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Classical Hollywood cinema (1910s - 1960s)

Related: American cinema - The Production Code - Hollywood - film - USA

Followed by: New Hollywood


Classical Hollywood cinema, a term used in film history, designates both a visual and sound style for making motion pictures and a mode of production that arose in the American film industry of the 1910s and 1920s.

While the boundaries are vague, the Classical era is generally held to begin in 1915 with the release of The Birth of a Nation, the first feature length film. The end of the classical period is considered to be the 1960s, after which the movie industry changed dramatically and a new era (the post-classical or the New Hollywood era) can be said to have begun. Some critics divide this era into pre-Code and post-code Hollywood, referring to the Hays Code.

Classical style is fundamentally built on the principle of "invisible" style. That is, the camera and the sound recording should never call attention to themselves (as they might in a modernist or postmodernist work). (or any style that attempts to break the fourth wall)

The mode of production came to be known as the Hollywood studio system and the star system, which standardized the way movies were produced. All film workers (actors, directors, etc.) were employees of a particular film studio. This resulted in a certain uniformity to film style: directors were encouraged to think of themselves as employees rather than artists, and hence auteurs did not flourish (although some directors, such as Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles, fought against these restrictions).

The end of Hollywood classicism came with the collapse of the studio system, the growing popularity of auteurism among directors, and the increasing influence of foreign films and independent filmmaking, which brought greater variety to the movies, although some would argue that the level of craftsmanship in filmmaking declined.

Some historians believe we are now in a 'post-classical' (see New Hollywood) era in which movies are very different from Classical Hollywood. Others argue that the differences are superficial and that the basic methods of storytelling have not actually changed that much.

Further Reading
* Bordwell, David; Staiger, Janet; Thompson, Kristin (1985). The Classical Hollywood Cinema, New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0231060556. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_Hollywood_cinema [Dec 2005]

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