The Hollywood Oligarchy
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.
"Scriptors" Vs. "Authors"
Alexandre Astruc- "The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: The Camera Stylo"; Roland Barthes- "The Death of the Author"; Thomas Schatz- "The Whole Equation of Pictures"
You often hear older generations relative to you reminisce about the older days. For me it was all about the days when you were cool if you had a Walkman, bell bottoms were in, or television was still in black and white. But I hadn’t thought much about the time of TV’s conception. I, of course, knew of the time when cinema and of the days when a television, or even a radio was rare, but I’d never thought of the transition between the two eras. I was unaware that the decline of the movie industry provided an avenue for television’s birth. The logistics involved in the change from production of movies to television for production companies, or even directors and writers. These are the same writers and directors that were amidst dissolution when discussing the avant-garde phase of cinema. The two genres seem to contradict each other. How can a group come about that merges the scriptwriter and the director in one be creating a new generation of directors if the movie business is in a decline, changing the genius system to include television?
But a director must change with the times lest he be left behind, so it made me realize why a lot of contemporary directors are exclusively television or film. But a comment Astruc made pondering “how [one can] possibly distinguish between the man who conceives the work and the one who writes it” made me think of Roland Barthes thoughts on “the death of the author.” Barthes says that the “modern scriptor is born simultaneously with the text,” but the author…is always conceived of as the past of his own book.” But if this is true, the avant-garde of directors with their works vivid as novels are not the geniuses we think they are. Barthes says that writing is “where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing.” It could be that the act of filming and the style and personality involved is where the “identity” is found in film.
But if we liken a director’s vision to a novel then the implications of being the “author” of a film should apply. In this way, we must look at the reader, or viewer as it applies to film. Barthes explains that “a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader, not, as was hitherto said, the author.” So with this focus should we instead when critiquing a film focus on the audience it was geared towards? Are we limiting a film by focusing on the director? Barthes states that “to give a text an author is to impose a limit to the text.” So should we focus on the director is film and literature indeed separate?
- Christian Smith