The Studio System: An Industrial Marvel

As an average film fan, I rarely care to think about the production process beyond how certain scenes were filmed or how some special effects were added in. The most highlights part of the filmmaking process seems to be the actors and the storyline, while many of those who work behind the scenes in setup, decoration, and film editing are forgotten (by people like me, I admit). Learning about the idea of the Studio System caught me by surprise; every industry has an established process by which most companies abide, but I had never grouped cinema into this category. Since I am an Industrial and Systems Engineering major, the emergence of the Studio System immediately caught my eye.

This trend did, in fact, hold true for the film industry. All major companies used the Studio System whether they were one of the Big 5 (MGM, Paramount, RKO, Warner Bros, or 20th Century Fox) or in The Little 3 (Universal Pictures, Columbia, or United Artists). Today, we see companies like Amazon function at unimaginable efficiency, something every company wishes to replicate. In the 1920s, after the implementation of the assembly line to produce Ford automobiles, the assembly line idea was applied to the film industry among many others in the form of the Studio System.

On the set of Now, Voyager (1942).  Source

The Studio System divided film making into pre-production, production, and post-production phases. Pre-production was centered around the producer and included costumes, set making, contracting screenwriters, and hiring directors and actors. Production was the actual filming and involved cinematographers, special effects, props, and actors. Finally, post-production was the transmission of the film into viewable content via editing, music composition (background music), and the printing and copying process done in laboratories.

This system standardized Hollywood films during what is considered to be its “Golden Age”. Films tended to follow a similar structure, have similar plot schemes, and use the same types of technology (quality still depended on the budget of the film). The shortcomings of the Studio System were that the diversity of Hollywood was reduced, small budget films found it difficult to compete because they could not afford the technology of the time, and films had to follow a technical and social production code, which often constrained producers’ imaginations.

From its advent around 1917, the Studio System led to a rampant increase in Hollywood annual film production. Nearly 400 movies per year were produced in the Studio System Era, which includes The New York Hat, The Girl from Missouri, Bringing Up Baby, Laura, and In a Lonely Place. These films all feature technology that diverged from the preliminary film tech: rolling cameras, soundtracks, and even technicolor in some scenarios. They all followed the production code to promote positive behavior and discourage negative behavior. They all featured an active mystery murder or an elaborate romance trail.

The overhaul of the Studio System came after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Paramount in United States v. Paramount (1948), which resulted in the loss of theater holdings by the major studios. The high costs associated with the Studio System became deadweight for many companies after they lost their guaranteed revenue streams after this case. Thus, in the next decade, lower-budget movies began to grow in popularity and take over small town America. But as Hollywood always does, they adapted to the change and continue their dominance today.

 

Works Cited

“The Hollywood Studio System: Art as Industry.” Silver Screenings, 8 Dec. 2017, https://silverscreenings.org/2016/08/04/the-hollywood-studio-system-art-as-industry/.

“Studio System.” Film Reference, http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Romantic-Comedy-Yugoslavia/Studio-System.html.

Studio System of Classic Hollywood – Hollywood Lexicon, http://www.hollywoodlexicon.com/studiosystem.html.

“Studio System.” Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film, Encyclopedia.com, 24 Oct. 2019, https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/studio-system.

Laura: A Stigmatizing Mystery of Power and Romance

With Laura being Vera Caspary’s most esteemed published novel, it is imperative that we place the utmost emphasis on perfecting its adaptation and properly conveying its inherent thematic messages. Published during the height of the second world war, Laura highlights many of the social and interpersonal stereotypes of the time. With many men off to support the U.S. war effort in Europe, a Mystery Scene article suggests that infidelity was likely common in the atmosphere and housewife affairs were rampant. Since Laura is filled with the drama between Laura, Waldo, Shelby, and Detective Mark McPherson, I suggest that the scene in which Laura comes back to her apartment to find Detective McPherson in her apartment to investigate her murder after she discovered Shelby’s affair with Diane Redfern.

Detective Mark McPherson as he suspiciously mills about Laura’s apartment in the 1944 film adaptation.

 

This scene depicts Laura, who is engaged to Shelby after splitting off from her ex-lover Waldo, strutting about her skyline office in absolute disbelief. After speaking with Mark, Laura realizes that she is believed to be murdered and dead by the public. She speaks with both Shelby and Waldo to handle her emotions, which are beginning to overflow even through her strong, independent nature. After she recedes to her apartment for the night, Laura hears her mother’s voice in her head, speaking of her utter desperation. This ironically presents Laura with an incoming headache, just as desperation did for her mother. Although she mills about in a bit of a frenzy before calming to a more depressive state, her cognizance of the issue shines through her temperament as she plans to visit her country home and officially decides to call off her marriage to Shelby once and for all.

The importance of the scene lies in the way that Laura reveals some of her flaws that take away from the audience’s view of her being a completely infallible, elaborate identity that comes along with her position as a premier New York advertiser. This scene must show Laura walking throughout her luxury apartment with the view of mansions in the background while talking about her immature feelings. This will powerfully contrast her seemingly desirable lifestyle with the romantic issues she is struggles with.

With one of the major themes of the film being the sophisticated nature of women, this scene directly contradicts all of the sophistication that Laura has accredited to her name until this point. She now appears as a beautiful, omniscient woman at the top of her field, who is continuously bogged down by her poor romantic choices. Her conversation with Shelby in this scene also reveals that she has compensated for the fact that she still had dinner with her ex-lover by allowing Shelby to cheat on her with Diane all this time. The differences in sexuality involved in their side affairs highlights the powerlessness Laura experiences in this situation.

This film adaptation can better communicate the major themes by including technicolor to better show Laura and her lovers’ emotions, Laura’s innate beauty, and the growing power held by the city of New York. Special effects would be most useful to portray the action scenes in which Diane is murdered and Waldo is killed in his second attempt to kill Laura. Finally, multiple camera angles and a rolling camera will better portray the emotions that Mark, Waldo, Shelby, and especially Laura show in this pivotal scene. Since this scene serves as a major turning point in the plot, its proper production will ensure the film’s success as it will form a lasting memory in the audience’s minds.

Works Cited

Cogdill, Oline. “Laura by Vera Caspary.” Mystery Scene, KBS Communications, https://www.mysteryscenemag.com/blog-article/2845-laura-by-vera-caspary.

Dirks, Tim. “Hollywood During the War Years.” Film History of the 1940s, https://www.filmsite.org/40sintro.html.

“Laura.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 15 Jan. 1945, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0037008/.

Pierce, Kimberly. “Feminist Friday: Laura (1944).” Citizen Dame, 10 July 2018, https://citizendamepod.com/2018/07/13/feminist-friday-laura/.

1928 Ramona: The Most Superior of the Five

After pulling together endless information about the original novel, Ramona, I moved on to explore one of the film adaptations that had been made from Jackson’s work. At first, I was stunned to find that there were a whopping five adaptations of a single book; in modern times, there are usually one or maybe two film adaptations of a single literary work (arguably due to legal issues). I found that the 1928 adaptation of Ramona is generally agreed by most critics to be the most technologically sound, authentic, and well-produced film of the five adaptations.

Produced by Edwin Carewe, the 1928 film adaptation of Ramona notably starred Dolores del Rio as Ramona and Warner Baxter as Alessandro. From a New York Times article published on May 15, 1928, I found that the scenes were set in southern California but actually recorded in natural areas in Utah such as Zion National Park, Springdale, and Cedar Breaks National Monument. After watching the pieces of the film released to the public, I immediately noticed that the majority of the scenes are filmed in the outdoors in order to emphasize the outdoor nature of Native American settlements. The cameras were forced to move less by producers than the Natives were forced to move by the U.S. Government. Most of the shots were medium to close-up shots, and this film features sound effects and synchronized score but lacked dialogue. The lighting control on the cameras was sub-par in many scenes when there was either too much sun or too much darkness, but most critics seem to agree with my stance that the message behind the film was not degraded by this shortcoming.

Spanish language poster from ‘Ramona’ (1928). Photo Courtesy Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.

The film depicts Ramona, who is half Native American, as she is raised by a Mexican family. Ramona suffers racism and prejudice in her community, and she chooses to identify as a Native American instead of a Mexican American so that she can marry Alessandro, who is a Native as well. This romantic tragedy bestows upon us the tragic death of Ramona and Alessandro’s child at the hands of a Caucasian doctor, who refuses to help their child because of his skin color. Shortly after, the couple moves away and Alessandro is killed by a white man for robbing him of his horse; Ramona eventually reunites with her childhood friend Felipe and starts a new life as a depressed woman until he sings a song from their childhood to soothe her memory.

 

If I had to rate Ramona on the Rotten Tomatoes scale compared to modern films, I would give it below a 50% simply due to technological inferiority, but for its time I give it an 83%. Most technological effects were up to date for its time, and the plot was profound and moving. I found an article published by UCLA which stated that the 1928 film is believed to be the most authentic since Carewe was part Chickasaw and del Rio was raised in Mexico. Ramona is differentiated from most films with a typical Hollywood ending because of its authentic cultural values embedded throughout. In an article by Indian Country Today, I was impressed by the fact that Carewe discovered del Rio in Mexico and was her steppingstone to fame in Hollywood as an actor and singer. Del Rio went on to sing the song “Ramona” which was featured in the 1936 film adaptation.

The original intention of Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel was to expose the mistreatment of the Native Americans by the U.S. government, but the 1928 Ramona is most well remembered for its romantic and dramatic aspects. Mary Beltran, a film critic and professor at UT Austin, even stated that “Ramona is a partial talkie that was actually a musical.”  I assume that Jackson was reeling from her failure to improve the state of Native affairs after A Century of Dishonor, so she slightly strayed away from the direct focus on Native Americans.

Works Cited

Aleiss, Angela. “Recovered and Restored: ‘Ramona,’ Silent Movie by Chickasaw Filmmaker.” IndianCountryToday.com, Indian Country Today, 28 Mar. 2014, https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/archive/recovered-and-restored-ramona-silent-movie-by-chickasaw-filmmaker-Alq0R_XXLkmu37KWcm0n8g/.

Brook, Vincent. “’Ramona’ Resurrected: Long Lost 1928 Film Adaptation Resurfaces in L.A.” Mediascape Blog, University of California Los Angeles, 16 Apr. 2014, http://www.tft.ucla.edu/mediascape/blog/ramona-resurrected-the-long-lost-1928-film-adaptation-resurfaces-at-ucla/.

Hall, Mordaunt. “THE SCREEN; A Gloomy Comedy.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 May 1928, https://www.nytimes.com/1928/05/15/archives/the-screen-a-gloomy-comedy.html.

“Ramona.” IMDb, IMDb.com, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0019305/plotsummary?ref_=tt_ov_pl#synopsis.

Shultz, Craig. “HEMET: How Lost ‘Ramona’ Film Was Found, a Long Way from Home.” Press Enterprise, Press Enterprise, 9 Mar. 2015, https://www.pe.com/2015/03/09/hemet-how-lost-8216ramona8217-film-was-found-a-long-way-from-home/.

An Intended Protest, a Received Romance: Ramona

As a proud member of Generation Z, I naturally consulted Wikipedia first when researching my chosen lost film, an adaptation of Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel, Ramona. The first thing I noticed when I pulled up the article was that Jackson’s Ramona has been adapted into five different films as well as a radio broadcast and an outdoor play which is performed annually! Of these, I have chosen the 1928 silent film adaptation directed by Edwin Carewe, starring Dolores del Rio as Ramona and Warner Baxter as Alessandro.

Next, being a responsible research scholar, I opened all of the sources that Wikipedia cited to penetrate through the surface-level information about Ramona and Carewe’s adaptation. This led me to a breadth of published literary analyses as well as some critical articles about the author, Helen Hunt Jackson. From Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, I found Jackson’s early life to be anything but stable; she lost both of her parents before becoming a teenager, lost her husband after less than a decade, and had neither child live past the age of nine. Perhaps the curse of the Northeast or her therapist’s suggestions brought Jackson to move out west to the Rockies. Here, she met some brown-skinned people who would transform her career forever.

I found Jackson’s first introduction to the plight of the Native American people was through Standing Bear, the leader of the Ponca Tribe in Colorado. This led her to firmly support the Native People and write her first novel, A Century of Dishonor, which was her first step in exposing the mistreatment of the natives by European settlers. After several unsuccessful attempts on my behalf to find Ramona’s past and on Jackson’s behalf to change the state of the Natives, we both came to new solutions. I found the San Diego Reader, and Helen Hunt Jackson wrote Ramona. In this newspaper, I came across an article that described Jackson’s motives behind writing A Century of Dishonor and Ramona: to expose the mistreatment of the Native Americans at the hands of the U.S. Government. This time, she exposed the mistreatment of Natives in Southern California via Ramona, which was published into more than 300 copies by Little, Brown and Company.

Image result for helen hunt jackson ramona

A photograph of Helen Hunt Jackson following her publication of Ramona.

Although Jackson’s main goal in writing Ramona was to arouse the public and anger them about the mishandling of the Native affairs, the actual reception of Ramona was by a scholarly audience. Ramona became famous not because of horrific stories like those in A Century of Dishonor, but because of its powerful romantic and literary aspects. The novel depicts Ramona as a Irish-Native American orphan, who is raised by a priest and afforded luxuries as a result of her foster mother’s dying wish. After discovering that she is part Native, Ramona falls in love with Alessandro to the dismay of her priest. In their struggle to find a stable community to live in and raise their children, Alessandro develops mental issues and eventually is killed by an American.

As I uncovered a New York Times article from 1928, when Carewe’s adaptation of Ramona was produced, I noticed that the reviews for the film were more highly rated than the reviews for any of the other film adaptations. There was very high praise for actor choices (Ramona and Alessandro mainly) as well as the uses of then-modern film tech. The article also Acknowledges possible bias against Caucasian settlers after Ramona discovers she is half Native American. At that point, the focus shifts to how white settlers invaded the Natives’ village and killed their women and children.

Works Cited

Bennett, Carl. “Ramona.” Silent Era : Progressive Silent Film List, 14 Mar. 2012, http://www.silentera.com/PSFL/data/R/Ramona1928.html.

Briscoe, Mary. “Helen Hunt Jackson.” Literary Encyclopedia | Helen Hunt Jackson, 23 Apr. 2004, https://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=5706.

Hall, Mordaunt. “THE SCREEN; A Gloomy Comedy.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 May 1928, https://www.nytimes.com/1928/05/15/archives/the-screen-a-gloomy-comedy.html.

“Ramona (1928 Film).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 May 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramona_(1928_film).

“Ramona.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 July 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramona.

Sky, Doris. “Helen Hunt Jackson.” Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, 1985, https://www.cogreatwomen.org/project/helen-hunt-jackson/.