HOLLYWOOD: A HISTORY OF CINEMA IN THE UNITED STATES
By Josh Osman
Though cinema itself didn’t originate from the United States, it cannot be ignored that it has the largest film industry on the planet in the modern day. Most of the films we know and love, whether those be Marvel films, Star Wars films or the Bridget Jones films, come from an American studio. The film industry in America has boomed since Hollywood’s boom at the beginning of the 20th century.
Strangely enough, the area of Hollywood, after being established in 1853, had become a thriving agricultural community by 1870. By 1900, it had become a small town, with a population of 500, a hotel, two markets and a street car line into town. In 1902, part of the famous ‘Hollywood Hotel’ had been finished and a new trolley car system, called the ‘Hollywood Boulevard’ had been brought in by 1904. It was around this time when Hollywood started to become an important place for the American Film Industry.
At the same time, around the early 1900s, filmmakers had to flee to Southern California from New Jersey in order to avoid Thomas Edison’s unfair rules on them. The area was convenient, as it was far enough from New Jersey, that they could flee once more as soon as they got notice if Edison were to send agents to stop the filmmakers, considering that he owned many of the filmmaking patents.
One of the most notable first people to flee was the director, D.W. Griffith. He filmed the first movie ever shot in Hollywood; In Old California, which was a melodrama set in 19th century California, when it belonged to Mexico. It was Griffith’s success that encouraged many other filmmakers to move to Hollywood; in 1913, many followed in his footsteps and fled to Hollywood to escape from Edison, in fear that they may have been ruined by a lawsuit.
After the First World War, Hollywood grew as many immigrants from Europe began to move over to North America, such as Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang (two renowned filmmakers of the time), Marlene Dietrich and Charles Boyer (two famous actors of the time). Film began to grow significantly from this point onwards, with sound becoming prevalent in films from the late 1920s onwards, and the rise of the studio system around the same time.
The studio system refers to film distribution by a few major ‘studios’, with each studio keeping thousands of employees with different job descriptions: actors, writers, directors, technicians, etc. As a result of being almost autonomous, each studio would be able to earn masses of revenue, even furthered by the fact that each of the major studios owned multiple cinemas.
During the rise of the studio system, in the 1930s, cinema went through what is referred to as ‘The Golden Age’, which lasted until around the late 1940s, when many of the films now regarded as ultimate classics were released. The reason for this could very possibly be that studios were releasing so many films, that they did not have to rely on every film to be a big hit, so they could take risks, using a good script, a smaller budget and somewhat unknown actors and still have the chance of creating a fantastic movie. Examples of the more famous movies released during this era are Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane and It’s a Wonderful Life.
The end of the ‘Golden Age’ came in the late 1940s, with the rise of television and the release of fewer films, though with larger budgets. The next major movement came through the ‘post-classical’ era, from the late 1960s onwards, where a new approach to storytelling in film was taken: the more complex stories, confusing chronologies and more common twists, to name a few changes. Psycho, an Alfred Hitchcock classic, is the best and most famous example of this.
As part of the post-classical era, the ‘New Hollywood’ arose, where the new wave of young directors began to arise and create films inspired by European techniques from the 1960s. Films that were critically acclaimed from this era include Jaws, The Godfather and Star Wars.
Since then, development has been gradual, with the rise of home video in the 80s and 90s allowing films that did not perform well at the box office to do better through another release, such as The Shawshank Redemption, and the rise of modern cinema, due to the use of better and more technologically advanced special effects, with James Cameron’s Avatar being a fantastic signal of this. At this rate, it’s impossible to tell how the film industry could evolve even more, with the inevitable advancements of film technology being greatly unpredictable.