Schatz’s “Genius of the System” introduction illuminates the inner workings of the golden age of the Hollywood studio. He stands somewhere in between contempt for the lack of creative license allowed to those making the films, and admiration for the efficiency and organizational management exhibited by the studios. Schatz frames Hollywood from the 20’s through the 50’s as a delicate capital allocation machine, with the studious almost entirely vertically integrated from pre-production through distribution. He at once lionizes great men like Louis Mayer and Irving Thalberg for their massive control over a huge industry, and criticizes its commercialization of art.
Fitzgerald noted in his last work talking about old Hollywood that, “It can be understood too, but only dimly and in flashes. Not a half dozen men have been able to keep the whole equation of pictures in their heads.” I couldn’t help but read this and channel the current Anti-Wall Street rhetoric. Instead of revering the efficiency of distribution and operational excellence that allowed for the mass distribution of entertainment, Fitzgerald merely chides the supposed oligarchy and smoke and mirrors approach to governance. Clearly, there were people who appreciated the “genius of the system”, as Andre Bazin noted in 1957. Neither attitude is necessarily completely defensible.
Ultimately, what was most interesting to me was the description of the power wielded by the studio heads, and the delicate balance struck between principals and agents all the way up and down the organization. This is noteworthy because in modern Hollywood, it seems as though the lead actors and actresses command a much more significant role. However, that could be what the modern studio heads want, as the same oligarchic setup may very well dominate the production and distribution channels.