Friday, 26 September 2008

Cinemaniacal: A Matter of Identity

I've been watching the PBS/American Masters miniseries on the history of the Warner Bros. movie studio, and it got me thinking about what made the studios so powerful, and the pictures they made so great in that long lost golden age.

It was identity.

Each of the major studios of that era had a specific identity.

Warner Bros, were the tough, gritty studio, that made street level films, filled with raw emotion and sometimes unsubtle social commentary.

MGM had "more stars than in heaven" and created a universe of glamour and glossy beauty filled with sunny songs and happy endings.

Universal looked into society's fears and foibles through the lens of fantasy and horror.

Paramount dealt in style, wit, sophistication, and romance on a grand scale.

Twentieth Century Fox, had their westerns and historical dramas, using the past to interpret their present.

And that's just what I'm rhyming off the top of my majestic cranium.

Now I'm not saying that Warner Bros. was incapable of making a witty sophisticated romance, or MGM a good crime movie. They did, quite often, but that didn't change the fact that they had an identity, a stamp that put a real meaning behind the logo at the beginning of the film.

And nor was that identity intentional. It was often based on gut instinct, specifically the instinct of the people who ran those studios. The original moguls were thinking about making money with one side of their brain, and leaving a lasting legacy with the other. They may be remembered as tyrannical, and meddling, but remember, they had a deep personal investment, of money, ego, and honour, in every picture. A personal touch lacking in today's movie studios.

Today's studios are now merely cogs in massive, ponderous mega-conglomerates that make Jabba The Hutt look positively svelte. The people that run them, faceless, uniform drones, who get hired, get fired, and are usually quickly forgotten. Their mark on the studio and its output fading quicker than it takes to cook minute rice.

Today's minute-moguls don't run the studios with the intent of putting themselves into the company. It's not their name on the watertower over the production office, and most of the time they have no real substantial stake in the company enough to invest their own identity into the company. There are simply their to see what they can take out of the company.

And I just don't think that's a healthy way to run a business built on art, or an art form based on business.

But that's just my opinion.

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