Sunday, November 11, 2012
The Genius of the System
The two major studios Schataz chooses are MGM and Warner Brothers, his third subject is one of the “major minors,” in this case Universal, and the independent producer David O. Selznick.
The great strength of this book is that the author does not set out with a preconceived idea that the studio system was repressive or morally dubious, or that studio executives like Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner or Darryl F. Zanuck were monsters. As his book makes clear, Hollywood in its golden age made great movies as a result of a fruitful partnership between enlightened but practical studio executives, visionary producers and talented directors.
The book’s other great strength is that Schatz largely ignores the auteur theory, the theory that there is only one true creative force behind any movie and that force is the director. He argues, very convincingly, that producers had at least as much impact on the finished product as directors and that those directors who are usually singled out for auteur status were those directors who were able to combine the roles of director and producer.
The great strength of the studio system is that it created an environment in which creativity could blossom and in which a unique balance was achieved between business and art. Even those mavericks who operated largely outside the studio system needed the support that the studio system provided. The creative personnel who bucked the system, people like Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick, flourished during the great days of the studio system.
The studio system represented a unique partnership between capitalism and art, and it worked. When it was destroyed, by a combination of television and excessively zealous government intervention in the marketplace, the result was a cultural tragedy of epic proportions. A unique balance has been achieved and once that balance was disrupted Hollywood started on a downward slide that has continued to this day.
The Genius of the System is one of the finest books ever written about Hollywood and is highly recommended to anyone who loves movies.