We only have the breathtaking feature films that we love today because of the many technological advancements made to push the quality of film further. While most people look to physical advancements such as digital cameras and microphones when they think of film technology, my mind immediately turns to a phenomenon much less concrete: the star system.
What is the Star System?
The star system can be loosely defined as the process of assigning actors personas and making them adhere to those personas in both their professional and personal lives. However, in order to truly understand the star system, one must first understand what came before it. In the early years of cinema, actors were looked down upon by society. This was even more so the case for female actors as they were seen by many as prostitutes. However, in 1910, the “Independent Moving Picture Company not only credited but advertised ‘stars’ [Florence] Lawrence, [William King] Baggot and other studio actors, a stroke that generated publicity and with it astronomical ticket sales (Hollywood Lexicon).” Other studios began to follow suit, placing emphasis on their actors and using them to drive sales. It was then that actors gained a significant boost in status and the concept of the “movie star” was born.
The star CRAZE
Today, movie stars are adored by millions around the world. These high profile actors have the ability turn almost any film into a box office success just by starring in it. It is because of this power that I find the star system so fascinating. In one of my earlier blogs, I talk about how this power was leveraged in the advertising of The Country Flapper (1922). Magazine adverts promoting the film contained the name of it’s star, Dorothy Gish, in bold letters far bigger than anything else on the page.
We saw several examples of stars in the movies assigned to the class including Humphrey Bogart, the star of In a Lonely Place (1950). Due to his unique features and ruggedly handsome face, Bogart specialized in morally ambiguous characters and was thus associated with such types of roles by the public. However, one of the best examples of true actor of the star system is Marilyn Monroe, one of the most famous actors of all time. Monroe often played the role of an attractive and dumb blonde, but stole the hearts of people around the world. She was seen as the perfect woman by many, forcing her to dazzle the world even when not filming.
A bigger picture
The success of the star system point to a valuable business lesson: branding is everything. People naturally drift towards things that are comfortable and familiar to them. Just like people will see a movie with a star they already love, they will buy a product with a company they already trust. In some ways, companies create their own personas. For example, Google has become known as the place where quirky geniuses go to change the world. Apple has aimed to set itself apart with the slogan, “think different.” Ultimately, when a company creates a persona for itself, it wants consumers to idealize the company in same way that movie-goers idealize actors.
“Star System (Film).” Hollywood Lexicon, http://www.hollywoodlexicon.com/starsystem.html.