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Article

Joshua Gleich

Over the past seventy years, the American film industry has transformed from mass-producing movies to producing a limited number of massive blockbuster movies on a global scale. Hollywood film studios have moved from independent companies to divisions of media conglomerates. Theatrical attendance for American audiences has plummeted since the mid-1940s; nonetheless, American films have never been more profitable. In 1945, American films could only be viewed in theaters; now they are available in myriad forms of home viewing. Throughout, Hollywood has continued to dominate global cinema, although film and now video production reaches Americans in many other forms, from home videos to educational films. Amid declining attendance, the Supreme Court in 1948 forced the major studios to sell off their theaters. Hollywood studios instead focused their power on distribution, limiting the supply of films and focusing on expensive productions to sell on an individual basis to theaters. Growing production costs and changing audiences caused wild fluctuations in profits, leading to an industry-wide recession in the late 1960s. The studios emerged under new corporate ownership and honed their blockbuster strategy, releasing “high concept” films widely on the heels of television marketing campaigns. New technologies such as cable and VCRs offered new windows for Hollywood movies beyond theatrical release, reducing the risks of blockbuster production. Deregulation through the 1980s and 1990s allowed for the “Big Six” media conglomerates to join film, theaters, networks, publishing, and other related media outlets under one corporate umbrella. This has expanded the scale and stability of Hollywood revenue while reducing the number and diversity of Hollywood films, as conglomerates focus on film franchises that can thrive on various digital media. Technological change has also lowered the cost of non-Hollywood films and thus encouraged a range of alternative forms of filmmaking, distribution, and exhibition.

Article

In American cinema from 1916 to 2000, two main archetypes emerge in portrayals of women seeking abortion: prima donnas and martyrs/victims. While the prima donna category faded over the course of the 20th century, study of abortion in American cinema from 2001 to 2016 shows that the victim archetype persists in many films. Women who have abortions are cast as victims in films across a variety of genres: Christian, thriller, horror, and historical. Some recent films, however, namely, Obvious Child (2014) and Grandma (2015), reject this hundred-year-old tendency to portray abortion as regrettable and tragic—especially for the women choosing it—and instead show it as a liberating experience that brings women together, breaking new ground for the depiction of abortion in American film.

Article

Marat Grinberg

There is an intricate, long, and rich history of Jewish presence in Hollywood, from executives to producers to directors to screenwriters to performers. It starts with the Jewish moguls who were at the helm of most major studios in the 1920s and 30s and tried to separate as much as possible from their Jewish heritage and past. This preponderance of Jews prompted an anti-Semitic response in the American entertainment scene which could hardly be ignored. The result was an overt timidity in the representation of Jews and Jewish topics on screen, with some Jewish actors perceived as “too Jewish” for the general taste. The changes in the perception of identity in the 1960s, marked by culture wars and the Civil Rights movement, on the one hand, and the flourishing of American Jewish literature and the pride many American Jews took in Israel’s triumph in the Six-Day War of 1967, on the other, enabled a much more open and unabashed embrace of Jewishness in Hollywood. Consequently, the late 1960s usher in the New Jewish Wave, when the issues of Jewish identity and experience start to dominate the screen and are defined by such auteurs as Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Sidney Lumet, and Paul Mazursky, and such actors as Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand, Richard Dreyfuss, Eliot Gould, George Seagal, and Woody Allen throughout the 1970s and 80s. The Jewish representation grows in the 1990s and 2010s with such directors as the Coen brothers, Darren Aronofsky, David Cronenberg, David Mamet, Jonathan Glazer, Stephen Spielberg, and the Safdie brothers.

Article

Hiroshi Kitamura and Keiko Sasagawa

Since the 1890s, Japanese movie-goers have engaged American cinema in a wide consumer marketplace shaped by intense media competition. Early fandom grew around educated urban audiences, who avidly patronized action-packed serials and Universal’s freshly imported films in the 1910s. During the 1920s and 1930s, U.S. cinema continued to attract metropolitan consumers but struggled in the face of Japan’s soaring narrative output. In the years following World War II, movie-goers encountered American films in big cities as well as provincial communities through the Occupation-backed Central Motion Picture Exchange. After the Occupation, U.S. film consumption began to slow down in theaters because of Japanese cinematic competition, but the sites of reception extended into television. The momentum of American cinema revived on the big screen with the rise of the blockbuster, though the years after the 1970s witnessed an intense segmentation of consumer taste. While U.S. cinema culture has become widely available via television, amusement parks, consumer merchandise, and the Internet, the contemporary era has seen renewed challenges mounted by domestic productions and alternative sources of popular entertainment.

Article

William Luhr

Film noir is a term coined by French critics in 1946 to describe what they considered an emerging and exciting trend in Hollywood films—one that signaled a new maturity in American cinema. The term translates into English as “black film,” and the darkness to which it refers applies both to the grim themes and events in many of these movies, as well as to their dark look. Many of them deal with doomed characters entangled in immoral and/or criminal activities that go horribly wrong. Such characters lose their psychological mooring and become increasingly desperate, and the depiction of that desperation can at times destabilize the traditional securities and aesthetic distance of the viewer from the events of the film. The cinematography of many of these movies often features images crisscrossed with ominous shadows and filled with dark, mysterious spaces. This article explores the origins of the genre in the 1940s, major influences upon it, its development and many transformations, its intersections with other genres, its place in Hollywood history as well as postwar American culture, its frequent bouts with industry censorship, reasons for the difficulties that critics encounter with defining it, its ongoing popularity, and its extensive influence upon multiple media.

Article

Neal King, Rayanne Streeter, and Talitha Rose

Crime film and television has proliferated such influential variations as the Depression-era gangster film; the post–World War studies in corruption known as film noir; the pro-police procedural of that time; and then the violent rogue-cop stories that eventually became cop action in the 1980s, with such hits as television’s Miami Vice and cinema’s Die Hard. Mobster movies enjoyed a resurgence with the works and knockoffs of Scorcese (Goodfellas) and Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), resulting in such TV series as The Sopranos, and with a return to “blaxploitation” with the ’hood movies of the early 1990s. Recent developments include the neo-noir erotic thriller; the rise of the corrupt cop anti-hero, paralleled by the forensic procedural, often focused on baroque serial killers; and the near disappearance of black crime movies from cinema screens. Such developments may owe to shifts in relations between real policing, real crime, and citizens, but they may owe more directly to shifts in the movie/television industries that produce them. Such industry shifts include freewheeling depictions of social problems in early cinema; carefully controlled moralism over the 1930s established by such industrial regulators as the Production Code in Hollywood and the British Board of Film Censors; further repression of subversion as anti-Communism swept through Hollywood in the 1950s; then a return of repressed violence and cynicism in the 1970s as Hollywood regulation of depictions of crime broke down; and a huge spike in box office and ratings success in the 1980s, which resulted in the inclusion of more heroes who are not both white and male. The rise of the prime-time serial on television, enhanced by the introduction of time-shifting technologies of consumption, has allowed for more extended storytelling, usually marketed in terms of “realism,” enabling a sense of unresolved social problems and institutional inertia, for which shows like The Wire have been celebrated. The content of such storytelling, in Western film and television, tends to include white male heroes meeting goals (whether success as criminals or defeat of them as cops) through force of will and resort to violence. Such stories focus on individual attributes more than on social structure, following a longstanding pattern of Hollywood narrative. And they present crime as ubiquitous and both it and the policing of it as violent. The late 1980s increase in the depiction of women of all races and men of color as heroes did little to alter those patterns. And gender patterns persist, including the absence of solidarity among women and the absence of women from stories of political corruption or large-scale combat.

Article

Kathryn Cramer Brownell

Hollywood has always been political. Since its early days, it has intersected with national, state, and local politics. As a new entertainment industry attempting to gain a footing in a society of which it sat firmly on the outskirts, the Jewish industry leaders worked hard to advance the merits of their industry to a Christian political establishment. At the local and state level, film producers faced threats of censorship and potential regulation of more democratic spaces they provided for immigrants and working class patrons in theaters. As Hollywood gained economic and cultural influence, the political establishment took note, attempting to shape silver screen productions and deploy Hollywood’s publicity innovations for its own purposes. Over the course of the 20th century, industry leaders forged political connections with politicians from both parties to promote their economic interests, and politically motivated actors, directors, writers, and producers across the ideological spectrum used their entertainment skills to advance ideas and messages on and off the silver screen. At times this collaboration generated enthusiasm for its ability to bring new citizens into the electoral process. At other times, however, it created intense criticism and fears abounded that entertainment would undermine the democratic process with a focus on style over substance. As Hollywood personalities entered the political realm—for personal, professional, and political gain—the industry slowly reshaped American political life, bringing entertainment, glamor, and emotion to the political process and transforming how Americans communicate with their elected officials and, indeed, how they view their political leaders.

Article

From the dawn of cinema in 1895 to the coming of World War II, the representation of Asian immigrants on the American screen shifted from unwanted aliens to accepted, if exotic, citizens—in other words, from Asian immigrants to Asian Americans. Since World War II, American race relations have been defined mainly through the comparison of white and black experiences; however, in the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, white American fears about racial and cultural purity focused on Asian immigration. Although there was immigration from other Asian countries, at the time, the vast majority of Asian immigrants were arriving from China. In newspaper articles and popular fiction, writers exploited and extended Yellow Peril fears about Chinese immigration through tales of Chinese immorality and criminality. American filmmakers then capitalized on these familiar stories and repeated the stereotypes of the evil “Oriental villain” such as Dr. Fu Manchu and the benign “model minority” such as detective Charlie Chan. American culture more broadly, and American film more specifically, conflated different Asian peoples and cultures and represented Asian immigration, for the most part, through white American attitudes toward Chinese immigrants. In film, this resulted in Japanese and Korean American actors playing Chinese and Chinese American characters before the war, and Chinese and Korean American actors playing Japanese characters during and after the war. More notoriously, however, American films often cast white actors in Chinese roles, especially when those characters were more prominent in the narrative. This practice of “yellowface” contributed to the continuance of stereotyped representations of Chinese characters in film and exposed the systemic racism of a film industry that rarely allowed Asian Americans to represent themselves. With World War II, the Japanese replaced the Chinese as America’s Yellow Peril villain, and American race relations turned from the question of Asian immigration to that of African American civil rights.

Article

Monica S. Cyrino

Ancient Greece and Rome play starring roles as ideal sites for the iconic characters and plots that cinema and television use to depict the spectacle of the ancient world. The viewing audience is invited to experience the cinematic and televisual depiction of classical antiquity as it is deployed to accomplish a number of different objectives: the image of the ancient world on screen can be used to support contemporary political goals, to interrogate current social issues, or to engage in cultural debates about the modern world’s connection to the classical past. Since the ancient Greek and Roman worlds are frequently used as the visual and narrative backdrop for adventure and romance, the audience is often thrilled to view the luxury, decadence, and excess notoriously enjoyed by the uninhibited ancients. Viewers of films and television series about the ancient world remain engaged in a long and sometimes complex relationship with the representation of classical antiquity on screen, an engagement that has been well analyzed in the last few years by scholars and critics.

Article

The first forty years of cinema in the United States, from the development and commercialization of modern motion picture technology in the mid-1890s to the full blossoming of sound-era Hollywood during the early 1930s, represents one of the most consequential periods in the history of the medium. It was a time of tremendous artistic and economic transformation, including but not limited to the storied transition from silent motion pictures to “the talkies” in the late 1920s. Though the nomenclature of the silent era implies a relatively unified period in film history, the years before the transition to sound saw a succession of important changes in film artistry and its means of production, and film historians generally regard the epoch as divided into at least three separate and largely distinct temporalities. During the period of early cinema, which lasted about a decade from the medium’s emergence in the mid-1890s through the middle years of the new century’s first decade, motion pictures existed primarily as a novelty amusement presented in vaudeville theatres and carnival fairgrounds. Film historians Tom Gunning and André Gaudreault have famously defined the aesthetic of this period as a “cinema of attractions,” in which the technology of recording and reproducing the world, along with the new ways in which it could frame, orient, and manipulate time and space, marked the primary concerns of the medium’s artists and spectators. A transitional period followed from around 1907 to the later 1910s when changes in the distribution model for motion pictures enabled the development of purpose-built exhibition halls and led to a marked increase in demand for the entertainment. On a formal and artistic level, the period saw a rise in the prominence of the story film and widespread experimentation with new techniques of cinematography and editing, many of which would become foundational to later cinematic style. The era also witnessed the introduction and growing prominence of feature-length filmmaking over narrative shorts. The production side was marked by intensifying competition between the original American motion picture studios based in and around New York City, several of which attempted to cement their influence by forming an oligopolistic trust, and a number of upstart “independent” West Coast studios located around Los Angeles. Both the artistic and production trends of the transitional period came to a head during the classical era that followed, when the visual experimentation of the previous years consolidated into the “classical style” favored by the major studios, and the competition between East Coast and West Coast studios resolved definitively in favor of the latter. This was the era of Hollywood’s ascendance over domestic filmmaking in the United States and its growing influence over worldwide film markets, due in part to the decimation of the European film industry during World War I. After nearly a decade of dominance, the Hollywood studio system was so refined that the advent of marketable synchronized sound technology around 1927 produced relatively few upheavals among the coterie of top studios. Rather, the American film industry managed to reorient itself around the production of talking motion pictures so swiftly that silent film production in the United States had effectively ceased at any appreciable scale by 1929. Artistically, the early years of “the talkies” proved challenging, as filmmakers struggled with the imperfections of early recording technology and the limitations they imposed on filmmaking practice. But filmgoing remained popular in the United States even during the depths of the Great Depression, and by the early 1930s a combination of improved technology and artistic adaptation led to such a marked increase in quality that many film historians regard the period to be the beginning of Hollywood’s Golden Era. With a new voluntary production code put in place to respond to criticism of immorality in Hollywood fare, the American film industry was poised by the early 1930s to solidify its prominent position in American cultural life.

Article

Hollywood, and Disney in particular, played a key role in inter-American relations during the mid-20th century. Hollywood cinema became an important weapon of cultural diplomacy in the context of the Good Neighbor Policy and later during World War II, and it aligned itself with the main diplomatic guidelines issued by Washington. Cinema was widely disseminated throughout Latin America, which helped to consolidate the US message in the region. Thus the close ties between the Hollywood film industry and the State Department is made clear, which became particularly close with regard to Latin America thanks to the creation of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs during the conflict. In this context, the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs played a key role in creating a two-way street between Latin American culture and US audiences, as well as presenting the United States as an ally to trust.

Article

Carmen Miranda (b. 1909–d. 1955) was a Brazilian singer and actress who made her debut on the radio in the late 1920s and soon became one of the most popular voices in Brazil. She recorded close to 250 singles, many of which were major hits, starred in five films (four with the Cinédia studio and one with Sonofilms), and gave innumerous performances on the most elite stages of Rio de Janeiro, such as the Urca and Copacabana casinos. Her signature look was a stylized version of the typical Bahian woman’s outfit, known as the baiana, complete with an abundance of bracelets and necklaces, platform shoes, and a whimsical turban that served as a base for all kinds of adornments. In 1939, she was invited by the Broadway impresario Lee Shubert to perform in his musical review The Streets of Paris and moved to New York with her band Bando da Lua to bring authentic Brazilian music to North America. A success overnight, Miranda would then be invited to star in her first US film, Down Argentine Way (1940), with 20th Century Fox, and would be cast in thirteen subsequent films. Carmen Miranda’s iconic look was immediately recognizable and became prime material for imitations by both male and female impersonators in theater, film, and cartoon media. Her excessive femininity, imbued with style, exaggeration, and playful deception, and her inclusion in musicals governed by theatricality and artifice, made her a productive site for camp interpretations that have remained in vogue to this day.

Article

Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo (1922–2008), best known by her artistic name, Yma Sumac, startled the world with her unique voice, beauty, and exotic persona. The Peruvian singer became a legend and an icon, while her life and career were filled with controversy and paradox in and outside of her native country. She first emerged as an acclaimed folk singer in the midst of the development of Peruvian national identity in the early 1940s and soon became recognized for her folk art in Latin America. By the end of the decade and as part of a trio directed by her manager and husband, Moisés Vivanco, she started a career in the United States that would lead to radical changes in her musical style and to the creation of a series of fantasies about her origins and identity. A prodigious live performer, she traveled around the world tirelessly, her recordings reached far and wide, and her first album, The Voice of Xtabay, has never been out of print. Yma Sumac participated in two major Hollywood films in the 1950s, and in 1960 her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was unveiled. In 2016 Sumac was posthumously honored with a Google Doodle. One of the most internationally known Peruvians, she had a problematic relationship with her own country, but fortunately, two years before her death, she was properly honored and recognized by her native country. She had a long artistic career, performing into the 1990s, but her fame reached its peak in the 1950s when she became known as the “Queen of Exotica,” performing a style of music popular in the United States after World War II.