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Movies About the Movies

Movies About the Movies: Hollywood Reflected

Christopher Ames
Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: 1
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Movies About the Movies
    Book Description:

    Hundreds of Hollywood-on-Hollywood movies can be found throughout the history of American cinema, from the days of silents to the present. They include films from genres as far ranging as musical, film noir, melodrama, comedy, and action-adventure. Such movies seduce us with the promise of revealing the reality behind the camera. But, as part of the very industry they supposedly critique, they cannot take us behind the scenes in any true sense. Through close analysis of fifteen critically acclaimed films, Christopher Ames reveals how the idea of Hollywood is constructed and constructs itself. Films discussed:What Price Hollywood?(1952),A Star Is Born(1937),Stand-In(1937),Boy Meets Girl(1938),Sullivan's Travels(1941),In a Lonely Place(1950),Sunset Boulevard(1950),The Star(1950),Singin' in the Rain(1952),The Bad and the Beautiful(1952),Pennies from Heaven(1981),The Purple Rose of Cairo(1985),The Player(1992),Last Action Hero(1993).

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4887-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Hollywood Stories
    (pp. 1-20)

    It’s a Hollywood story.” Throughtout the history of American film, this phrase has been used to classify and define those movies that take the world of movies-Hollywood-as their subject. Yet one of the first truisms about Hollywood is that it is not a place but a state of mind; as John Ford famously put it. “Hollywood is a place you can’t geographically define.”¹ Critics have resorted to a variety of metaphors in the attempt to define Hollywood. Some call it a factory town and refer to “the industry” and its products. Geoffrey O’Brien, thinking of the ubiquity of filmed images....

  5. 1 Cautionary Tales
    (pp. 21-51)

    When David O. Selznick defendedA Star Is Bornto the Hays Office during production, he wrote that the film would function as “a warning to girls of how strong the chances are against them.”¹ Indeed, the movie includes at least one such explicit cautionary scene at Central Casting. As Esther Blodgett observes a host of switchboard operators telling hopefuls that no extra work is available, the receptionist warns her that her chances are “one in a hundred thousand.” But, of course,A Star Is Bornis not a disillusioning movie in this sense. Esther responds tentatively, “But—maybe—I’m...

  6. 2 Singin’ on the Screen
    (pp. 52-79)

    Early in the 1954 remake ofA Star Is Born, Norman Maine (James Mason) finds Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) at the Downbeat Club, where she is jamming after hours with her orchestra after finishing a show at the Cocoanut Grove. Earlier in the evening, Esther and Norman had met on stage and she had cleverly saved him from drunken embarrassment by incorporating him into her act. Now that he has sobered up he wants to thank her and. the movie implies. pursue a romance with her. Norman walks into the smoky nightclub with chairs and ashtrays stacked and a few...

  7. 3 Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella
    (pp. 80-107)

    After the opening credits roll,Sullivan’s Travelsplunges into a vicious fight between two men atop a rushing steam locomotive. To the accompaniment of a melodramatic score, the two struggle until one shoots the other. The wounded man grabs the other by the throat. and they both plunge to their deaths into a lake below. “The End” emerges on the screen beneath a ripple of water. Only then does the camera pull back to show us our location in a screening room, as John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) interprets the final scene for a pair of less-than-credulous studio executives. Opening...

  8. 4 Screen Passages
    (pp. 108-136)

    In J.B. Priestley’s 1933 novelAlbert Goes Through. Albert Limpley, a British clerk and inveterate moviegoer, attends the premiere of the new feature starring his favorite actress, Felicity Storm. Limpley has a bad cold, but he doesn’t want to miss the show, so he takes some strong medicine offered by his landlady. His fever and the medicine make him delirious. and he hallucinates entering the movie screen. “going through,” or what I call a screen passage. Paired with his beloved heroine, Limpley wanders from one genre film to another (through various literary “dissolves”). He travels from an espionage adventure set...

  9. 5 No Business Like
    (pp. 137-163)

    Show business,” “dream factory,” “entertainment industry”—the terms are so familiar and hackneyed that we are likely to forget how blatantly they call attention to the economic base of movie artistry. That these terms are also oxymorons emphasizes the ever-present conflict in Hollywood creations, the conflict between art and business. While this conflict is not unique to film, it is exaggerated or foregrounded by various dynamics of the movie industry: the high cost of film technology, the historical development of film production in the context of film distribution, and the collaborative nature of filmmaking. All of these factors have made...

  10. 6 Picturing Writers
    (pp. 164-192)

    InSunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond snarls with disdain when she asks Joe Gillis if he is one of those who have “written pictures.” Her dismissive formulation highlights the dilemmas of the screenwriter, the writer who has entered a medium in which words are no longer primary. It also invites us to consider how Hollywood haspictured writers, how screenwriters are imagined and dramatized in films about Hollywood. “Not often,” might be a good first response. In all the movies about Hollywood discussed so far, onlyThe Bad and the Beautifulincludes a screenwriter (althoughSullivan’s Travels, by writer-director Sturges, perhaps...

  11. 7 Offing the Writer
    (pp. 193-223)

    A dead writer in a swimming pool: that is one way of describing the most famous single image in all the films about Hollywood. It refers, of course, to the shot of Joe Gillis that occurs about two minutes intoSunset Boulevard. The image exploits the iconography of Hollywood dreams in which the swimming pool is the ultimate symbol of success, and the corrupted pool—empty, decaying, or tarnished with a corpse—is the ultimate symbol of the failed dream. The private swimming pool glistening blue in the desert landscape signifies luxury, as do chauffeurs, private tennis courts, and home...

  12. Epilogue: California Dreams
    (pp. 224-226)

    We began by considering the multiple associations of “Hollywood” as signifier and asking how movies about Hollywood might explicate some of those cultural meanings. It is worth considering the “sign” of Hollywood as well. For the most famous symbol of Hollywood is the literal Hollywood sign, perched on the Hollywood hills. Its history—from advertisement for the subdivision Hollywoodland to icon for the movie industry, from optimistic newness to disrepair to renewal at the hands of the Chamber of Commerce—seems especially appropriate to Hollywood’s self-construction. Like the movies themselves, the Hollywood sign represents a human invention transforming a natural...

  13. Appendix: Film and Videotape Availability
    (pp. 227-227)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 228-237)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 238-244)
  16. Index
    (pp. 245-254)