmakers were not able to glorify crimes, and they had to make sure that it did not play in the final analysis, and as a result, the moral protagonist usually comes out on top. During the 1930s, cultural anxieties continued to increase over the “ghettoization” of major urban cities across America. Public attention was focused on individuals’ fight to access financial security, and in gangster films, this was often through new forms of illegal imports.
These factors ensured the success of the gangster film genre, which was developed during this time period. Another genre that catapulted itself into the Hollywood Cinema was the musical. Musical genres usually tend to come off as unrealistic because they consist of song and dance routines that tell a story. Musicals became a favorite for the audiences, especially during the Depression era. It became a way to cope with poverty, and through the happiness and jubilation that Musical’s seem to produce, they became a huge hit. The films in this era celebrated spontaneity in terms of trying to imitate the experience of a live performance.
According to Rick Altman, musicals gave the impression of sudden liberation and celebration (p. 32-33). That is why people claimed that musicals were the most escapist-yet-intoxicating of the classical Hollywood genres. Another genre of film that boomed during the classical Hollywood era was screwball comedy. In these films, there was a form of wit, sarcasm, and repartee. Screwball comedy films brought romantic partners together from different social types, unlike the typical earlier romantic oriented comedies, which focused on fantasy, or the extremely wealthy.
They offered a chance to satirize and poke fun at the conventions of western culture. Like musicals, the screwball comedy genres were of reconciliation, emphasizing that conflict between classes could be resolved, even in romance. The melodrama genre is the last classical Hollywood genre that was popular throughout cinema. Rick Altman states that this genre of film was typically a form of popular romance, in which a character or couple struggled within a repressive social situation, such as nuclear family (p. 55).
Melodramas tend to focus more on a central emotional crisis, and the narrative places key social institutions, like love, family, and work under analysis. Many film melodramas deal with subtly progressive ideas about sexuality, race, aging and gender roles. The major film studios that were established throughout the classical Hollywood cinema time periods were MGM, Paramount, Warner Brothers, and RKO. Most Hollywood studios remained specific to certain genres and actors. In fact, when it came to producing films, one could usually guess which studio made which film.
For example, MGM produced big budget films and musical dramas such as Gone With the Wind, and actors like Humphrey Bogart and Greta Garbo. Paramount Studios produced comedies with actors such as Mae West, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope. Warner Brothers Studios created gritty social realism movies such as gangster films, war films, and western films, with actors like James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson and. RKO Studios produced screwball comedies like King Kong, Bringing up Baby, and Citizen Kane, and actors like Fred Astaire. Filmmakers developed formal techniques to make shooting scenes faster and easier during this era.
One of the methods they used was to shoot the scenes in whatever order that was the easiest and was the most economical time to shoot. They then edited the scenes to put them in chronological order to the end, so that the plot and storyline coincide in an understandable way. Another technique filmmakers developed was to shoot a scene with multiple angles, and with numerous takes. This gives the producer and editor more material to choose from while putting the scenes together and editing them. Once these techniques were developed, it made it easier for the filmmakers to keep doing it that way.
Although every studio during the classical period of Hollywood production performed slight variations on this continuity style, its basics were constant and used by everyone. There are basic components of style that developed during the classical Hollywood period. One of them is how the flow of the film is ultimately put together. In the Hollywood Cinema, a common element of style pervaded where small fragments of action were edited and unitized in such a way that you cannot notice the piecing together of the scenes; the scene appears to have a natural flow.
Another element of style that developed was how the sequences of film were intercut to appear as if they are during the same time but in different places to create a narrative tension. The result of these constructions is that the narrative proceeds in a straight trajectory through time. However, through the use of style, many directors put their own stamp on the continuity and timeline structure of the story. This is exemplified in Citizen Kane, where there are many jumps and turns in he temporal order of the story, allowing the viewer to realize that the story may actually represent a longer period of time than does the plot. In Citizen Kane, we know that the main character is represented from youth to old age, even though the movie has a run time of only about two hours. Altogether, though, the Classic Hollywood Cinema adapted a style of continuous temporal order. This continuity style is an incredible form because of its persistence, its invisibility, and because the audience is able to learn how to read it easily (Altman 128).
In the film, Casablanca, directed by Michael Curtiz, pretty much any scene can be used to demonstrate the seamless storyline techniques during the classical Hollywood time period. Today, classical Hollywood Cinema has remained as the dominant structure of all filmmaking sensibilities. It was the period genre, such as the western, the gangster film, the musical, the screwball comedy, and the melodrama. The classical Hollywood Cinema era is the centre to which all other discourses respond to and where most filmmaking has originated, and to this day, remains one of the most prevalent approaches moviemaking.
- Altman, Rick. 2000. Film/Genre. London: British Film Institute. Nelmes, Jill. 1996. An Introduction in Film Studies. London: Routledge.
- Neal, Stephen. 2000. Genre and Hollywood, London; New York: http://lib. myilibrary. com/Open. aspx? id=13909&loc=&srch=undefined&src=0. The Searchers, DVD, directed by John Ford (1956; Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2000).
- Casablanca, VHS, directed by Michael Curtiz (1942; Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2002). Warshow, Robert. 2009. “The Gangster Film vs. The Western. ” Accessed Dec 5. http://davidlavery. net/courses/Gangster/warshow. htm