Examine the extent to which the Hollywood studio system nurtured or inhibited the artistry of film makers.
This essay will be analysing to what extent the studio system has helped or possibly hindered the artistic nature and idea of filmmakers. The studio system can be defined under the idea that the studio owns and controls all aspects of the film creation. The largest and most prominent studios at this time were Warner Brothers, Paramount and MGM, they had final say over all decisions to do with the film (Filmsite, 2010). The Studio system was at its most prominent in the 1950’s after having dominated the market from the 1920’s to the 1940’s, they made the final decision on all aspects of the film, and choose who they wanted to direct the film; this director would be given clear guidelines and rules to follow when creating the film.
During the 1950’s there started to emerge in Europe a belief that film should be more than just a story on the screen and that it was in fact an art form. This idea of the director taking control over the film to produce their own version, to show how they felt about the film carries into the theory of authorship. Authorship is when a creator of something puts their own stamp on what they are producing, from telling the story in a different way to shooting the film in a different style. The idea of authorship is seen in many texts over the centuries like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where Hamlet speaks to the audience and in Jane Eyre when the main character address’s the reader in the first person. This idea is related to filmmakers because a film adopts the idea of literacy theory.
During the 1950’s a group of film critics in France created a magazine called ‘Cahiers Du Cinema’, to celebrate the film maker within the system, and to champion the cause of authorship. (Versobooks, 2009) From this the idea of Auteurism was born, whereby the director was given the control of the film making process to create their vision for the film. This theory is born out of the idea that film is art, and not just about making money, as was the conception to be the goal of the studio system during this time. The resulting flow of privately created artistic films that were created in Europe in this period, was known under the title of “The French New Wave.” This gained more momentum due to the magazine set up by Banzin, Chabrol, Truffaut, Rohmer and Godard, due to the growing idea of film as art through the theory of Autuerism. (Suite101, 2008) The French new wave was about legitimising cinemas as an art form, they believed that the idea of authorship was about the notion of a creative person, you are responsible for what you create and it will show in your art. They wanted to make films that were different from what most studios allowed. Most studios just made films that were based on novels and stories.
A medium in which and by which an artist can express his thoughts, be they abstract or whatever, or in which he can communicate his obsessions as accurately as he can today in essay or novel
(Unattributed B, 2010: 1)
The French new wave believed that the director should be seen as a chief source of creativity, they believed that the idea the director comes up with has a huge impact on the film.
It could be argued, that the Hollywood studio system has always tried to nurture the artistry of film makers, because even though the idea of film makers being seen as the director emerged slowly, studios did begin to see that directors has specialities in certain genres, and allowed them to build on that genre. John Ford was best known for his westerns, and Alfred Hitchcock was best known for his horror and suspense stories, this idea grew and allowed directors to grow in their own right.
After the idea of the French new wave hit American it brought thought to studios, and they began to consider whether or not film should be seen as an art form. T.W. Griffiths film ‘Birth of a Nation,’ was one of the earliest films that made studios question film as an art. His film brought the beginning to the golden age of Hollywood cinema, it shows that filmmakers tend to use film to make a point about what is going on at the time.
Like Griffith many cinematic historians have examined stories from the past to suggest lessons concerning modern day controversies.
(Toplin, R B, 1940: 18)
The ideas that the Hollywood studios allowed the growth of creativity of film makers, is easy to see because, the auteur theory expresses the belief that a creative personality can surface through unpromising studio material, and in the end they make it their own. A film is seen as being unique because it does something only a film can do, it is an art form that can express a moment in time, and this idea is also called the holy moment.
The idea of the auteur theory began to emerge from this, and it expressed a belief that some Hollywood directors could shape their material to something that meant something to them.
It sought to establish individual creativity as the source of value in Hollywood
( Maltby, R, 2003: 46)
the idea of the film maker being creative soon followed, and studios began to develop, with each studio having specialities like directors, MGM was good at creating musicals like singing in the rain, Warner brothers was good at making gangster film.
One main person who believed that film makers like directors should be acknowledged more in a film is Alexandre Astruc, he was a film critic who was born in France and he argued that certain directors used the camera like a pen.
The images themselves add nuance and develop the narrative as much as the dialog does
(Unattributed C, 2010: 1)
Using this idea and looking at American directors, it could be argued that as well as film makers being seen as authors with a creative process, there is an artistic value that results from their ideas and thoughts, allowing them to creatively express their imagination.
The ideas of a film maker being creative, is all about whether they can create something amazing from not much that is given to them, and allowing themselves to work within the studio system.
Sometimes auteurism is identified within specific genres and is linked to specialisation; each director has reoccurring elements that is found in all films they make. Alfred Hitchcock is one of the directors who makes each of his films with similar elements, and whose name always comes up when talking about auteur theory. His films are suspense films that keep audiences on their seats. Hitchcock’s success didn’t come from the type of genre the film was in.
The skill which he exhibited in the filmmaking i.e. his treatment of the subject in terms of the shots he uses and how he combines them
(Unattributed D, 2010: 1)
However on the other hand it could also be argued that the Hollywood studio inhibited the artistry of film makers because, most film makers really only do what studios tell them, most work they do has to be checked by someone higher. The whole idea that Hollywood wanted to produce product not art is common because, under the studios rule the director is mainly a person hired to do what they want, he just puts the camera in the right place. Singing in the rain is a prime example of the way Hollywood saw its actors, directors etc, they were just hired.
The ideas of auteur theory being a celebration of a director’s freedom can’t be understood by everyone because, it isn’t just one person that works on a film it is a variety of people.
More than one person will work on a film, so what makes the director more worthy of praise than, say, the scriptwriter or the camera operators?
(Unattributed A, 2007: 1)
Whether a film maker is creative or not in their film making process, may not even matter due to the fact that everyone sees things differently, what the person feels is not always what the audience sees.
Due to the fact that films are made by studios, and the director isn’t always the dominant one, most try to go independent but lose because, equipment used to make and produce films was expensive and not widely available. The idea of the independent American auteur is rare however, they do exist and they try to create a film that is away from the control of the studio system.
Independent filmmaking consists of low-budget projects made by (mostly) young filmmakers with a strong personal vision away from the influence and pressures of the few major conglomerates that control tightly the American film industry
(Daisies, G, 2010: 1)
Independent film makers do work for studios as directors/ writers, and even actors for hire, just to make money to fund their project. Orson Welles is one of the film makers who pushed away from the studio system to make something he wanted. Welles embodies the concept of the tragic artist, he does everything an ideal film maker should do, he acts, writes, to raise money, but making his films he becomes a suffering artists. He wrote and starred in Citizen Kane which was about an investigation into the life of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane. Orson Welles did make many films after Citizen Kane, but his success in making independent films was very expensive and so he didn’t make many big budget films, after twenty years in the studio he made another independent film called chimes at midnight.
The fullest, most completely realized expression of everything [Welles] had been working toward since Citizen Kane.
(Unattributed E, 2010: 1)
No matter the financial problems at the end, Orson Welles remains the ideal film maker who fought against the studio systems control.
In conclusion it is hard to try to discover whether or not the Hollywood studio system nurtured or inhibited the artistry of film makers, no matter how much the directors/film makers are seen as creative, most of them all are contracted by the studios. Followers of the French New Wave movement argue that, the studio system does hinder a director, as they think that films should “be” art and should be a representation of the director’s views, and emotion towards the script. According to (Alfred Hitchcock: Auteur?, 2010) the idea behind the auteur director are done in terms of personal vision, the recurring themes, even a defined view of the world, and a degree of control over production,
In auteur films, it is the director who controls the artistic statement, takes credit for the film and is responsible for attracting the audience.
(Unattributed F, 2010: 1)
Alfred Hitchcock was a major example of seeing a director as a auteur, as his films follow the necessary needs taking up by the French new wave, they have reoccurring themes which are done by a personal vision of his and will even shock audiences. So looking at American directors it is common to see that each one has a creative way to express their imagination.
Studios throughout the 50’s and onwards always had some control over the films production, when a director is hired and given a clear set of rules and guidelines to follow, and is not given full control of all aspects of the film, (such as stars of the film, setting or style) then they cannot possibly make their mark on the film. This may well be the case that the Studio system does hinder a director, and stop him from being an “artist”, but maybe this is not what the public want from films. This can be seen in the current situation we have where, although previously widely thought to be a hindrance to directors and their artistry, the studio system period is now being heralded in the media and by the public as the golden age of cinema. The idea of authorship takes hold in the film industry after the 1950’s when film was seen as art not entertainment, however Hollywood had been in an era of a golden age, there reign caused many problem and in 1948 the US department of justice sued the major studios for anti competitive practices.
No longer could the film industry control (or monopolize) all aspects of film production, distribution and exhibition
(Kliedie, 2007: 1)
It seems that regardless of whether or not the studio system affects the artistry of filmmakers, it is now becoming more popular again, and some of the films from this period that are used to stereotype the studio system, are being heralded as classic films. So it would seem that despite films not being creative art and having complete authorship from the director, the mass public does not seem to mind watching studio system type films.