1940s Break up of the Feudal System, I mean Studio System, and the paradoxical end of the Golden Age of Hollywood

Paramount Decisions

The Supreme Court’s “Paramount decisions” of the 1940s receive much credit for the breakup of the studio system.  There were other factors.  In 1936, movie star Bette Davis, who had been offered yet another unattractive part by Warner Bros. and was tired of feeling like “an assembly-line actress,” moved to Great Britain.  She was sued by Warner Bros. and she lost.  Though she had to go back to the assembly line, her courage inspired others.  In 1944, movie star Olivia de Havilland won her case in the Supreme Court against Warner Bros. and was freed from her contract.  The contract system, which for many studio employees was a kind of slavery, had been dealt a “mortal blow” (Prindle 1988:177). By the late 1940s when the Supreme Court made the Paramoun tdecisions, which broke up the vertically integrated oligopolic hold the studios had on the motion picture business by ordering the studios to divest themselves of their theaters, Hollywood was changed.

The studio system was devised by immigrants from Eastern Europewho had not been born in egalitarian societies (Berg 1989).  Perhaps in part because of this, they created a factory mode of production which had many aspects in common with the feudal system.  Even though many of the studio system movies were great, the fall of the studio system was often celebrated by workers as a release from slavery.  However, in addition to the losses sustained by the studios as a result of the Paramount decisions, there were losses to the film workers.  The studio system in many cases provided a constancy of studio employment which the later irregularity of independent production, and of location shooting would not.  At the studio, the place and people had a certain consistency, despite changing projects.  Each location shoot is subject to the particular mania of those in charge, with new crew, and the unexpected incidents inherent in filming in an unknown place.

It is too simple to claim that, like proverbial monkeys at a typewriter, if the studios produced enough films (and many studios turned out one a week), they were bound to make a good one once in a while.  For all the studio heads’ colorful and abusive complaining, those turbulent years when progressive film makers still could work easily in Hollywood, and the slave-like conditions under which many workers toiled, made possible the so-called golden years of American film making.

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