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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2000
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
on June 26, 2000
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
on August 1, 2004
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
on March 7, 2005
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
on June 8, 1998
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
on February 16, 2010
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2003
Film theorist Andre Bazin once wrote "The American cinema is a classical art, but why not then admire in it what is most admirable, i.e., not only the talent of this or that filmmaker, but the genius of the system." Quite simply author Thomas Schatz had done just that with this groundbreaking and wondrously entertaining history of the Hollywood studio era.

Up until its publication in 1988, film history had been defined by the "auteur" school of thinking where the director is the supreme artist who nurtured the art form. The studio executives- the money men- were relegated to the background and often depicted as crass capitalist who often hindered the creative process.

In Schatz's eyes, men like Carl Laemmle, Darryl F. Zanuck, David O. Selznick, Harry Warner, and Irving Thalberg were intuitive geniuses who understood the art of storytelling and were able to systematically deliver that art to the masses with drive and innovation. From the low rent beginnings of the Nickelodeon to steady decline of the studio system amid the dawn of Television, these men set standards that are sadly not met by today's faceless conglomerates. They all created "the movies" as we fondly perceive it and Schatz lets the creation of 20th century popular culture unfold with a finely turned narrative sweep.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2012
I found this book to be both interesting and enjoyable to read. It is a historical account of relevant events and materials from the Golden Age of Hollywood, documented along a timeline. The most notable films are covered, as well as some of the stories behind them. It is not an exhaustive book, but if you know your movies from that time period, then it is easy to fill in a lot of the blanks. Since I am a researcher and collector of movies from this period, this was both interesting and informative.
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on August 10, 2013
Usually reviews start with things like "If you like....then you will love......"
This book gets into the personalities of the studio moguls, and their relationships. Each (major) studio is analyzed by their various strong points and weak points and how they each found their particular niche in the overall mosaic.
Schatz give us a great over all perspective that is extremely interesting and fills in the voids we have when we only watch the movies. Movies are history and we can see the tremendous effort and genius that did in fact give us the Golden Era.
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on September 27, 2013
The author takes us through the story of four Hollywood studios: MGM, WB, Universal and Selznick. No mention or Paramount or Fox, and RKO. To make this simpler. And within selected studies refers to what he calls its driving forces. So that is the story of certain characters of studio system which he calls the system geniuses. Definitely not are all. But the material is interesting and can be read pleasantly. Separating each of the studies periods and speech about they separately. Rich in anecdotes.
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