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The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era 2.1.2010 Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0816670109
ISBN-10: 0816670102
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this original, monumental survey of Hollywood's film studios during their most glorious period, Schatz, professor at the University of Texas and author of Hollywood Genres , in contrast with the directorial theories of Andrew Sarris and other film historians, describes the creative give-and-take, the symbiotic accord between creators and front offices, in which the styles of writers, directors and stars fused with studio management structures, production operations, talent pools, narrative traditions and market strategies. Analytically and with anecdote examining the financial as well as creative workings of MGM, Warner Bros., Para mount, Universal and RKO in the era of Thalberg, Selznick, Zanuck and Hitchcock, Schatz demonstrates that at the heart of each studio's house style were the star-genre formulations (Bette Davis melodramas, Humphrey Bogart thrillers, Boris Karloff horror films, Gene Kelly musicals) that nowadays, as they are recirculated and rediscovered by young viewers, are all that remain of the great studios and of the vigorous, dynamic men and women who sustained them. Photos.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Several other histories of Hollywood's studio system have already been published, including Robert Stanley's The Celluloid Empire (LJ 5/15/78), Douglas Gomery's The Hollywood Studio System (LJ 1/86), and Ethan Mordden's The Hollywood Studios (LJ 5/15/88). All these books have some value, but Mordden and Schatz win top honors. Larger libraries should purchase both books, as they complement each other. Mordden's primary interest is aesthetics; Schatz's is business. Mordden's writing is sometimes brilliant, while Schatz's is only good, but Schatz has obviously done a lot of research, and he puts it to good use in a very readable book. John Smothers, Monmouth Cty. Lib., Manalapan,
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press; 2.1.2010 edition (March 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816670102
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816670109
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,260 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Thomas Schatz is professor of communication at the University of Texas, Austin. He is the author of several books, including "Hollywood Genres" and "Boom and Bust: American Cinema in the 1940s."

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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Robert McManus on July 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Prof. Schatz does not suffer from the scholar's disease of academic-speak and writes a book that clearly demonstrates his expertise on the studio structure. Most books I have read extended the view of the outsider looking in at the star system and not the economics of the studios. "Genius of the System" chronicles the history of the studio's business, that is to say the economics and the people behind the economics.
If you want to read about the business structure of Hollywood during its beginnings, this is the book for you. I cannot recommend it enough.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By "johnedit" on June 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
An easy to read writer, Thomas Schatz details how the studio system worked from the silent era to its final collapse in the 1960s.
He illuminates both the art and the business of films, with keen analysis of how producers, directors and screenwriters created such fine art (and rich profits) -- especially the producers, who are more the authors of Hollywood films than any other group.
He convincingly portrays MGM's Irving Thalberg as a genius of art and commerce and MGM's Louis B. Mayer as a clod (except when dealing with difficult stars).
Schatz offers telling portraits of many others who did their best work under the constraints of the Hollywood system. He details the major studios' styles and how they evolved over the years. It's clear he has read file cabinets of documents, from endless -- but revealing -- memos to how much the stars made(!).
He also puts the film industry in social and cultural context; he even says the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1940s and 1950s were a disguised form of anti-semitism.
In the end, Schatz offers a convincing alternative to the auteur theory.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By R. Deniston on August 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
Schatz's book is well-rounded and nicely structured. It was a good decision on his part to take a round-robin focus on each studio instead of trying to mix them together, as some authors have. All of the studios had different ideas about what they wanted to achieve in their work, so this approach makes sense. Twentieth-Century Fox and Paramount were left out completely, but Schatz was clearly trying to choose one studio of each type of size and characteristic so as to keep control of the scope of the book.

I did find a glaring error--the finale to "Babes in Arms" was not the minstral number, but the song, "God's Country." In a book of this size, or of any size for that matter, errors will creep in, so it isn't the kiss of death. However, if the reader is familiar with MGM musicals, it may be a small turn-off.

Also, I wasn't satisfied with the epilogue. Instead of citing examples of the comeback of the studio system (LucasFilm, for instance), Schatz simply outlines the creative decline of Alfred Hitchcock. Huh.

Slight shortcomings aside, this book is very entertaining. I wish my film studies textbooks had been this interesting.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Martin Noah on March 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
Thomas Schatz argues in this brilliantly detailed book that even more remarkable then the motion pictures Hollywood produced from the early 20's through about the end of the 40's, was the detailed process of how Hollywood was able to churn out these quality films on a routine basis.

Schatz does a remarkable job of diagraming the rise of the studio system in Hollywood. The book is remarkably easy to follow (compared to any of Andrew Sarris's works) and includes numerous photographs. He focuses most on the trials and tribulations of Universal Studios, Warner Bros. and MGM and their distinct, integrated studio styles (RKO is mentioned to a lesser extent as well).

Producers Irving Thalberg, David O. Selznick, Daryl Zanuck and director Alfred Hitchcock are featured prominently and rightfully so. Also, includes many of the behind the scene battles between studios and directors/producers.

There are some minor criticisms though. He almost completely ignores Paramount and Colombia Pictures. Paramount was as much a factory set-up as MGM and deserves more attention. And the decline of the studio system is sparse compared to the rise of. But aside from that, this book is an enjoyable read and recommend it to anyone who is fascinated with early Hollywood.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 8, 1998
Format: Paperback
Schatz's examination of Hollywood's inner workings during its Golden Age (from just before the rise of talkies to about 1960) is enlightening, informative and entertaining. It's authoritative in its presentation of how studios worked--backing up Schatz's viewpoint that the studio system was as much responsible for the overall quality of that era's films as any other factor (including the stars and directors)--yet it doesn't forget to entertain with intriguing and (dare I say it?) gosspy tidbits about many landmark films and legendary filmmakers. A solid read and, as Steven Bach says in the foreword, an important book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By nto62 on February 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is no other industry in which the nuts-and-bolts business of production results in a product so widely glamorized. Glamor is alluring, thrilling, magnetic, but nuts and bolts are rarely so. There must be a temptation to deploy the former when presenting the latter if only to enliven the account. The Genius of the System doesn't need to for Thomas Schatz has done his job. From its birth in the silents to the death blow dealt by TV, Schatz steers the reader through the studio system with pace and aplomb. Executives and production staff, marketing and distribution, genres, styles, budgets and grosses all come into play. MGM, Paramount, Universal, Columbia, RKO, et al., serve as the rotating objects of the author's attention in a manner that easily induces the reader's.

I read large chunks of this book at a time and enjoyed every minute of it. As a fan of 30's, 40's, and 50's era films, I particularly enjoyed the sections describing the production of my favorites. Indeed, there are films the book compelled me to see again and for the first time. Knowing the production story of a particular film adds another welcome dimension to the art form.

Effectively melding business and history, The Genius of the System is a 5-star read with special appeal. Movies were once more than special effects and unabashed license. There were classics. They had character. This is a great look at how they were made.
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