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American Cinema of the 1920s

American Cinema of the 1920s: Themes and Variations

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    American Cinema of the 1920s
    Book Description:

    During the 1920s, sound revolutionized the motion picture industry and cinema continued as one of the most significant and popular forms of mass entertainment in the world. Film studios were transformed into major corporations, hiring a host of craftsmen and technicians including cinematographers, editors, screenwriters, and set designers. The birth of the star system supported the meteoric rise and celebrity status of actors including Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, and Rudolph Valentino while black performers (relegated to "race films") appeared infrequently in mainstream movies. The classic Hollywood film style was perfected and significant film genres were established: the melodrama, western, historical epic, and romantic comedy, along with slapstick, science fiction, and fantasy.

    In ten original essays,American Cinema of the 1920sexamines the film industry's continued growth and prosperity while focusing on important themes of the era.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4715-2
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. TIMELINE: The 1920s
    (pp. xi-xvii)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Movies and the 1920s
    (pp. 1-22)

    Writing in November 1931, F. Scott Fitzgerald stated: “It is too soon to write about the Jazz Age with perspective” (13). It may have been then, but it is not now. Furthermore, there are many aspects of the decade that make it an especially fascinating one to chronicle—both in terms of American cultural and film history.

    As for the first realm, it was an age of great drama, book-ended, as it was, between two cataclysmic events—World War I and the stock market crash. Beyond that, it begins and ends with a depression (though the earlier crisis is less...

  6. 1920 Movies, Margarine, and Main Street
    (pp. 23-45)

    Not surprisingly, it was cold at the beginning of January: that first Friday morning of the New Year would turn out to be particularly frigid across much of the Northeast and Midwest (“1 January”). But regardless of the bitter weather, enumerators in the towns of Monessen, Pennsylvania; Van Wert and Coshocton, Ohio; Bessemer, Michigan; and Waukesha, Wisconsin, had a job to do, and along with some 90,000 others around the country, they set out from their homes, portfolios of schedules under their arms and fountain pens in their pockets, duly instructed to take the 14th Census of the United States....

  7. 1921 Movies and Personality
    (pp. 46-69)

    The films made this year and the performers who starred in them participated in a relatively new popular interest in the secret strangeness of the familiar personality. The stories the movies now told bore the traces of a significant cultural transition: from a Progressive Era concern with finding happiness through solving life’s problems to a new but sustained fascination with the experiences and fate of the unusual person. For some, this development marks the transition from a socially conscious cinema to one of mere entertainment, but it also announces the arrival of the contemporary media personality, one of the principal...

  8. 1922 Movies and the Perilous Future
    (pp. 70-94)

    In a surprising number of spheres, this year may be regarded as a pivot point between the traditional and the modern. Political forces that would shape the rest of the twentieth century were coming to the fore. The United States was emerging as the preeminent first-world military power as the old model of political control gave way to economic control over the third world, and thus the postcolonial era began. Future foes of both the Second World War and the Cold War appeared, as Mussolini and his Fascisti took power in Italy and the young Soviet Union made its first...

  9. 1923 Movies and the Changing Body of Cinema
    (pp. 95-119)

    Embodiment—national, global, cultural, and personal—shifts and transforms on many levels at once this year. In Washington, one of the most corrupt presidential administrations in U.S. history is presided over by Warren G. Harding, who, after his death on 2 August, leaves a legacy of scandal involving disastrous political judgment (Teapot Dome), cronyism, extramarital affairs, and alcoholism (Prohibition notwithstanding). Despite public exposure of shady government and business interests, selling off of private lands, privatization of railroads, pending legislation to restrict immigration, Ku Klux Klan organizing, and labor unrest, the country witnesses an unprecedented economic upswing with the spectacular growth...

  10. 1924 Movies and Play
    (pp. 120-142)

    When static filled the air, it was not for want of trying to eliminate it. On 23 August, the newly formed Radio Broadcasting Association of America sought to abolish interstellar boundaries by relaying a message to Mars (that planet spiraled to within 55.7 million kilometers of Earth this summer day, the closest approach since 1804). Those ever-elusive Martians, alas, did not respond. Even so, radio’s communicative capacities triumphed through the live coverage of events from the World Olympic Games in Paris, the first sports broadcast of its kind. It may be for this reason that swimming champion Johnny Weismuller, who...

  11. 1925 Movies and a Year of Change
    (pp. 143-164)

    Midway through the decade, America was coming to terms with its emerging identity as a sophisticated, cosmopolitan society. The clash between traditional values and a developing modernist sensibility was expressed in the major political event of the year, the Scopes trial, and in the texts produced by America’s cultural scene. This year was something of a watershed for the American literary world. TheNew Yorkermagazine was launched in February and quickly proved to be a showcase for sharp literary talents such as Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, and Ring Lardner. Also in New York, African American cultural voices...

  12. 1926 Movies and Divine Stars, Defining Gender
    (pp. 165-187)

    Early in the year, technological advances stole the spotlight: U.S. inventors worked to address the development of television, spurred by competition with British inventor John Logie Baird. At the Royal Institution in London, Baird demonstrated a moving-object image with thirty lines of resolution on his mechanical television system. In the United States, Charles Jenkins transmitted a TV signal between cities, and Bell Telephone Labs transmitted a film. Pursuing advances in military technology, Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket on 16 March. Meanwhile, the technological change to sound film edged toward actualization as key industry alignments with sound systems took...

  13. 1927 Movies and the New Woman as Consumer
    (pp. 188-210)

    Sensational events and personalities that made headlines this year were signs of an American culture deeply divided about the nature of consumer capitalism and modernization. Demographic change had resulted in more urban than rural dwellers, but ethnic and racialized people in cities represented the unassimilatable Other and were scapegoated. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, for example, were electrocuted for murder after an unfair trial that accentuated ethnic, class, and ideological differences in Brahmin Massachusetts. Amid a power struggle involving several black leaders and organizations, Marcus Garvey, radical founder of the United Negro Improvement Association, was imprisoned for mail fraud. The...

  14. 1928 Movies, Social Conformity, and Imminent Traumas
    (pp. 211-233)

    For the average American living and working in a big city, it must have felt, more or less, like the previous year. As we learn from the beginning of King Vidor’sThe Crowd, every achievement felt possible and ready to be plucked from the tree of prosperity for generations to come. The Empire State Building was under construction, Alexander Fleming had discovered penicillin, and the Harlem Renaissance of Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes was in full bloom. “Grow up and do something big!” This is the message that John Sims’s father projects on his baby boy as Vidor’s camera...

  15. 1929 Movies, Crashes, and Finales
    (pp. 234-256)

    During the 1920s there had been an extended boom in stock prices, with values quadrupling over a nine-year period. Investors, convinced that this trend was endless, continued to borrow funds to plow back into the market. When Herbert Hoover was inaugurated on 4 March, displacing Calvin Coolidge, he had predicted: “We shall soon, with the help of God, be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this nation.” Yet this year would bring the stock market crash and would always be associated with it in American history. On 25 March a mini-crash had ensued with the...

  16. 1927–1929 Select Academy Awards
    (pp. 257-258)
    (pp. 259-262)
    (pp. 263-274)
    (pp. 275-276)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 277-291)