The Studios after the Studios

9780804790772: Hardback
Release Date: 8th April 2015

Dimensions: 178 x 254

Number of Pages: 376

Edition: 1st Edition

Series Post*45

Stanford University Press

The Studios after the Studios

Neoclassical Hollywood (1970-2010)

Refuting the conventional scholarly view that Hollywood studios are basically interchangeable, this history of the contemporary American movie industry argues that we can see the individual studios' fingerprints on even the smallest aspects of their films.
Hardback / £39.00

Modern Hollywood is dominated by a handful of studios: Columbia, Disney, Fox, Paramount, Universal, and Warner Bros. Threatened by independents in the 1970s, they returned to power in the 1980s, ruled unquestioned in the 1990s, and in the new millennium are again beseiged. But in the heyday of this new classical era, the major studios movies — their stories and styles — were astonishingly precise biographies of the studios that made them. Movies became product placements for their studios, advertising them to the industry, to their employees, and to the public at large. If we want to know how studios work—how studios think—we need to watch their films closely. How closely? Maniacally so. In a wide range of examples, The Studios after the Studios explores the gaps between story and backstory in order to excavate the hidden history of Hollywood's second great studio era.

Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

Every movie is "on some level about the business," according to Academy Award winner Robert Towne. The introduction examines that claim in light of Towne's film Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, and finds it to be true.

1Logorrhea, or, How to Watch a Hollywood Movie
chapter abstract

This opening chapter shows the reader how to approach a Hollywood film. The key is the studio logo at the beginning. In dozens of cases, those logos bleed into the story world of the film. The Paramount mountain turns into the landscape of Raiders of the Lost Ark; the X in "Fox" glows at the beginning of X-Men; and the ice cap on the Universal globe melts at the beginning of Waterworld. In these evanescent images, studios are tying their stories to their corporate identities, encouraging us to see these movies as studio stories. The remainder of the chapter discusses various reasons why scholars believe that studios don't matter and shows why that kind of thinking is wrong. Alternative theories include those of Horkheimer and Adorno, Jerome Christensen, and John Thornton Caldwell.

2The Literal and the Littoral: Jaws
chapter abstract

Everyone knows Jaws invented the blockbuster. Because of marketing? The story? Some connection to our primal fears? Half of the audience saw Jaws as a knowing throwback to the cheesy monster movies of old; the other half just saw it as a monster movie. That split audience—one sophisticated, one not—would be the key to the studio renaissance. Jaws isn't yet the story of its studio, but it is the story that teaches the audience how to look out for what lies beneath.

3Paramount I: From the Director's Company to High Concept
chapter abstract

The seventies were supposed to be the glory days of the director, the auteur era. Yet even when the studios were at their weakest, directors such as George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and Roman Polanski were terrified of them. Paramount did all that it could to turn auteurism into a business plan, but the paranoid auteurs would have none of it. Everyone, from studio chief Robert Evans to Coppola, was trapped in a fantasy of the 1930s. This nostalgia for the classical era gave rise to some of the studio's greatest hits—Rosemary's Baby, The Godfather, The Conversation—but it was only when they put the thirties aside and turned to the present that the studio found a way out of the cul-de-sac. The solution was Saturday Night Fever.

4Our Man in Armani: The Ovitz Interregnum
chapter abstract

The most important new player in Hollywood in the eighties was Mike Ovitz's CAA. A relentless packager of films, CAA preyed on weak studios, turning movies like

5Paramount II: The Residue of Design
chapter abstract

Unable to make auteurism into a model, Paramount turned away from directors and complex narratives toward production designers and clean, hyperlegible images. "High-concept" style conquered substance, but it was a style that stayed true to the studio's history of extreme production design. The studio capitalized on the success of Saturday Night Fever by making a series of "popsicals" like Flashdance and Footloose and by turning Eddie Murphy into a movie star. But as Gulf + Western remade itself as Paramount Communications, the studio was under tremendous pressure to justify its role. Barry Diller argued that the movies were the heart of the new, synergistic conglomerate. Still, the changes at Paramount chased away the inventors of high concept. Left behind were Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and their next film, Top Gun, showed how the paranoid gaze of the seventies could meld with the high finish of the eighties.

6Let's Make the Weather: Chaos Comes to Hollywood
chapter abstract

The Hollywood mantra is "Nobody Knows Anything." Faced with a bottomless pit of risk, studios are always looking for insurance policies—hot writers, stars, genres; complex financing deals; accounting scams. In the nineties, one of the most comforting visions of risk management was "chaos theory," and the key idea was the "butterfly effect," the belief that the slightest change could make all the difference. Nothing was more reassuring to assemblers of talent than the notion that their smallest decisions were world shaping. This chapter discusses Groundhog Day, Jurassic Park, and Pocahontas.

7That Oceanic Feeling: One Merger Too Many
chapter abstract

This chapter looks at two colossal corporate meltdowns—the destruction of Vivendi Universal and the catastrophic corporate losses at AOL TimeWarner—in order to understand what happens to the movies when the synergy goes terribly wrong. At Vivendi, the crucial story is the failed attempt to turn Curious George into a company mascot on the order of Mickey Mouse. At Warners, the essential story was Steven Soderbergh's valiant attempt to generate, via the Ocean's 11 series, enough corporate momentum to keep the dream alive.

8The Anxious Epic and the Qualms of Empire: Conglomerate Overstretch
chapter abstract

The wave of epics that followed Gladiator—King Arthur, Alexander, Kingdom of Heaven, 300—became think pieces for conglomerate overstretch. The epics of the new millennium weren't like the roadshows of the fifties. These were not tales of empires on the march but of empires in retreat. Directors who wanted to tell stories about the perils of empire during the Iraq War found themselves dependent upon far-flung international megacorporations that looked an awful lot like the imperialists they were opposing. Criticism of the war started to look like criticism of the company, and the studios began to lose their hold on the corporate imagination.

J.D. Connor is Assistant Professor in History of Art and Film Studies at Yale University.

"Connor offers interpretations of key films from the 1970s and 80s that are often highly original and unexpected, making sure that The Studios After the Studios has many thrilling moments of discovery (and surprise). As an important contribution to film studies, it will be especially productive in re-opening the debate on Hollywood and authorship."

Thomas Elsaesser
University of Amsterdam

"It certainly is a very welcome contribution not just to Hollywood cinema studies but also to media industry studies and film studies more generally."

Yannis Tzioumakis
New Review of Film and Television Studies

"Connor structures his analysis of product - Jaws, Footloose, Saturday Night Fever, and Flashdance, to name a few - around the idea of corporate auteurship. In each film one can find a link between the artist and the production committee . . . Recommended."

A. Hirsh