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The cinema of the United States, also known as Hollywood, has had a profound effect on cinema across the world since the early 20th century. Its history is sometimes separated into four main periods: the silent film era, classical Hollywood cinema, New Hollywood, and the contemporary period. While the Lumiere Brothers are generally credited with the birth of modern cinema, it is undisputably American cinema that soon became the most dominant force in an emerging industry. Since the 1920s, the American film industry has grossed more money every year than that of any other country.
In 1878, Eadweard Muybridge demonstrated the power of photography to capture motion. In 1894, the world's first commercial motion picture exhibition was given in New York City, using Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope. The United States was in the forefront of sound film development in the following decades. Since the early 20th century, the U.S. film industry has largely been based in and around Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. Picture City, FL was also a planned site for a movie picture production center in the 1920s, but due to the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane, the idea collapsed and Picture City returned to its original name of Hobe Sound. Director D. W. Griffith was central to the development of film grammar. Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941) is frequently cited in critics' polls as the greatest film of all time. American screen actors like John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe have become iconic figures, while producer/entrepreneur Walt Disney was a leader in both animated film and movie merchandising. The major film studios of Hollywood are the primary source of the most commercially successful movies in the world, such as Gone with the Wind (1939), Star Wars (1977), Titanic (1997), and Avatar (2009). Today, American film studios collectively generate several hundred movies every year, making the United States the third most prolific producer of films in the world.
The second recorded instance of photographs capturing and reproducing motion was a series of photographs of a running horse by Eadweard Muybridge, which he captured in Palo Alto, California, using a set of still cameras placed in a row. Muybridge's accomplishment led inventors everywhere to attempt to make similar devices that would capture such motion. In the United States, Thomas Edison was among the first to produce such a device, the kinetoscope, whose heavy-handed patent enforcement caused early filmmakers to look for alternatives.
In the earliest days of the American film industry, New York played a role. The Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, built during the silent film era, was used by the Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields. Chelsea, Manhattan was also frequently used. Mary Pickford, an Academy Award winning actress, shot some of her early films in this area. Other major centers of film production also included Chicago, Florida, California, and Cuba.
The film patents wars of the early 20th century led to the spread of film companies across the U.S. Many worked with equipment for which they did not own the rights, and thus filming in New York could be dangerous; it was close to Edison's Company headquarters, and to agents the company set out to seize cameras. By 1912, most major film companies had set up production facilities in Southern California near or in Los Angeles because of the location's proximity to Mexico, as well as the region's favorable year-round weather.
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In early 1910, director D.W. Griffith was sent by the Biograph Company to the west coast with his acting troupe, consisting of actors Blanche Sweet, Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore, and others. They started filming on a vacant lot near Georgia Street in downtown Los Angeles. While there, the company decided to explore new territories, traveling several miles north to Hollywood, a little village that was friendly and enjoyed the movie company filming there. Griffith then filmed the first movie ever shot in Hollywood, In Old California, a Biograph melodrama about California in the 19th century, when it belonged to Mexico. Biograph stayed there for months and made several films before returning to New York. After hearing about Biograph's success in Hollywood, in 1913 many movie-makers headed west to avoid the fees imposed by Thomas Edison, who owned patents on the movie-making process. In Los Angeles, California, the studios and Hollywood grew. Before World War I, movies were made in several U.S. cities, but filmmakers gravitated to southern California as the industry developed. They were attracted by the mild climate and reliable sunlight, which made it possible to film movies outdoors year-round, and by the varied scenery that was available. There are several starting points for cinema (particularly American cinema), but it was Griffith's controversial 1915 epic Birth of a Nation that pioneered the worldwide filming vocabulary that still dominates celluloid to this day.
In the early 20th century, when the medium was new, many Jewish immigrants found employment in the U.S. film industry. They were able to make their mark in a brand-new business: the exhibition of short films in storefront theaters called nickelodeons, after their admission price of a nickel (five cents). Within a few years, ambitious men like Samuel Goldwyn, William Fox, Carl Laemmle, Adolph Zukor, Louis B. Mayer, and the Warner Brothers (Harry, Albert, Samuel, and Jack) had switched to the production side of the business. Soon they were the heads of a new kind of enterprise: the movie studio. (It is worth noting that the US had at least one female director, producer and studio head in these early years, Alice Guy-Blaché.) They also set the stage for the industry's internationalism; the industry is often accused of Amero-centric provincialism.
Other moviemakers arrived from Europe after World War I: directors like Ernst Lubitsch, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, and Jean Renoir; and actors like Rudolph Valentino, Marlene Dietrich, Ronald Colman, and Charles Boyer. They joined a homegrown supply of actors — lured west from the New York City stage after the introduction of sound films — to form one of the 20th century's most remarkable growth industries. At motion pictures' height of popularity in the mid-1940s, the studios were cranking out a total of about 400 movies a year, seen by an audience of 90 million Americans per week .
Sound also became widely used in Hollywood in the late 1920s . After The Jazz Singer, the first film with synchronized voices, was successfully released as a Vitaphone talkie in 1927, Hollywood film companies would respond to Warner Bros. and begin to use Vitaphone sound — which Warner Bros. owned until 1928 - in future films. By May 1928, Electrical Research Product Incorporated (ERPI), a subsidiary of the Western Electric company, gained a monopoly over film sound distribution . A side effect of the "talkies" was that many actors who had made their careers in silent films suddenly found themselves out of work, as they often had bad voices or could not remember their lines. Meanwhile, in 1922, US politician Will H. Hays left politics and formed the movie studio boss organization known as the Motion Pictures Distributors Association of America (MPDAA) . The organization became the Motion Picture Association of America after Hays retired in 1945.
In the early times of talkies, American studios found that their sound productions were rejected in foreign-language markets and even among speakers of other dialects of English. The synchronization technology was still too primitive for dubbing. One of the solutions was creating parallel foreign-language versions of Hollywood films. Around 1930, the American companies opened a studio in Joinville-le-Pont, France, where the same sets and wardrobe and even mass scenes were used for different time-sharing crews. Also, foreign unemployed actors, playwrights and winners of photogenia contests were chosen and brought to Hollywood, where they shot parallel versions of the English-language films. These parallel versions had a lower budget, were shot at night and were directed by second-line American directors who did not speak the foreign language. The Spanish-language crews included people like Luis Buñuel, Enrique Jardiel Poncela, Xavier Cugat and Edgar Neville. The productions were not very successful in their intended markets, due to the following reasons:
In spite of this, some productions like the Spanish version of Dracula compare favorably with the original. By the mid-1930s, synchronization had advanced enough for dubbing to become usual.
During the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood, which lasted from the end of the silent era in American cinema in the late 1920s to the early 1960s, thousands of movies were issued from the Hollywood studios. The start of the Golden Age was arguably when The Jazz Singer was released in 1927, ending the silent era and increasing box-office profits for films as sound was introduced to feature films. Most Hollywood pictures adhered closely to a formula - Western, slapstick comedy, musical, animated cartoon, biopic (biographical picture) - and the same creative teams often worked on films made by the same studio. For example, Cedric Gibbons and Herbert Stothart always worked on MGM films, Alfred Newman worked at 20th Century Fox for twenty years, Cecil B. De Mille's films were almost all made at Paramount, and director Henry King's films were mostly made for 20th Century Fox.
At the same time, one could usually guess which studio made which film, largely because of the actors who appeared in it; MGM, for example, claimed it had contracted "more stars than there are in heaven." Each studio had its own style and characteristic touches which made it possible to know this — a trait that does not exist today. For example, To Have and Have Not (1944) is famous not only for the first pairing of actors Humphrey Bogart (1899–1957) and Lauren Bacall (1924–) but also for being written by two future winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature: Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), the author of the novel on which the script was nominally based, and William Faulkner (1897–1962), who worked on the screen adaptation.
After The Jazz Singer was released in 1927, Warner Bros. gained huge success and were able to acquire their own string of movie theaters, after purchasing Stanley Theaters and First National Productions in 1928. MGM had also owned the Loews string of theaters since forming in 1924, and the Fox Film Corporation owned the Fox Theatre strings as well. Also, RKO (a 1928 merger between Keith-Orpheum Theaters and the Radio Corporation of America) responded to the Western Electric/ERPI monopoly over sound in films, and developed their own method, known as Photophone, to put sound in films . Paramount, which already acquired Balaban and Katz in 1926, would answer to the success of Warner Bros. and RKO, and buy a number of theaters in the late 1920s as well, and would hold a monopoly on theaters in Detroit, Michigan. By the 1930s, all of America's theaters were owned by the Big Five studios - MGM, Paramount Pictures, RKO, Warner Bros., and 20th Century Fox. .
Movie-making was still a business however, and motion picture companies made money by operating under the studio system. The major studios kept thousands of people on salary — actors, producers, directors, writers, stunt men, craftspersons, and technicians. They owned or leased Movie Ranches in rural Southern California for location shooting of westerns and other large scale genre films. And they owned hundreds of theaters in cities and towns across the nation, theaters that showed their films and that were always in need of fresh material.
In 1930, MPDAA President Will Hays created the Hays (Production) Code, which followed censorship guidelines and went into effect after government threats of censorship expanded by 1930 . However, the code was never enforced until 1934, after the Catholic watchdog organization The Legion of Decency - appalled by some of the provocative films and lurid advertising of the era later classified Pre-Code Hollywood- threatened a boycott of motion pictures if it didn't go into effect . Those films that didn't obtain a seal of approval from the Production Code Administration had to pay a $25,000.00 fine and could not profit in the theaters, as the MPDAA owned every theater in the country through the Big Five studios .
Throughout the 1930s, as well as most of the golden age, MGM dominated the film screen and had the top stars in Hollywood, and was also credited for creating the Hollywood star system altogether . Some MGM stars included "King of Hollywood" Clark Gable, Lionel Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Jeanette MacDonald and husband Gene Raymond, Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, and Gene Kelly . But MGM did not stand alone. Another great achievement of US cinema during this era came through Walt Disney's animation company. In 1937, Disney created the most successful film of its time, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs . This distinction was promptly topped in 1939 when Selznick International created what is still, when adjusted for inflation, the most successful film of all time, Gone with the Wind .
Many film historians have remarked upon the many great works of cinema that emerged from this period of highly regimented film-making. One reason this was possible is that, with so many movies being made, not every one had to be a big hit. A studio could gamble on a medium-budget feature with a good script and relatively unknown actors: Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles (1915–1985) and often regarded as the greatest film of all time, fits that description. In other cases, strong-willed directors like Howard Hawks (1896–1977), Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980) and Frank Capra (1897–1991) battled the studios in order to achieve their artistic visions. The apogee of the studio system may have been the year 1939, which saw the release of such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights, Only Angels Have Wings, Ninotchka, and Midnight. Among the other films from the Golden Age period that are now considered to be classics: Casablanca, It's a Wonderful Life, It Happened One Night, the original King Kong, Mutiny on the Bounty, Top Hat, City Lights, Red River, The Lady from Shanghai, Rear Window, Some Like It Hot and The Manchurian Candidate.
The studio system and the Golden Age of Hollywood succumbed to two forces that developed in the late 1940s:
In 1938, Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released during a run of lackluster films from the major studios, and quickly became the highest-grossing film released to that point. Embarrassingly for the studios, it was an independently produced animated film that did not feature any studio-employed stars. This stoked already widespread frustration at the practice of block-booking, in which studios would only sell an entire year's schedule of films at a time to theaters and use the lock-in to cover for releases of mediocre quality. Assistant Attorney General Thurman Arnold—a noted "trust buster" of the Roosevelt administration — took this opportunity to initiate proceedings against the eight largest Hollywood studios in July 1938 for violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The federal suit resulted in five of the eight studios (the "Big Five": Warner Bros., MGM, Fox, RKO and Paramount) reaching a compromise with Arnold in October 1940 and signing a consent decree agreeing to, within three years:
The "Little Three" (Universal Studios, United Artists, and Columbia Pictures), who did not own any theaters, refused to participate in the consent decree. A number of independent film producers were also unhappy with the compromise and formed a union known as the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers and sued Paramount for the monopoly they still had over the Detroit Theaters — as Paramount was also gaining dominance through actors like Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake, Betty Hutton, crooner Bing Crosby, Alan Ladd, and longtime actor for studio Gary Cooper too- by 1942. The Big Five studios didn't meet the requirements of the Consent of Decree during WWII, without major consequence, but after the war ended they joined Paramount as defendants in the Hollywood anti-trust case, as did the Little Three studios . The Supreme Court eventually ruled that the major studios ownership of theaters and film distribution was a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. As a result, the studios began to release actors and technical staff from their contracts with the studios. This changed the paradigm of film making by the major Hollywood studios, as each could have an entirely different cast and creative team.
The decision resulted in the gradual loss of the characteristics which made MGM, Paramount, Universal, Columbia, RKO, and Fox films immediately identifiable. Certain movie people, such as Cecil B. DeMille, either remained contract artists till the end of their careers or used the same creative teams on their films, so that a DeMille film still looked like one whether it was made in 1932 or 1956. Also, the number of movies being produced annually dropped as the average budget soared, marking a major change in strategy for the industry. Studios now aimed to produce entertainment that could not be offered by television: spectacular, larger-than-life productions. Studios also began to sell portions of their theatrical film libraries to other companies to sell to television. By 1949, all major film studios had given up ownership of their theaters.
Television was also instrumental in the decline of Hollywood's Golden Age as it broke the movie industry's hegemony in American entertainment. Despite this, the film industry was also able to gain some leverage for future films as longtime government censorship faded in the 1950s. After the Paramount anti-trust case ended, Hollywood movie studios no longer owned theaters, and thus made it so foreign films could be released in American theaters without censorship. This was complemented with the 1952 Miracle Decision in the Joseph Burstyn Inc. v Wilson case, in which the Supreme Court of the United States reversed its earlier position, from 1915's Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio case, and stated that motion pictures were a form of art and were entitled to the protection of the First amendment; US laws could no longer censor films. By 1968, with film studios becoming increasingly defiant to its censorship function, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had replaced the Hays Code–which was now greatly violated after the government threat of censorship that justified the origin of the code had ended—with the film rating system.
Post-classical cinema is a term used to describe the changing methods of storytelling in the New Hollywood. It has been argued that new approaches to drama and characterization played upon audience expectations acquired in the classical period: chronology may be scrambled, storylines may feature "twist endings", and lines between the antagonist and protagonist may be blurred. The roots of post-classical storytelling may be seen in film noir, in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and in Hitchcock's storyline-shattering Psycho.
'New Hollywood' is a term used to describe the emergence of a new generation of film school-trained directors who had absorbed the techniques developed in Europe in the 1960s; The 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde marked the beginning of American cinema rebounding as well, as a new generation of films would afterwards gain success at the box offices as well . Filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, and William Friedkin came to produce fare that paid homage to the history of film, and developed upon existing genres and techniques. In the early 1970s, their films were often both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. While the early New Hollywood films like Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider had been relatively low-budget affairs with amoral heroes and increased sexuality and violence, the enormous success enjoyed by Friedkin with The Exorcist, Spielberg with Jaws, Coppola with The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, Scorsese with Taxi Driver and Lucas with American Graffiti, and Star Wars, respectively helped to give rise to the modern "blockbuster", and induced studios to focus ever more heavily on trying to produce enormous hits.
The increasing indulgence of these young directors did not help. Often,[when?] they’d go overschedule, and overbudget, thus bankrupting themselves or the studio. The three most famous examples of this are Francis Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and One From The Heart and particularly Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, which single-handedly bankrupted United Artists. However, Coppola’s Apocalypse Now eventually made its money back and gained widespread recognition as a masterpiece.
The 1980s and 1990s saw another significant development. The full acceptance of home video by studios opened a vast new business to exploit. Films such as Showgirls, The Secret of NIMH and The Shawshank Redemption, which performed poorly in their theatrical run, were now able to find success in the video market. It also saw the first generation of film makers with access to video tapes emerge. Directors such as Quentin Tarantino and P.T. Anderson had been able to view thousands of films and produced films with vast numbers of references and connections to previous works. This, along with the explosion of independent film and ever-decreasing costs for filmmaking, changed the landscape of American movie-making once again, and led a renaissance of filmmaking among Hollywood's lower and middle-classes—those without access to studio financial resources. With the rise of the DVD in the 21st century, DVDs have quickly become even more profitable to studios and have led to an explosion of packaging extra scenes, extended versions, and commentary tracks with the films.
The drive to produce a spectacle on the movie screen has largely shaped American cinema ever since. Spectacular epics which took advantage of new widescreen processes had been increasingly popular from the 1950s onwards. Since then, American films have become increasingly divided into two categories: Blockbusters and independent films. Studios have focused on relying on a handful of extremely expensive releases every year in order to remain profitable. Such blockbusters emphasize spectacle, star power, and high production value, all of which entail an enormous budget. Blockbusters typically rely upon star power and massive advertising to attract a huge audience. A successful blockbuster will attract an audience large enough to offset production costs and reap considerable profits. Such productions carry a substantial risk of failure, and most studios release blockbusters that both over- and underperform in a year. Classic blockbusters from this period include E.T., Back to the Future, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, Wall Street, Rain Man, Pulp Fiction, Titanic, The Matrix, The Green Mile, The Sixth Sense, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Gangs of New York and The Bourne Identity.
Studios supplement these movies with independent productions, made with small budgets and often independently of the studio corporation. Movies made in this manner typically emphasize high professional quality in terms of acting, directing, screenwriting, and other elements associated with production, and also upon creativity and innovation. These movies usually rely upon critical praise or niche marketing to garner an audience. Because of an independent film's low budgets, a successful independent film can have a high profit-to-cost ratio, while a failure will incur minimal losses, allowing for studios to sponsor dozens of such productions in addition to their high-stakes releases.
American independent cinema was revitalized in the late 1980s and early 1990s when another new generation of moviemakers, including Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith, and Quentin Tarantino made movies like, respectively: Do the Right Thing; Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Clerks; and Reservoir Dogs. In terms of directing, screenwriting, editing, and other elements, these movies were innovative and often irreverent, playing with and contradicting the conventions of Hollywood movies. Furthermore, their considerable financial successes and crossover into popular culture reestablished the commercial viability of independent film. Since then, the independent film industry has become more clearly defined and more influential in American cinema. Many of the major studios have capitalised on this by developing subsidiaries to produce similar films; for example Fox Searchlight Pictures.
To a lesser degree in the early 21st century, film types that were previously considered to have only a minor presence in the mainstream movie market began to arise as more potent American box office draws. These include foreign-language films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero and documentary films such as Super Size Me, March of the Penguins, and Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11.
In the 1930s the Democrats and the Republicans saw money in Hollywood. President Franklin Roosevelt saw a huge partnership with Hollywood. He used the first real potential of Hollywood’s stars in a national campaign. Melvyn Douglas toured Washington in 1939 and met the key New Dealers. Endorsements letters from leading actors were signed, radio appearances and printed advertising were made. Movie stars were used to draw a large audience into the political view of the party. By the 1960s, John F. Kennedy was a new, young face for Washington, and his strong friendship with Frank Sinatra exemplified this new era of glamor. The last moguls of Hollywood were gone and younger, newer executives and producers began generating more liberal ideas.
Celebrities and money attracted politicians into the high-class, glittering Hollywood life-style. As Ronald Brownstein wrote in his book “The Power and the Glitter”, television in the 1970s and 1980s was an enormously important new media in politics and Hollywood helped in that media with actors making speeches on their political beliefs, like Jane Fonda against the Vietnam War. This era saw former actor Ronald Reagan became Governor of California and subsequently become President of the United States. It continued with Arnold Schwarzenegger as California’s Governor in 2003. Today Washington’s interest is in Hollywood donations. On February 20, 2007, for example, Barack Obama had a $2300-a-plate Hollywood gala, being hosted by David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg at the Beverly Hilton. Hollywood is a huge donator for presidential campaigns and this money attracts politicians. Not only is Hollywood influencing Washington with its glamour and money but Washington also influences Hollywood.
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||This section contains weasel words: vague phrasing that often accompanies biased or unverifiable information. Such statements should be clarified or removed. (May 2012)|
In 1912, American film companies were largely immersed in the competition for the domestic market. It was difficult to satisfy the huge demand for films created by the nickelodeon boom. Motion Picture Patents Company members such as Edison Studios, also sought to limit competition from French, Italian and other imported films. It was expected that a great deal of money was to be made in exporting films. Vitagraph Studios was the first American company to open its own distribution offices in Europe, establishing a branch in London in 1906, and a second branch in Paris shortly after. Other American companies were moving into foreign markets as well, and American distribution abroad continued to expand until the mid-1920s. Originally, a majority of companies sold their films indirectly; however, since they were inexperienced in overseas trading, they simply sold the foreign rights to their films to foreign distribution firms or export agents. Gradually, London became a center for the international circulation of U.S. films. Many British companies made a profit by acting as the agents for this business, and by doing so, they weakened British production by turning over a large share of the UK market to American films. By 1911, approximately 60 to 70 percent of films imported into Great Britain were American. The United States was also doing well in Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
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