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The American Film Industry

Edited by Tino T. Balio

Publication Year: 1985

Upon its original publication in 1976, The American Film Industry was welcomed by film students, scholars, and fans as the first systematic and unified history of the American movie industry. Now this indispensible anthology has been expanded and revised to include a fresh introductory overview by editor Tino Balio and ten new chapters that explore such topics as the growth of exhibition as big business, the mode of production for feature films, the star as market strategy, and the changing economics and structure of contemporary entertainment companies. The result is a unique collection of essays, more comprehensive and current than ever, that reveals how the American movie industry really worked in a century of constant change-from kinetoscopes and the coming of sound to the star system, 1950s blacklisting, and today's corporate empires.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix-xi

This book, comprising original papers and previously published materials, is designed primarily as a collateral text for undergraduate courses dealing with the development of American film. My goal in bringing together these readings is to present...

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Part I: A Novelty Spawns Small Businesses, 1894-1908

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pp. 3-26

On April 14, 1894, the world's first Kinetoscope parlor opened its doors at 1155 Broadway in New York City (ch. 2). No one knows who the customers were on that day, or exactly how many of them parted with...

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1. The Machine

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pp. 27-42

Although the attempt to represent the illusion of motion by pictures is older than civilization, the art of the motion pictures was not created until the twentieth century. From that prehistoric day when an artist drew a many-legged boar on the wall...

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2. The History of the Kinetoscope

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pp. 43-56

Early in 1894 there appeared in the American marketplace a peephole picture machine known as the Kinetoscope. It stood on the floor to a height of four feet. Through an eyepiece on the top a customer could, upon application of the coin of the realm, cause the machine to whirr briskly and show motion....

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3. The Movies in Vaudeville: Historical Context of the Movies as Popular Entertainment

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pp. 57-82

Film historians tend to emphasize the "newness" of the cinema when dealing with its early history in America-the uniqueness of its power of visual representation, the curiosity early exhibitions provoked even among jaded New York reporters, the wonderment....

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4. Nickelodeon Theaters, 1905-1914: Building an Audience for the Movies

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pp. 83-102

In its short heyday, the nickelodeon theater was a pioneer movie house, a get-rich-quick scheme, and a national institution that was quickly turned into a state of mind. Its golden age began in 1905 and lasted scarcely nine years, but during that time it provided the movies their first permanent home, established a...

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Part II: Struggles for Control, 1908-1930

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pp. 103-132

In little more than a decade, motion pictures had developed from a novelty into an industry of national dimensions. Exhibition had grown by leaps to become the largest branch of the industry. Business was...

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5. The Motion Picture Patents Company: A Reevaluation

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pp. 133-152

Film historians have portrayed the Motion Picture Patents Company as an avaricious monopoly. Terry Ramsaye's A Million and One Nights (1926), Benjamin Hampton's A History of the Movies (1931) and Lewis Jacobs' The Rise of the American Film (1939) have long been the standard reference sources for scholarship...

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6. Stars in Business: The Founding of United Artists

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pp. 153-172

On January 15, 1919, the biggest names in motion pictures staged a revolt. Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, D. W. Griffith, and William S. Hart issued a Declaration of Independence announcing their intention to form United...

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7. Blueprints for Feature Films: Hollywood's Continuity Scripts

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pp. 173-194

The manufacture of Hollywood feature films in the 1930s and 1940s included the use of detailed scripts called continuities. These continuities provided a scene-by-scene description of the proposed film: camera angles and distances, action, dialogue, and additional information for production crews. These scripts, of course, were...

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8. The Motion Picture Industry as a Basis for Bond Financing

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pp. 195-217

Motion pictures, meeting at popular prices the universal demand for recreation and amusement, have quickly become an essential part of modern living. People everywhere look to them for their relaxation, their entertainment, and increasingly for their general information and education. Without doubt the "Movies"...

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9. U.S. Film Exhibition: The Formation of a Big Business

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pp. 218-228

In his basic summary and reinterpretation of the creation of America's twentieth-century industrial order, noted business historian Alfred D. Chandler argues: The modem industrial enterprise-the archetype of today's giant corporation resulted from the integration of the processes....

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10. The Coming of Sound: Technological Change in the American Film Industry

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pp. 229-252

The coming of sound during the late 1920s climaxed a decade of significant change within the American industry. Following the lead of the innovators-Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc., and the Fox Film Corporation- all companies moved, virtually...

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Part III: A Mature Oligopoly, 1930-1948

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pp. 253-284

By 1930, the motion picture industry had become, in economic terminology, a mature oligopoly. The merger movement had run its course, with the result that five companies dominated the screen in the United States. The largest was Warner Bros. with its...

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11. Economic Control of the Motion Picture Industry

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pp. 285-310

Despite the glamour of Hollywood, the crux of the motion picture industry is the theater. It is in the brick-and-mortar branch of the industry that most of the money is invested and made. Without understanding this fact, devotees of the...

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12. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

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pp. 311-333

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, largest of 124 subsidiaries owned by Loew's, Inc., is a corporation devoted exclusively to the business and the art of producing moving pictures. Its plant-fifty-three acres, valued at a trifling $2,000,000-is in Culver City, California,...

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13. Loew's, Inc.

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pp. 334-350

Mr. Nicholas M. Schenck, for the last twelve years president of Loew's, Inc., is the author of that optimistic saying, "There is nothing wrong with this industry that good pictures cannot cure." It has been the easier for Mr. Schenck to say that about...

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14. The Star as Market Strategy: Bette Davis in Another Light

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pp. 351-376

Bette Davis became a star in 1933, playing the sexy ingenue in Ex Lady. Warner touted her as the platinum blond coquette, the flirt destined to be the object of men's pursuit. Yet just two years later, in Dangerous, Davis' image had been completely...

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15. Self-Regulation in Operation

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pp. 377-400

Like censorship or the operation of any mature judicial system, self-regulation involves an authoritative basis, a written code, administrative agencies, and a body of precedents interpreting the code. The authority for self-regulation is implied in the legal articles of incorporation of the original Motion Picture...

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Part IV: Retrenchment, Reappraisal, and Reorganization, 1948-

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pp. 401-448

After the war, things were never the same for the movie industry. Beginning in 1947, the winds of ill fortune blew incessantly for ten years, during which weekly attendance declined by about one-half. The decline...

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16. United States versus Hollywood: The Case Study of an Antitrust Suit

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pp. 449-462

The suit was first filed on July 20, 1938. Thurman Arnold was then in charge of the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division, and his brief, charging the majors with twenty-eight separate offenses, paired the principal objective of theater divorcement...

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17. Hollywood's International Market

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pp. 463-486

When the Supreme Court ruled in 1915 that "the exhibition of motion pictures is a business pure and simple, originated and conducted for profit," that was considered sufficient reason to refuse films protection as speech under the First Amendment. Today it certainly is obvious, as it should have been then, that film...

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18. HUAC: The Mass Hearings

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pp. 487-509

Hollywood reacted to news of the impending investigation in 1951 with something like panic. A Life reporter wired her editor at the time that the movie people put her in mind of "a group of marooned sailors on a flat desert island watching the approach of a tidal wave." The industry was not sure it could take another....

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19. Censorship: From The Miracle to Deep Throat

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pp. 510-536

On May 26, 1952, the Supreme Court of the United States announced its decision in the case officially known as Burstyn v. Wilson and declared that motion pictures are "a significant medium for the communication of ideas," their importance not...

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20. The Paramount Decrees Reconsidered

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pp. 537-573

The Supreme Court's decision in the Paramount case1 brought to an end decades of control of the motion picture industry in violation of the antitrust laws. The subsequent decrees enjoining restrictive trade practices and ordering divorcement of theaters...

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21. "What's Happening to Our Pix Biz?" From Warner Bros. to Warner Communications Inc.

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pp. 574-586

The common criticism of today's motion picture conglomerate organizations is that the film industry has become bland, and that it is run by outsiders who lack any traditional Hollywood respect for its history, institutions, and products. It is...

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Supplement: Warner Communications' International Operations

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pp. 587-602

In 1982, Warner Communications had a banner year: revenues hit just under $4 billion, netting an income of $258 million or $3.96 a share for each of the 65 million shares outstanding. It was an all-time earnings record for the company. The following essay, reprinted...

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22. The Changing Economics of Entertainment

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pp. 603-630

One hundred years ago, the cultural contour of America was a series of islands. Constrained by inadequate means of distribution, a cultural or entertainment creation in music, comedy, or drama languished within a regional or social class milieu, incapable of reaching large audiences. The theater existed for New Yorkers...

Bibliography / Contributors / Indexes

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pp. 631

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 633-643

List of Contributors

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pp. 645-648

Index of Motion Picture Titles

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pp. 649-652

General Index

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pp. 653-664

E-ISBN-13: 9780299098735
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299098742

Publication Year: 1985