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Cultural Report: Hollywood 1900-1940

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Cultural Report: Hollywood 1900-1940

Since even before its inception, the idea of “Hollywood” has been consistently concerned with a single underlying concept: spectacle. The earliest movies belonged to what film historians like Tom Gunning call a “cinema of attractions.” Primitive films, the earliest shorts from the late 1890s to the early 1900s, were directed at an audience looking for a new form of entertainment. The first films were screened as the final attraction of a vaudeville show, mostly in the lower-class areas of major cities. They were a far remove from the massive modern theaters we patronize nowadays. The vaudeville tradition continued into film as a showman would introduce the film as a single still image projected on a screen. He would explain the wondrous new attraction the audience was about to behold and all of a sudden the still image on the screen would slowly transition into movement, as if animated by an unseen force amazing the people in the audience.

The early cinema was truly a spectacle to behold as the technology behind the moving image was absolutely revolutionary to audiences. The attraction was originally focused on the single transitional moment between stillness and active life. The showman would set the mood within the theater and let the spectacle play off the audience’s anticipation of amazing new sights and for a while, this “cinema of attraction” was completely captivating. The relative newness of the moving image soon wore off though and filmmakers and producers such as D.W. Griffith, Edward S. Porter and Adolph Zukor stepped up to become innovators of cinematic technique, almost single-handedly pushing the evolution of film form forward.

Around 1910 people like Adolp...

... middle of paper ..., one can see that America is still at the mercy of Hollywood’s dominating, hypnotic power.


Cripps, Thomas. Hollywood’s High Noon: Moviemaking & Society Before Television. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

deCordova, Richard. Picture Personalities: The Emergence of the Star System in America. University of Illinois Press, 1990.

Finler, Joel W. The Hollywood Story. London: Wallflower Press, 2003.

Gledhill, Christine. Stardom: Industry of Desire. Routledge: New York, 1991.

Griffith, Richard and Arthur Mayer. The Movies. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970.

Hamilton, Ian. Writers in Hollywood: 1915-1951. London: Heinemann, 1990.

Sklar, Robert. Movie-Made America. Vintage Books: New York, 1994.

Taylor, Deems. A Pictorial History of the Movies. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1943.

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