Classical Hollywood cinema, classical Hollywood narrative, the Golden Age of Hollywood, Old Hollywood, and classical continuity are terms used in film criticism which designate both a narrative and visual style of film-making which developed in and characterized American cinema between the 1910s and the 1960s, and eventually became the most powerful and pervasive style of film-making worldwide.
|Classical Hollywood cinema|
|Major figures||D. W. Griffith, John Ford, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Humphrey Bogart|
For centuries, the only visual standard of narrative storytelling was the theatre. Since the first narrative films in the 1890s, film-makers sought to capture the power of live theatre on the cinema screen. Most of these film-makers started as directors on the late 19th century stage, and likewise most film actors had roots in vaudeville or theatrical melodramas. Visually, early narrative films had adapted little from the stage, and their narratives had adapted very little from vaudeville and melodrama. Before the visual style which would become known as "classical continuity", scenes were filmed in full shot and used carefully choreographed staging to portray plot and character relationships. Cutting was extremely limited, and mostly consisted of close-ups of writing on objects for their legibility.
Though lacking the reality inherent to the stage, film (unlike stage) offers the freedom to manipulate apparent time and space, and thus to create the illusion of realism — that is temporal linearity and spatial continuity. By the early 1910s, film-making was beginning to fulfill its artistic potential. In Sweden and Denmark, this period would be known as a "Golden Age" of film; in America, this artistic change is attributed to film-makers like David W. Griffith finally breaking the grip of the Edison Trust to make films independent of the manufacturing monopoly. Films worldwide began to noticeably adopt visual and narrative elements which would be found in classical Hollywood cinema. 1913 was a particularly fruitful year for the medium, as pioneering directors from several countries produced masterpieces such as The Mothering Heart (D. W. Griffith), Ingeborg Holm (Victor Sjöström), and L'enfant de Paris (Léonce Perret) that set new standards for film as a form of storytelling. It was also the year when Yevgeni Bauer (the first true film artist, according to Georges Sadoul) started his short, but prolific, career.
In the world, generally and America specifically, the influence of Griffith on film-making was unmatched. Equally influential were his actors in adapting their performances to the new medium. Lillian Gish, the star of The Mothering Heart, is particularly noted for her influence on screen performance techniques. Griffith's 1915 epic The Birth of a Nation was ground-breaking for film as a means of storytelling — a masterpiece of literary narrative with numerous innovative visual techniques. The film initiated so many advances in American cinema that it was rendered obsolete within a few years. Though 1913 was a global landmark for film-making, 1917 was primarily an American one.
The era of "classical Hollywood cinema" is distinguished by a narrative and visual style which would begin to dominate the medium in America by 1917.
The narrative and visual style of classical Hollywood style would further develop after the transition to sound-film production. The primary changes in American film-making came from the film industry itself, with the height of the studio system. This mode of production, with its reigning star system bankrolled by several key studios, had preceded sound by several years. By mid-1920, most of the prominent American directors and actors, who had worked independently since the early 10s, would have to become a part of the new studio system to continue to work.
The beginning of the sound era itself is ambiguously defined. To some, it began with The Jazz Singer, which was released in 1927 and increased box-office profits for films, as sound was introduced to feature films.  To others, the era began in 1929, when the silent age had definitively ended.  Most Hollywood pictures from the late 1920s to 1960s adhered closely to a genre—Western, slapstick comedy, musical, animated cartoon, and biopic (biographical picture)—and the same creative teams often worked on films made by the same studio. For instance, Cedric Gibbons and Herbert Stothart always worked on MGM films; Alfred Newman worked at Twentieth Century Fox for twenty years; Cecil B. DeMille's films were almost all made at Paramount Pictures; and director Henry King's films were mostly made for Twentieth Century Fox. Similarly, actors were mostly contract players. Film historians and critics note that it took about a decade for films to adapt to sound and return to the level of artistic quality of the silents, which it did in the late 1930s.
Many great works of cinema that emerged from this period were of highly regimented film-making. One reason this was possible is that, with so many films being made, not every one had to be a big hit. A studio could gamble on a medium-budget feature with a good script and relatively unknown actors: Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles and regarded by some as the greatest film of all time, fits that description. In other cases, strong-willed directors like Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, and Frank Capra battled the studios in order to achieve their artistic visions. The apogee of the studio system may have been the year 1939, which saw the release of such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Destry Rides Again, Young Mr. Lincoln, Wuthering Heights, Only Angels Have Wings, Ninotchka, Beau Geste, Babes in Arms, Gunga Din, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and The Roaring Twenties.
The visual-narrative style of classical Hollywood cinema as elaborated by David Bordwell, was heavily influenced by the ideas of the Renaissance and its resurgence of mankind as the focal point. It is distinguished at three general levels: devices, systems, and the relations of systems.
The devices most inherent to classical Hollywood cinema are those of continuity editing. This includes the 180-degree rule, one of the major visual-spatial elements of continuity editing. The 180-degree rule keeps with the "photographed play" style by creating an imaginary 180-degree axis between the viewer and the shot, allowing viewers to clearly orient themselves within the position and direction of action in a scene. According to the 30-degree rule, cuts in the angle that the scene is viewed from must be significant enough for the viewer to understand the purpose of a change in perspective. Cuts that do not adhere to the 30-degree rule, known as jump cuts, are disruptive to the illusion of temporal continuity between shots. The 180-degree and 30-degree rules are elementary guidelines in film-making that preceded the official start of the classical era by over a decade, as seen in the pioneering 1902 French film A Trip to the Moon. Cutting techniques in classical continuity editing serve to help establish or maintain continuity, as in the cross cut, which establishes the concurrence of action in different locations. Jump cuts are allowed in the form of the axial cut, which does not change the angle of shooting at all, but has the clear purpose of showing a perspective closer or farther from the subject, and therefore does not interfere with temporal continuity.
Classical narration progresses always through psychological motivation, i. e., by the will of a human character and its struggle with obstacles towards a defined goal. This narrative element is commonly composed of a primary narrative (eg. a romance) intertwined with a secondary narrative or narratives. This narrative is structured with an unmistakable beginning, middle and end, and generally there is a distinct resolution. Utilizing actors, events, causal effects, main points, and secondary points are basic characteristics of this type of narrative. The characters in Classical Hollywood Cinema have clearly definable traits, are active, and very goal oriented. They are causal agents motivated by psychological rather than social concerns. The narrative is a chain of cause and effect with the characters being the causal agents — in classical style, events do not occur randomly.
Time in classical Hollywood is continuous, linear, and uniform, since non-linearity calls attention to the illusory workings of the medium. The only permissible manipulation of time in this format is the flashback. It is mostly used to introuce a memory sequence of a character, e. g., Casablanca.
The greatest rule of classical continuity regarding space is object permanence: the viewer must believe that the scene exists outside the shot of the cinematic frame to maintain the picture's realism. The treatment of space in classical Hollywood strives to overcome or conceal the two-dimensionality of film ("invisible style") and is strongly centered upon the human body. The majority of shots in a classical film focus on gestures or facial expressions (medium-long and medium shots). André Bazin once compared classical film to a photographed play in that the events seem to exist objectively and that cameras only give us the best view of the whole play.
This treatment of space consists of four main aspects: centering, balancing, frontality, and depth. Persons or objects of significance are mostly in the center part of the picture frame and never out of focus. Balancing refers to the visual composition, i. e., characters are evenly distributed throughout the frame. The action is subtly addressed towards the spectator (frontality) and set, lighting (mostly three-point lighting, especially high-key lighting), and costumes are designed to separate foreground from the background (depth).
The aspects of space and time are subordinated to the narrative element.
Many of the film-makers listed below did multiple chores on various film productions through their careers. They are here listed by the category they are most readily recognized as. If they are recognized in more than one category on the same level, they are listed in all of them.
The following is a list of directors associated with classical Hollywood. Some of them also had careers in other countries (e. g., Hitchcock and Renoir), and some also had careers either before (e. g., Griffith) or after (e. g., Huston) the classical era.
The following is a chronological list of notable American films that were made during Hollywood's Golden Age. 
Part of the AFI 100 Years... series, AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars is a list of the top 25 male and 25 female greatest screen legends of American film history. The list was unveiled by the American Film Institute on June 15, 1999, in a CBS special hosted by Shirley Temple, with 50 current actors making the presentations.
The American Film Institute defined an "American screen legend" as an actor or a team of actors during the Classical Hollywood cinema era with a significant screen presence in American feature-length (40 min or more) films whose screen debut occurred in or before 1950, or whose screen debut occurred after 1950, but whose death has marked a completed body of work.
The top stars of their respective gender are Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. They starred together in the classic adventure 1951 film The African Queen, for which Bogart won his only Academy Award.AFI 100 Years... series
The AFI's 100 Years… series is a series of lists and accompanying CBS television specials from 1998 through 2008 in which the American Film Institute celebrated 100 years of the greatest films in American cinema. The list is intended to ignite interest in classical Hollywood cinema.Ann Miller
Johnnie Lucille Collier (April 12, 1923 – January 22, 2004), known professionally as Ann Miller, was an American dancer, singer and actress. She is best remembered for her work in the Classical Hollywood cinema musicals of the 1940s and 1950s.Bill Collins (television presenter)
William Roderick Collins (born 4 December 1934) is an Australian film critic and film historian, radio and television presenter, journalist, author and lecturer best known for presenting synopsis of Hollywood films in Australia. He specialises in the Classical Hollywood cinema, and his favourite film is Gone with the Wind. He is well known for his association with Foxtel, presenting movies on the cable movie channel FOX Classics.Cinema of the United States
The cinema of the United States, often metonymously referred to as Hollywood, has had a large effect on the film industry in general since the early 20th century. The dominant style of American cinema is classical Hollywood cinema, which developed from 1917 to 1960 and characterizes most films made there to this day. While Frenchmen Auguste and Louis Lumière are generally credited with the birth of modern cinema, American cinema soon came to be a dominant force in the industry as it emerged. It produces the total largest number of films of any single-language national cinema, with more than 700 English-language films released on average every year. While the national cinemas of the United Kingdom (299), Canada (206), Australia, and New Zealand also produce films in the same language, they are not considered part of the Hollywood system. Hollywood has also been considered a transnational cinema. Classical Hollywood produced multiple language versions of some titles, often in Spanish or French. Contemporary Hollywood offshores production to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Hollywood is considered the oldest film industry where earliest film studios and production companies emerged, it is also the birthplace of various genres of cinema—among them comedy, drama, action, the musical, romance, horror, science fiction, and the war epic—having set an example for other national film industries.
In 1878, Eadweard Muybridge demonstrated the power of photography to capture motion. In 1894, the world's first commercial motion-picture exhibition was given in New York City, using Thomas Edison's kinetoscope. The United States produced the world's first sync-sound musical film, The Jazz Singer, in 1927, and was at the forefront of sound-film development in the following decades. Since the early 20th century, the US film industry has largely been based in and around the 30 Mile Zone in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. Director D.W. Griffith was central to the development of a film grammar. Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941) is frequently cited in critics' polls as the greatest film of all time.The major film studios of Hollywood are the primary source of the most commercially successful and most ticket selling movies in the world, such as The Birth of a Nation (1915), Gone with the Wind (1939), The Sound of Music (1965), The Godfather (1972), Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Jurassic Park (1993), Titanic (1997), and Avatar (2009). Moreover, many of Hollywood's highest-grossing movies have generated more box-office revenue and ticket sales outside the United States than films made elsewhere.
Today, American film studios collectively generate several hundred movies every year, making the United States one of the most prolific producers of films in the world and a leading pioneer in motion picture engineering and technology.David Bordwell
David Jay Bordwell (; born July 23, 1947) is an American film theorist and film historian. Since receiving his PhD from the University of Iowa in 1974, he has written more than fifteen volumes on the subject of cinema including Narration in the Fiction Film (1985), Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema (1988), Making Meaning (1989), and On the History of Film Style (1997).
With his wife Kristin Thompson, Bordwell wrote the introductory textbooks Film Art (1979) and Film History (1994). With aesthetic philosopher Noël Carroll, Bordwell edited the anthology Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies (1996), a polemic on the state of contemporary film theory. His largest work to date remains The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (1985), written in collaboration with Thompson and Janet Staiger. Several of his more influential articles on theory, narrative, and style were collected in Poetics of Cinema (2007), named in homage after the famous anthology of Russian formalist film theory Poetika Kino, edited by Boris Eikhenbaum in 1927.
Bordwell spent nearly the entirety of his career as a professor of film at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he is currently the Jacques Ledoux Professor of Film Studies, Emeritus in the Department of Communication Arts. Notable film theorists who wrote their dissertations under his advisement include Edward Branigan, Murray Smith, and Carl Plantinga. He and Thompson maintain the blog "Observations on film art" for their recent ruminations on cinema.European art cinema
European art cinema is a branch of cinema that was popular in the 1960s. It is based on a rejection of the tenets and techniques of classical Hollywood cinema.Filmsite.org
Filmsite.org is a film-review website established in 1996 by film critic Tim Dirks, and owned since 2008 by AMC Networks.The site contains over 300 reviews of English language films for which Dirks argues "there is reasonable consensus by most film historians, critics and reviewers" regarding their status as revered movies. Criteria for Dirks' selections include a film's technical innovations, recognition from award shows, accessibility to audiences, and influence on its genre. Although the "Greatest Films" lists do not include foreign language films and therefore exclude various widely acclaimed movies, Dirks makes clear that they are intended to be geared toward classical Hollywood cinema, and briefly discusses foreign films in many other areas of the site.
In many cases, a review goes through a film scene-by-scene. The site also contains many other lists, and pages offering an introduction to cinema literacy. Filmsite.org is free with limited advertising and no "premium" (fee-based) service. Other features include a section for "Greatest Films of the Year" and summaries of the Academy Awards.
Longtime proponent for the site, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, described it as "an invaluable repository of movie descriptions and dialogue" and an "awesome website [that] contains detailed descriptions of 300 great American films, along with many other riches."Filmsite.org considered the Top 100 resulting from the Top 250 Films survey of the Internet Movie Database, "tabulated in mid-2010's decade", and marked the common items with its "100 Greatest Films" as a comparative measure.Formalist film theory
Formalist film theory is a theory of film study that is focused on the formal, or technical, elements of a film: i.e., the lighting, scoring, sound and set design, use of color, shot composition, and editing. This approach was proposed by Hugo Münsterberg, Rudolf Arnheim, Sergei Eisenstein, and Béla Balázs. Today, it is a major theory of film study.Harold Rosson
Harold G. "Hal" Rosson, A.S.C. (April 6, 1895 – September 6, 1988) was an American cinematographer who worked during the early and classical Hollywood cinema. He is best known for his work on the 1939 fantasy film The Wizard of Oz.Institutional mode of representation
In film theory, the institutional mode of representation (IMR) is the dominant mode of film construction, which developed in the years after the turn of the century, becoming the norm by about 1914. Although virtually all films produced today are made within the IMR, it is not the only possible mode of representation. Other possibilities include the primitive mode of representation, which was dominant before being replaced by the IMR; certain avant-garde films that constitute a “deconstructionist” challenge to the IMR; and various non-western modes, notably pre-war Japanese film, that were possible before the IMR became the worldwide norm. Classical Hollywood cinema is the dominant style within the IMR, but other styles such as art house, independent, and most (current) foreign styles fall no less under the IMR.Jack Greenhalgh
Jack Greenhalgh (July 23, 1904 – September 3, 1971) was an American cinematographer, part of the Classical Hollywood cinema generation. He shot Billy the Kid in Santa Fe (1941), Gangster's Den (1945), Too Many Winners (1947) among others. He was active from 1926-53.Joe Pasternak
Joseph Herman "Joe" Pasternak (September 19, 1901 – September 13, 1991) was a Hungarian-born American film producer in Hollywood. Pasternak spent the Hollywood "Golden Age" of musicals at MGM Studios, producing many successful musicals with singing stars like Deanna Durbin, Kathryn Grayson and Jane Powell, as well as swimmer/bathing beauty Esther Williams' films. He produced Judy Garland's final MGM film, Summer Stock, which was released in 1950. Pasternak worked in the film industry for 45 years, from the later silent era until shortly past the end of the classical Hollywood cinema in the early 1960s.L.A. Rebellion
The L.A. Rebellion film movement, sometimes referred to as the "Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers", or the UCLA Rebellion, refers to the new generation of young African and African-American filmmakers who studied at the UCLA Film School in the late-1960s to the late-1980s and have created a quality Black Cinema that provides an alternative to classical Hollywood cinema.Opera film
An opera film is a recording of an opera on film.Ray June
Ray June, A.S.C. (March 27, 1895 – May 26, 1958) was an American cinematographer during the early and classical Hollywood cinema. His best-known films are Babes in Arms and Funny Face.Single-camera setup
The single-camera setup, or single-camera mode of production, also known as Portable Single Camera, is a method of filmmaking and video production.
The single-camera setup originally developed during the birth of the classical Hollywood cinema in the 1910s and has remained the standard mode of production for cinema; in television, both single cameras and multiple-camera productions are common.Skye Chandler
Skye Chandler Quartermaine (formerly Cudahy, Kinder, Davidson, and Jacks) is a fictional character from the ABC soap operas All My Children, One Life to Live, and General Hospital. Initially portrayed by Antoinette Byron, the role was then portrayed by Robin Christopher for most of the next 25 years. The role was also portrayed by Carrie Genzel in the late-1990s.
After her final departure from All My Children in 1997, the character crossed over to One Life to Live, appearing for two years until 2001 when she joined General Hospital for another seven years until 2008. Christopher went on to reprise the role in 2010 and 2011, before returning once again on November 21, 2012.
In accord with Skye's nomadic journey through the ABC soaps and ultimate independence, Robin Christopher has often been referred to by fans as the 'Greta Garbo of soap opera,' evoking in her performance the glamour and emotional depth of Classical Hollywood cinema.
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