“Business has to adapt to art and not art to business.”
Geoff King’s book explores the various transformations of Hollywood, since its departure from the classical Hollywood period, which have been summed up under the term ‘New Hollywood.’ The term embraces two quite oppositional movements. First, the Hollywood Renaissance, from the late 1960s to the mid to late 1970s, which orients itself on and finds inspiration in French auteur cinema and is edgy and experimental in its film style. Then its opposite, from the 1980s up to today, which is marked by the world of giant media conglomerates and blockbusters.
In simple and clear language, King analyses these developments in terms of film style, industrial factors and social-historical contexts. The book is easily accessible making it an ideal read for undergraduates and everybody interested in some of the backgrounds and developments of the “dream factory.”
However, the stress in this book very soon shifts from “dream” to “factory,” from simple “transformation” over a period to uncanny mutation, with monstrous characteristics. King strips Hollywood bare of its glitz and glamour and unravels the main, and sadly, perhaps, even the only driving force of Hollywood, namely business proper, profit margins and the enforcement of capitalist ideologies.
The social-historical contexts outlined by King are sometimes blatantly obvious and could be expanded and pushed further. So, for example, All the President’s Men or The Parallax View are related to the Watergate Scandal (no shit Sherlock). Nevertheless, he always stresses that Hollywood films do not “reflect” reality, but enforce prevailing ideologies.
One of the most interesting analyses of contemporary Hollywood in this book is located in his example of the 1998 production of Godzilla. King wonderfully introduces Godzilla, the mutant monster, as an allegory of Hollywood. He asks: “A monster movie. A monster of a movie. Or just a monstrosity?” This question is answered by a detailed analysis of the production of Godzilla, which reveals itself as an exploration of the entangled and closely-knit mesh of corporate capitalism. The copyright for Godzilla is held by TriStar Pictures, one of the filmmaking divisions of Sony Pictures, which in turn belongs to the giant Sony Corporation. Just to mention further interesting little facts about which corporation owns what studio: Warner Bros is part of AOL Time Warner, and more interestingly, and frighteningly, Twentieth Century Fox is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
Anyway, let us return to Godzilla and Sony. The rights to the Godzilla franchise were from the beginning appealing to Sony and easily accessible, because of an already existing relationship between the rights owner, Toho Pictures, and Sony. The web of franchise spins further, as King explains:
Sony Pictures owns its own label, Columbia TriStar Home Video, and so is able to exploit this avenue directly for itself. The Godzilla video is distributed by Sony Music Operations, part of the Sony Corporation’s music division, Sony Music Entertainment. . . . The soundtrack album . . . was released on Epic Records, a label owned by Sony Music Entertainment. Sony Pictures also has extensive interests in television Production through the Columbia TriStar Television Group.
The list goes on and on: although the PlayStation game is not out yet, games have already been developed for GameBoy, an on-line computer game already exists produced by Columbia TriStar Interactive and, in Godzilla itself, camera men are seen tightly clutching Sony camcorders. King’s book is full of such interesting details that help to understand the workings of Hollywood.
King argues that:
The overriding aim of the studio system was not to produce “classically” balanced and harmonious compositions, but to make money. The industry was, and remains, governed by what Richard Malthy terms a “commercial aesthetic, essentially opportunistic in its economic motivation,” in which a variety of ingredients are used to increase the potential profitability of a film.
New Hollywood Cinema explores criteria for the realisation of film projects that begin with the choice of script, and move on to the director, the choice of actors based purely on the consideration of which of these brings the biggest profits. The most favoured projects are pre-sold properties which have revealed themselves to be successful in the past, such as best-selling books, plays, famous scandals, etc. Similarly directors, actors and genre are chosen after the principle of past achievement. Ironically, here “New Hollywood” reveals itself to be an apparatus recycling the old, the familiar and the known into various vapid clones of one and the same thing.
What forcefully emerges out of King’s analysis is that this process of recycling orients itself on the desire of the viewers, who do not go to the pictures to see something new, unfamiliar, challenging, or strange, but to encounter familiar experiences in a regarbled, rechewed and recycled spectacle — that is where we find amusement. The more known a film is through its director, genre, actors, and plot, the more we are satisfied, the more we can refer to it as a good movie. And, of course, it profits Hollywood — we enforce Hollywood as it is.
Questions of art, experimentation, radicalism and revolution have long been forgotten in such narrowed down and closed off equations– giving directors and actors a minimal space for artistic expression. This book is an educative and informative read for anyone who still believes that there is an inkling of art or revolutionary thought left in Hollywood.
Hollywood’s aim, besides profit, is, according to King, to enforce the ideology of the prevailing state of affairs — Hollywood is the imaginary platform on which political discrepancies, oppression and exploitation are not discussed, or conceptualised, but smoothed out and silenced. In blockbuster films, couples are mostly heterosexual, the military apparatus sympathetic, and (as a European) I observe that America always wins (even the Vietnam War), and English guys, denoting the vaguely European, are most of the time the baddies.
King carefully guides the reader through the different changes and mutations in Hollywood, revealing the rather sad and tenebrous aspects of the dream factory. Never forgetting that this book is an introduction, his descriptions and examinations are easy to follow and yet informative, always drawing on specific examples like Easy Rider, Men in Black, From Dusk till Dawn, and Die Hard.
Hollywood, in this elusive account, is represented as a factory and a mutation that forms and transforms itself in relation to the bigger machine, the ravenous capitalist desire of profit, and profit only, and to hail the viewers into capitalist ideologies. Oh, by the way, have I mentioned that a track by those old “subversives” Rage Against the Machine is nestling in the soundtrack album of Godzilla, produced by Sony?