Hollywood Independents

Hollywood Independents: The Postwar Talent Takeover

Denise Mann
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 336
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttt55m
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  • Book Info
    Hollywood Independents
    Book Description:

    Hollywood Independents explores the period from 1948 to 1962 when independent film producers first became key components of the modern corporate entertainment industry. Denise Mann examines the impact of the radically changed filmmaking climate—the decline of the studios, the rise of television, and the rise of potent talent agencies—on a group of prominent talent-turned-producers, including Burt Lancaster, Elia Kazan, and Billy Wilder.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5374-4
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1. Charting a Path of Independence in a Corporate Wilderness
    (pp. 1-30)

    The decline of the old studio system and the resulting transformation of the American film industry that took place from 1947 to 1960 are frequently characterized as the end of the golden era of Hollywood. In 1951 famed independent producer David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind, Rebecca, Spellbound) went so far as to compare the by-then-already-antiquated studio system to the crumbling ruins of Egypt.¹ In contrast to Selznick’s rather morbid, if colorful, assessment, the decade is just as frequently championed as the inauguration of a New Hollywood—an era when independent production increased, factory-like production techniques receded (in the...

  5. 2. Backstage Dramas: MCA and the Talent Takeover
    (pp. 31-64)

    The years 1942 to 1962, and especially the postwar years when the Old Hollywood studio system began to crumble, marked a major transition in the way the film industry did business. When the movies began experiencing serious economic difficulties in 1947, the three top talent agencies—MCA (Music Corporation of America), the William Morris Agency (WMA), and Famous Artists—became an increasingly powerful presence in the industry because of their formidable relationships with newly independent above-the-line talent: writers, directors, and, especially, the stars.¹ Studio executives found themselves ever more at the mercy of the elite agencies if they wanted to...

  6. 3. The Gray Flannel Independent: New Hollywood’s New Organization Man
    (pp. 65-86)

    The previous chapter, through a case study of the rise of MCA, examined the radical restructuring of the Hollywood film industry in the early post–World War II period. This development led to the infiltration of the “organization man” and “gray flannel” ethos into the business operations of the industry and also, paradoxically, facilitated the rise of independent filmmaking. This chapter looks at the more constructive side, from a progressive, ideological, and creative cinematic standpoint, of the New Hollywood ledger. As the two epigraphs to this chapter suggest, the rise of the “independents” and the rise of the “organization man”...

  7. 4. Self-Referentiality: Mediating TV’s Incursion into Hollywood and the Home
    (pp. 87-120)

    This chapter examines a subset of postwar business films that employ strategies of self-referentiality, satirical irony, and other distancing devices, including often highly self-critical references to the filmmakers’ own ambivalent experience as industry players. These films areThe Hucksters(Jack Conway, 1947),The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit(Nunnally Johnson, 1956), andThe Apartment(Billy Wilder, 1960).¹ A separate section examines the idiosyncratic self-referential anarchic comedies of Frank Tashlin, to which much of Wilder’s work bears significant comparison. Each of these self-referential entertainment films represents a distinct type of postwar studio release registering an industry in transition, and a...

  8. 5. Two Emergent Cinemas: Art and Blockbuster
    (pp. 121-144)

    The early work of writer–director Joseph L. Mankiewicz offers another variation on the theme of an emerging art cinema in the “new Hollywood,” an emergence, as we saw with Billy Wilder, which would hardly follow a smooth linear course. The focus here is primarily on Mankiewicz’sA Letter to Three Wives(1949), made for Fox under the stewardship of studio chief Darryl Zanuck and yet one of the more artistically ambitious of the anti–big business/anti–mass media films. This film is compared with another Fox offering, the star-studded, fashion-laden, CinemaScope blockbusterWoman’s World(Jean Negulesco, 1954). Initially conceived...

  9. 6. Elia Kazan: Caught between HUAC and the “New Hollywood”
    (pp. 145-168)

    Previous chapters described the postwar shift from the Old Hollywood contract-player system to one in which, because of the lag in production, the studios were forced to make more single-picture deals with independent producers. Yet the benefits of independence, as we saw with Mankiewicz, were not absolute. Some actually thrived under the greater discipline still operating within the New Hollywood studio system than under more full-fledged independence. In addition, although financing was more readily available to New Hollywood independents than had previously been the case, given the persistent postwar domestic box-office downturn and the anti-Hollywood protectionism of many countries abroad,...

  10. 7. A Face in the Crowd: Reframing Reflexivity
    (pp. 169-192)

    The meeting between Kazan and exiled German playwright Bertolt Brecht in New York and their near collaboration in 1947 are fascinating to consider in relation to the radical reflexivity of Kazan’sA Face in the Crowd, made a decade later.¹ Brecht had invited the Group Theater alumnus and recently turned Hollywood director to stay in New York to direct one of Brecht’s plays. But Kazan turned down the offer, having already accepted Zanuck’s offer to direct another movie, and he claimed a preference for the unique challenges associated with working inside the Hollywood system.² Nonetheless, the Brechtian influence on Kazan’s...

  11. 8. When Talent Becomes Management: The Making of Sweet Smell of Success
    (pp. 193-218)

    As withA Face in the Crowd, the analysis ofSweet Smell of Successis divided into two parts. This chapter examines the careers of Burt Lancaster, Harold Hecht, James Hill, Clifford Odets, Alexander Mackendrick, and Ernest Lehman: the primary above-the-line players involved in the making of the film. The purpose is to clarify the film’s methodological underpinnings and ideological parameters as they relate to an emerging American independent art cinema. Chapter 9 is devoted to a close reading of the film text as another key exemplar of the ideologically reflexive entertainment-business film. Made by another prominent talent–turned–independent...

  12. 9. Sweet Smell of Success: Punishing Privileges of the Professional–Managerial Class
    (pp. 219-242)

    As withA Face in the Crowd, classical Hollywood conventions vie with ideologically reflexive technique inSweet Smell of Successto produce complex, contradictory, and ultimately progressive meanings. By imposing a Brechtian aesthetic on the classical, character-driven narrative relating to the rise and fall of press agent Sidney Falco,Sweet Smell of Successconflates the individual psychological facet with its broader social dimension: the power dynamics of the artist/business relationship. For example, in the scene where Falco attempts to win an account with the aging vaudevillian Herbie Temple (Joe Frisco), who wants to break into television, complex visual cues seemingly...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 243-252)

    This book’s central project has been to analyze the ascension of a new generation of professional-managerial cultural workers, the New Hollywood independents, during a period of industrial crisis and transformation in the post–World War II American film industry. This transitional period saw the evolution of film production from the classical, studio-governed, factory-like “production unit” system to an entrepreneurial, one-shot-deal “package” system in which an independent producer assembled a “creative team”(often including himself as star, director, and/or writer) to use as leverage in obtaining financing and distribution from a studio or independent production company. Out of this new arrangement, which...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 253-298)
  15. Index
    (pp. 299-324)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 325-325)