Thursday, April 5, 2018

I miss the studio system

To prove that this blog will be filled with very random musings, today I've been thinking of how I miss the Hollywood studio system.  Not the vertical integration part, where film studios owned the content, the distribution, and the cinema playing the movie.  There is a reason that was struck down as anti-competitive.

Instead, I'm quite fond of the "life on the lot" aspect.  Contract players, long term development contracts with creatives, the soundstages, and the backlot.

To the film viewer, the studio system made it easy to see your favorite players in multiple roles.  It was akin to having a resident acting company.  You can see those actors take on a variety of roles in a variety of pictures; particularly character actors.

Think about Warner Brothers in the early 1940s.  Let's say you loved Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon.  You could see them all again together in Casablanca the very next year.  In 1943, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet appeared together in Background to Danger, and by 1944, Bogart, Greenstreet, Lorre, and now Claude Rains from Casablanca are together again in Passage to Marseille.  Finally, for a complete change of pace, you could see Greenstreet and  Szőke Szakáll (also from Casablanca) together in Christmas in Connecticut.

With Greenstreet as our through line, that's noir, wartime dramas, and screwball comedy, within rapid succession.  And these are in the first five years of his film career, with some of these films considered among the best ever made.

While the studio system had its abuses (I would point to the history of Judy Garland's life and career as Exhibit A), there were definite benefits to those involved.  Actors, even bit and character actors, could have long-term contracts, guaranteeing work and income.  Similar contracts existed for directors and other crew.  Publicity was controlled (which was a blessing and a curse).  With most production happening on the lot or at one of the backlot locations, there was stability of location provided for the company that rarely exists today.

I guess the big franchise films are the closest equivalents we have now.  The Marvel actors are locked into 3-picture/9-year deals, etc.  But I miss the days when the same players might meet again on a new story.  It can happen now, but no where near as expediently as it could then.

They don't call it the Golden Age for nothing.

No comments:

Post a Comment