HOLLYWOOD LIVES LIVES
As the Dream Factory approaches its 100th birthday, Liam Burke takes a tour around Tinseltown to find out how the old place is holding up
HOLLYWOOD’S recent, navelgazing return to making films about films – The Artist, Hugo, My Week with Marilyn – may have made moviegoers feel like they have a degree in film studies. So with Universal, one of the first Hollywood studios, turning 100 on April 30th, it was a good time to pay a visit to the lots to find out how the Dream Factory is doing. In the early years of the 20th century, moving pictures went from being a vaudeville novelty to being shown in dedicated movie palaces or Nickelodeons. Then, the vast majority of US films were produced along the east coast.
Recognising the financial possibilities of the nascent industry, and seeking to control it, light bulb inventor Thomas Edison – whose technicians had developed the Kinetoscope, a peepshow precursor to cinema – set up the Motion Picture Patents Company. To escape Edison’s cronies, and find a site with year-round sunshine and a wide variety of terrains, film pioneers headed west to the unsuspecting town of Hollywood, California. Dream Factory was born. The emphasis was on “factory”: actors, writers, directors and other creatives were kept under restrictive studio contracts, and genres were used like blueprints.
Kenny compares actors to professional athletes, claiming that if contracts were still in place “Tom Cruise would be on our team”. Under this system, studios would dictate what films their staff would make and Carlos Tévez-style behaviour would be punished with contract extensions and other penalties.
One might think that this Ford-like production would stifle creativity, but it allowed film-makers to hone their talents and produce the classics by which today’s films are measured. Holiday Inn, Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard relayed from building to building with a machine-like efficiency.
Today, it is television programmes that more often fill the soundstages, with Glee, Dr Phil and The Doctors all in residence at Paramount, while the Warner Bros tour name-checks teen drama Pretty Little Liars more often than Casablanca.
While it makes sense to give over a soundstage to a show that might achieve Friendslike longevity, it is disappointing to see the stage that once housed Citizen Kane preparing for a Hollywood remake of ITV’S “banged-up babes” series, Bad Girls.
Clockwise from above left: Universal Studios; statue at the entrance to the studios; The Simpsons and Krustyland attractions; the Starline tour bus stops on the Walk of Fame; the Paramount Studios tower. Above right, the TMZ tour.