Film History: Rise of the Studio System – Timeline of Cinema Ep. 2

Hello everyone and welcome to our video series,
“A Timeline of World Cinema” I’m Bradley Weatherholt and I will be your
host on this journey through the history of film. In this episode we will discuss the rise of
the studio system. But, in order to understand the studio system we must first understand
what the studio system was a response to. In 1908 French mega studio, Pathe, had completely
controlled the international market. With a discontented ego, Thomas Edison sought
to combat this competition by establishing the Motion Pictures Patent Company, or simply
referred to as “The Trust.” “The Trust” aimed for complete control over
the industry. Emphasizing patent rights, “The Trust” standarized the price per foot and also
scheduled the release of films. As a way around “The Trust”, foreign studios
began to “roadshow” features across the nation. Noticing the attraction of these “roadshow”
foreign films, a new different type of producer began to arise. These producers where referred
to as the “Independents.” These independent producers, such as William
Fox, began to exhibit their films to much success. Of these independent producers none
rose more highly than Adolf Zukor. Adolf Zukor is likely the most influential
film producer of all time. With his studio, Paramount, he managed to do what Thomas Edison
and “The Trust” could not. He gained complete control over production, distribution, and
exhibition of films. Zukor’s success can be attributed to a few
factors. First, he fully took advantage of an industrialized factory system of production.
Also, Zukor was the first to appeal to Wall Street for financial backing. Attracting investors, the mogul had enough
capital to vertically integrate the business. Purchasing theaters and exhibition venues across
the nation. Zukor looked overseas for profits and with
political support of Will Hays and others he lobbied for open international markets. However, Zukor not only possessed a business
savvy he had a deep understanding of the public. Centering his promotion on his studio’s stars,
Zukor influenced the public to idolize the stars that were contractually obligated to
participate in his films. Zukors mastery of the business of film, his
political support, and his perfection of the Hollywood “Star System” ultimately explains
why he became one of the most defining figures in early cinema. Now it’s really difficult to overstate the
importance of theater ownership at this time. Massive, elaborate theaters found ways to
attract new cinema goers. Going to the movies very much became it’s
own social movement and the quality of the experience not only depended on the quality
of film, but the quality of the cinema. Looking to expand overseas, the independent
studios employed government official Will Hays to lobby and convince Washington to pressure foreign markets into opening up for the American cinema. Hays liked to explain America’s victory over
international markets by bringing up America’s multiculturalism and democratic message. This reasoning is at best questionable. The
real reason for American success could be explained by political and global factors
around the time. In the summer of 1914, three major events
happened. The Panama canal opens, Arch Duke Ferdinand was assassinated, and production
began on “The Birth of a Nation.” All three of these events explain America’s
rise to power. The opening of the Panama canal illustrates a reality of the time, America
was in perfect economic condition. With control over the world largest domestic
market and trade way, Hollywood employed all the modern methods of business to rule out
competition. Not having to spend money of tariffs or oversea
taxes, American production companies could focus all of their money on increasing production
value and making more competitive films. “The Birth of a Nation” is a perfect example of
this. And finally with the assassination of Arch Duke
Ferdinand, Europe entered World War I. A conflict that completely severed a unified European
film movement. Seizing this opportunity, Americans began
to establish production hubs in these European countries. Americans studios knew that the same “Star
System” that worked for American audiences would also work for European audiences. However,
some of these stars began to rebel. In 1919, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks,
Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith established United Artists. A studio with declared independence
from “The Independents.” The irony here is hard to miss. But despite the success of now classics like
“The Gold Rush” and “The Thief of Bagdad”, United Artists had to eventually comply with
the studio system since it could not keep up with the rate of production of the capital
rich studios. However, United Artists wasn’t the only opposition.
Overseas the opposition was even stronger. Like America, Germany saw the economic and
political potential of this new entertainment. However, German opposition was cut short when
major German studio, UFA, went bankrupt. Ironically it was the Americans who bailed them out. Most countries defended against what they
saw as a rise in American imperialism. Perhaps the most vocal of this opposition came from
the USSR. The Soviets would release a knock-off, cheap
version of an American movie, perhaps with the same title or similar title, a day or
a week before the American movie came out to detract audiences from going to the American
film. More than just economic competitors, the Soviets
sought to define their own style of cinema against the American way. The Russian acting theorist, Constantin Stanislavski,
formulated the influential method, where actors internalize their performances. Focusing on
motivations and objectives. On the editing front, the Soviets developed
the theory of montage. In a series of famous experiments, Lev Kuleshov, illustrated that
the meaning of a montage sequence is not determined by the content of the montage elements, but
by their juxtaposition. Here to put this in simpler terms is Alfred
Hitchcock. “We have a close up, then we show what he
sees. Let’s assume he saw a woman, holding a baby in her arms. Now we cut back to his reaction of what he
sees, and he smiles. Now what is he as a character? He’s a kindly man, he’s sympathetic. Now let’s take the middle piece of film away,
the woman with the child, but leave his two pieces of film as they were. Now we’ll put in a piece of film of a girl
in a bikini. He looks, a girl in a bikini, he smiles. What
is he now? A dirty old man!” To get a firm understanding of Russian filmmaking
at this time, it’s best to look at the quintessential Russian film, Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battleship
Potemkin.” Directed by Sergei Eisenstein, “Battleship
Potemkin” is regarded as one of the best films of all time. The film dramatizes the crew
from the “Battleship Potemkin” and its rebellion against the Czarist officers. The film demonizes the Czarist regime and
glorifies the plight of pre-Soviet Bolsheviks. In the famous Odessa steps sequence, Eisenstein
employes every experiment of montage theory to render an emotional response from the viewer. Violent by even today’s standard, the sequence
highlights the massacre of the Bolsheviks under the hands of the oppressive Czarist
soldiers. The film’s powerful effect caused the Nazi
propagandist, Joseph Goebbels, to endorse the film. Stating it was, and I quote, “A
marvelous film without equal. Anyone with no firm political convention could become
a Bolshevik after seeing the film.” The film not only influenced political leaders
and propagandists, it influenced the work of famous filmmakers, such as Terry Gilliam
in “Brazil”, Coppola in “The Godfather”, and De Palma in “The Untouchables.” Because of its influence on the history of
film and the entire 20th century, “Battleship Potemkin” is easily one of the best films
ever made. Although highly regarded, the Russian theory
of montage was more admired than it was imitated. The only true system that was emulated around
the world was the Hollywood “Classical System.” Through Hollywood’s easy to mimic and comprehensive
editing style, as well as its exploitation of the “Star System,” the American studio
system rose to complete power. Ushering into what we now call, The Golden Age of Hollywood, but more on this in the next episode.


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