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Decor and Decorum From La chienne to Scarlet Street: Franco-U.S. Trade in Film During the Thirties by Edward Benson This study will move from an account of the course of the trade in film between France and the U.S. during the Great Depression, to a comparison of two films based on George de la Fouchardière's novel, La chienne (Paris, 1930): Renoir's 1931 film of the same name, and Fritz Lang's remake as Scarlet Street in 1945. The account of the trade in film over the course of the thirties will show a return in Hollywood to the concentration of access to finance capital as well as access to the distribution system that had characterized the industry in the U.S. in the twenties. In France, on the other hand, the Depression caused the collapse of the two major vertically integrated companies, and allowed an unusual diversification of access to capital and distribution, with up to seventy independent producers each making one or two films a year. The diverging economic tendencies were reinforced by the laws regulating the two industries: in the U.S., the Hays office used the weight of the NRA to force compliance with its edicts, while the French laws gave the weight of governmental protection to workers in the film industry . Since Hays had been hired by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors , it is hardly surprising that he worked in the interests of producers, and of the financiers who advanced them the capital with which to work. The French law, enacted in the mid-thirties under the Popular Fr©nt, accorded primacy to the director and secondary protection to the other artistic workers on a film. In the comparison of the two films which makes up the second half of this study, we shall first see the effects of regulation, particularly of censorship codes on the two screenplays. Ultimately, though, Edwaxd ftenAon tò a membex o{ the Ve,paxtment o{¡ Modexn and ClaÂotcal Languages at The. Univexòtty o{¡ Hew Mextao. ThiA papen, moa pneAented In an eaxliex veXAlon at the. SalAAbiUty Zon{exe.no.e, In June. 1980. The, cuuthon. iv-uheA to thank ChaxleA Anfión, Steve. Llpktn, ThexeAa ttcxxide., and Suòan Vohtex BenAon {,ox thelx cxÁXÍQÁJ¡m o{ that papex. 57 we shall see a more important difference between the way the two films look to us and the ways we look at them, a difference that is not directly attributable to the diverging financial structures of the two industries nor to the laws regulating them. This introduces a qualification to the hypothesis governing this paper: the pressure toward morality in stories and transparency in style did not act in any simple way to stifle Hollywood filmmakers' creativity. Indeed, Hollywood producers had pressing reasons for encouraging this—constrained—creativity , as we shall see in the conclusion. At the end of the twenties, producers of motion pictures in both countries enjoyed better relations with exhibitors than they ever had before, in no small part because the former had purchased the latter. The Depression of the early thirties, however, forced producers to relinquish control of exhibition houses in order to maintain it over production faci lities J Meanwhile, some small, rural exhibition houses closed, due to the general economic malaise or the inability to pay for the conversion to sound. Thus, power came to be concentrated in the hands of a smaller number of independent exhibitors, who wanted as many new films as ever, in order to attract customers, while producers were determined to restrict output, in order to maintain the level of profitability for the films they did produce.3 On the other hand, the differences between the two national industries were more important than the similarities: the two French majors were recent combinations, and they succumbed quickly to the pressures of the Depression. Financial commentators in the U.S. never tired of remarking on the small French producer, who competed with forty to seventy others to produce one or two films a year. The Hollywood companies, by contrast, were older: forced to curtail operations in the early thirties, they were nonetheless...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9922
Print ISSN
0360-3695
Pages
pp. 57-65
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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