American film

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  • A: Patchy - development since World War II
  • B: Brief summary of the articles that have been outsourced
  • C: Revise the structure or better support it (see en: Cinema of the United States )
  • D: Individual references are missing

- ðuerýzo ?! 1:12 p.m., Apr 9, 2009 (CEST)

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The history of US-American film is a chapter in film history that is relevant both for film art and for the economy of film , precisely because of the prominent position of the United States as a film nation . Hollywood , a district of Los Angeles , achieved world fame as the center of the US film industry , which is why the name is often synonymous with the entire American film industry. Synonymous with Hollywood's film industry, the term is in turn Dream Factory ( English Dream Factory ) is used.

The structure of the film market (1910 to 1918)

international Developement

Until 1912 , US film companies focused on the American domestic film competition. Only then did their influence on the world market increase. And so rapidly that as early as 1914, at the beginning of the First World War , they made up half of world film production.

The tough competition between the Edison Trust and the “Independents” headed by Carl Laemmle had created effective instruments which, tried and refined on national competitors, now hit international competitors with increasing severity. Nevertheless, Hollywood's supremacy was by no means invulnerable, only a political development gave it the necessary calm for restructuring: the war in Europe.

The French film production, the main competitor to the Americans came with the outbreak of war immediately and completely to a halt, because Pathé transformed his raw film factory in a munitions factory at its studios and in barracks. Similarly, but less extreme, Italian production collapsed when the country entered the war in 1916.

After it became foreseeable that the war could last a very long time, the French tried to get back into business. They did not reach the position they held before the outbreak of war. In addition, the German Reich passed a general ban on film imports in 1916, which robbed the European film nations of their most important sales market. Exporting overseas also turned out to be increasingly difficult, because the military required a lot of transport capacity for themselves. In addition, German submarines and smaller cruisers waged a trade war against the Entente powers, with civilian freighters also being sunk because the Entente were suspected of using them for arms deliveries (e.g. the sinking of the RMS Lusitania ).

National development

The power of the Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC) was largely broken in 1914, and the court rulings that followed were only formalities. Both the national and international competition of the independents were eliminated. The US film industry lost part of the European sales market, but the demand for fresh films within the United States was higher than in all of Europe put together, for example in 1916 there were already around 28,000 cinemas all over America. Hollywood companies also dominated the rest of the world; for example, they provided a large proportion of the films shown in Australia and South America , which were distributed directly from around 1916 (it used to be customary to sell to local middlemen).


According to Robert C. Allen and Douglas Gomery, free competition between companies is based on four points:

  1. The interchangeability of the products
  2. The small market share of the individual companies
  3. The absence of barriers to competition
  4. The mobility of resources

The MPPC oligopoly

The first attempt to destroy free competition and to create an oligopoly was carried out by means of patents. MPPC tried to hinder the access of foreign companies by making competition more difficult for them through license fees. In order to enforce the system, there should also be a high level of market penetration. At its peak, the MPPC controlled most of the cinemas via license. Access to film material was also not possible without a license, as Eastman Kodak had an exclusive contract with the MPPC.

The Edison Trust attacked points 2-4 in particular. The system finally failed with the cancellation of the Edison patents by the United States Supreme Court , but its decline had begun much earlier.

Reactions of the "Independents"

The independents gained free access to the film material by building their own cameras and by revoking the patent on raw films in 1912. And in order to be able to compete with the trust , they began to distinguish their films from those of the MPPC. This is where the feature film and the “ star system ” were created.

Although the MPPC was not blind to these innovations, it also made feature films, due to its structure and, above all, its customer structure, it was nevertheless not able to experiment with these new instruments. The trust wanted to sell bulk goods to generate a certain margin. Expensive stars would only have driven up the costs, and feature films carried a risk that should not be underestimated, for which the customers of the trust did not want to pay. The “independents” were able to undermine the first point of the free competition and offer unique film experiences instead of interchangeable products, which clearly met the public interest and above all opened up more financially strong middle classes.

The feature film comes up around 1909 and is only seriously developed further by the independents, for example by Famous Players , who later only produce features. Famous Players are also the first company to use the star system consistently, after previous attempts, e.g. B. from IMP


With the above steps, the independents manage to secure a position in the market and to expand it further. They lack efficient structures for national and international growth, for example in distribution. The old states rights system, in which the producer sells local franchise rights for his film to a distributor, which then lends them to cinemas within his defined area, still persists until the mid-1910s.

This situation changed for the first time in 1914 with the merger of eleven regional distributors to form Paramount , the first to act as nationwide rights. Due to its sheer size, the company can operate much more cost-effectively than its competitors, not to mention the fact that this system also brings significant advantages for the manufacturing company. The old system comes to a standstill by 1918 .

Vertical integration

Shortly after its inception, Paramount signed five-year contracts with Famous Players, Lasky and Bosworth that were later extended to 25 years. A trend emerges here that is becoming increasingly important in 1914: the interweaving of the previously separate areas of distribution, production and demonstration, a phenomenon that is referred to in the specialist literature as vertical integration. The bond through the five-year contracts is beneficial for everyone involved: each benefits from the success of the other. If the Lasky program is very good, the Paramount range will be bought by more cinemas, which will benefit Famous Players and Bosworth as well, as their programs will be more widespread. The cooperation then also leads, two years later, to the merger of the companies mentioned and a few other companies.

But earlier examples of vertical integration can also be found. In 1912, for the first time, all three areas of the film business were united under the name Universal . However, it lacked a large first-run cinema chain. Nevertheless, the merger seemed so threatening to the industry that the establishment of Mutual should be a direct countermeasure. Here, too, many companies came together under one roof that were explicitly only concerned with distribution and production.

Even William Fox owns a 1913 distribution and a production company, but these are merged later. Little was heard from the cinema chain owners at first; it was not until 1915 that three large chains, Rowland, Clarke and Mayer, merged to form the Metro Pictures Corporation , a production company.

Complete vertical integration

The really big reaction of the cinema owners came only in 1917. At this point in time the merged Paramount had become the dominant company, which sold its films via block booking . In other words, to get a film with a Mary Pickford caliber star , you had to purchase a complete package, the vast majority of which could be described as average at best. On the other hand, it was hard to avoid buying the packages if you didn't want to lose your audience to another cinema showing the same Mary Pickford film.

To break this system, 26 of the largest national first-run cinema chain owners came together to form the First National Exhibitors Circuit . With their considerable purchasing power, they wanted to make and distribute purchases together. The first goal was to buy stars, finance their films and in return acquire the right to show them and the right to distribute the films made regionally.

Very soon an own production was added. Between 1917 and 1918, First National signed Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford for one million dollars each. Both were given complete artistic freedom. At that time, First National already controlled around 600 cinemas, 200 of which were premieres.

Up to 50 percent of the producers' income came from the first-run cinemas, and cinemas were also the most reliable money-makers in the rather volatile film business, as the operator risk was much lower than, for example, in production. In addition, the success in the first runs decided on a lucrative distribution.

So if Paramount did not want to lose its customers and its audience, a counter-attack had to be taken. So, with financial support from the Kuhn, Loeb & Co. bank , the company got into the cinema business, initially with a sum of 10 million dollars. Paramount thus became the first fully integrated or completely vertically integrated film company.

The second oligopoly

So the old independents became the owners of the second oligopoly. At the end of the 1910s, the first point of free competition was overridden by the star system and feature films, the second point by the sheer size of companies: fewer than ten companies controlled over 50 percent of the market . The unification of distribution and the beginning battle for the cinemas also undermined the last two conditions for a functioning competition.

A new company could neither get sufficient access to the cinemas nor access to the stars, i.e. to the essential resources of film production. Production costs had also risen sharply. Between $ 50,000 and $ 100,000 per film was normal, with no upper limit. A large part of this money went into the pockets of the stars, the rest was invested in better equipment, another hurdle for newcomers.

To counter the trend towards higher fees and, as was later revealed in a Supreme Court hearing, to establish a monopoly, First National and Paramount planned a merger worth $ 40 million. The plan was to sign a five-year contract with every major movie theater owner in the United States. The stars would then no longer have a basis for any claims.

United Artists

The plans for this merger were uncovered by a private detective who, on behalf of Charlie Chaplin , Mary Pickford , Douglas Fairbanks and DW Griffith, was supposed to find out why neither First National nor Paramount was renewing their contracts. Of course, appalled by such prospects, they decided to counter it by starting their own business.

United Artists was founded in 1919 as a film distribution company. The company was financed by the Morgan Group and a deposit of US $ 100,000 for preference shares from the owners. In addition, there were also normal share certificates, the resale of which United Artists had a right of first refusal.

The society did not have its own studios but used the studios of its members. It had been established as a pure service society that was not supposed to work for returns, but instead gave the owners the greatest possible autonomy and profits from the business of their films. There was no block booking, each film was sold individually and had to convince solely through its artistic qualities. The United Artists' rental fees were well below those of First National and Paramount, so they posed a significant threat to their dominant position.

The fight for the cinemas

The merger of the two giants had also failed because their most important asset, the stars, had run away. So First National was still a competitor to Paramount, and the United Artists, with their very high quality films and enormous popularity, put the company in further distress. So Paramount tried what would be called a hostile takeover today: Bit by bit, the cinema chains that were part of the First National were bought up.

Other companies also tried to gain control of the premiere houses, even United Artists later, in 1924, was forced to set up their own chain due to a lack of buyers. As in the past, the fights for the cinemas were fought hard, especially Paramount's “dynamite gang”, also called “wrecking crew”, lived up to its reputation. A widely used method of tying cinemas to one another was the block system .

Between the First World War and the end of the silent film era (1918 to around 1930)

Dominance of the world market

Since 1917, American companies began to estimate their profits based on domestic and overseas sales. This profit estimate resulted in the production budget , which was increased by it, which was doubly bad for foreign competition. The production costs of a film were amortized in the United States , and later the films were offered cheaply abroad, which meant that international competition could no longer keep up.

American films were considered to be of better quality and were still cheaper to buy than z. B. German productions. The infrastructure and the rationalization of the production processes were nowhere as advanced as in Hollywood , a result of the growing influence of the banks.

When the First World War was over and people in previously cut off countries such as Germany and Austria saw Hollywood productions for the first time, they experienced a real quantum leap in quality. The leading European film-making countries, whose isolated film industries had suffered five years from the First World War and also had to contend with much smaller budgets, could do little to match the competition from the United States. By 1927, the share of American film production in world film production increased to almost 90%, which at the beginning of the 1920s put the film industry in England, France, Italy, Germany and Austria in dire straits and caused local film production to decline sharply. Numerous European film production companies had to close. In 1925 1,200 US productions were exported to Austria alone , although the demand for the cinemas there was estimated at around 350. In many countries, film quotas were introduced that regulated the number of film imports allowed from the United States.

Since around 45% of the profits came from Europe at the time, the restrictions in Europe were viewed with suspicion by the American film magnates . Lobbying against import restrictions was mostly unsuccessful . In Hungary, however, the planned import restrictions were not implemented after the US film industry threatened the Hungarian authorities not to show films in Hungary.

Film industry situation

In 1927, American film employed 350,000 people, according to the US Department of Commerce. Around 500,000 kilometers of film tape were used to produce the film, which required more silver than the silver coins in circulation in the United States. Films totaling 75,000 kilometers of film tape and a value at that time of around 320 million marks were exported. At the end of 1927, the United States had 21,642 cinemas that were visited 3 billion times that year, which in turn resulted in proceeds from the entrance fee of around 2.5 billion dollars.

While America dominated the global film market with almost no competition worth mentioning, foreign productions had little chance on the US market. While in some countries up to 1,000 or more US film productions were shown in cinemas each year, only 65 foreign films were shown in the entire United States in 1927, 38 of them from Germany, nine from England, six from France, four from Russia, two each from Austria and Italy and one each from China and Poland. Even these films were mostly not very popular and were shown almost exclusively on so-called film art stages.

The studio system

Main article: studio system

Early sound film era until the end of World War II

From 1933, but increasingly from the beginning of the Second World War and the expansion of the German Reich to ever larger parts of Europe, a wave of emigration from mostly Jewish filmmakers from Europe began. While their emigration destinations were often European cities with a film industry such as Vienna , Paris or London at the beginning, the up-and-coming Hollywood film industry soon emerged as the most sought-after and most promising destination for emigrants - reinforced by the targeted recruitment of European film greats by Hollywood studio bosses.

Of the approximately 2,000 Jewish filmmakers who found no work in the German Reich and had to emigrate, around 800 ultimately found themselves in Hollywood - including almost the entire elite of German-speaking filmmaking of that time. Many had a glorious career there, many, especially those who arrived in Hollywood in 1938 and even later without a job offer, could no longer continue their previous careers and only got into poorly paid and insignificant positions or even had to go into the film business after a while to give up. Instead of the coffee houses that were used to from Berlin and Vienna, where people used to meet regularly, large apartments and villas of emigrants who were successful in Hollywood have now become new meeting places. Popular meeting places for film and theater professionals were the addresses of Henry Koster , Paul Henreid , Ernst Deutsch-Dryden , Paul Kohner and later also Sam Spiegel . The literary emigration, including screenwriters, often met at Salka Viertel and Brecht .

After the Second World War

American feature film production
year number
1975 258
1985 356
1995 631
2005 699

New Hollywood

Main article: New Hollywood

See also



  • Kenneth Anger : Hollywood Babylon , Reinbek near Hamburg: Rowohlt-Taschenbuch-Verlag, 1999
  • Helmut G. Asper: 'Something better than death ...'. Film exile in Hollywood: portraits, films, documents. Stoking 2002, ISBN 3-89472-362-9 .
  • Elisabeth Bronfen , Norbert Grob (Ed.): Classical Hollywood. Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-15-019015-9 . (Films from 1929 to 1960)
  • Peter Bürger: Cinema of Fear. Terror, war and statecraft from Hollywood. Butterfly Publishing House; Edition: 2nd, through. u. exp. Edition 2006, ISBN 3-89657-472-8 .
  • Hollywood hybrid. Genre and Gender in Contemporary Mainstream Film , ed. by Claudia Liebrand, Schüren Presseverlag 2003
  • Neal Gabler: A realm of its own. How Jewish emigrants invented Hollywood. Berlin Verlag 2004, ISBN 3-8270-0353-9 .
  • Michaela Krützen : Dramaturgy of the film. As Hollywood says. Frankfurt am Main, Fischer TB, 2004, ISBN 3-596-16021-9 .
  • Paul Werner , Uta van Steen: Rebel in Hollywood - 13 portraits of obstinacy. Münster 1987
  • Slavoj Zizek : Lacan in Hollywood. Turia & Kant 2000, ISBN 3-85132-276-2 .



  • Christopher Ames: Movies about the movies: Hollywood reflected. University Press of Kentucky, 1997
  • Ward Churchill: Fantasies of the Master Race: Literature, Cinema, and the Colonization of American Indians: Literature, Cinema and the Colonization of American Indians. City Lights Books., US, 1998, ISBN 0-87286-348-4 .
  • George F. Custen: Twentieth Century's Fox: Darryl F. Zanuck and the Culture of Hollywood. BasicBooks, New York 1997, ISBN 0-465-07619-X .
  • David Bordwell , Janet Staiger, Kristin Thompson: The Classical Hollywood Cinema. Columbia University Press, New York 1985
  • Alan Taylor: We, the media…, genre, star system, representation of news journalism, media mergers, 1976–1999. Peter Lang, 2005, ISBN 3-631-51852-8 , p. 418.
  • Steven Alan Carr: Hollywood and anti-semitism: a cultural history up to World War II. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001
  • Gene Fernett: American Film Studios: An Historical Encyclopedia. McFarland, Jefferson, NC 1988, ISBN 0-7864-1325-5 .
  • Otto Friedrich: City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s. Harper & Row, New York 1986, ISBN 0-06-015626-0 .
  • Neal Gabler: An empire of their own: how the Jews invented Hollywood. Crown Publishers, New York 1988.
  • Molly Haskell: From reverence to rape the treatment of women in the movies. 2nd Edition. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987.
  • Mick LaSalle: Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000, ISBN 0-312-25207-2 .
  • Ethan Mordden: The Hollywood Studios: House Style in the Golden Age of the Movies. Alfred A. Knopf, New York 1988, ISBN 0-394-55404-3 .
  • Stephen Prince: A new pot of gold: Hollywood under the electronic rainbow, 1980-1989 (= History of the American cinema. Vol. 10). New York: Scribner et al. a. 2000.
  • Vincent F. Rocchio: Reel Racism: Confronting Construction of Afro-American Culture. Westview Press, 2000.
  • Peter C. Rollins (Ed.): Hollywood's Indian: the portrayal of the Native American in film. Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1998.
  • Marjorie Rosen: Popcorn Venus: Women, Movies & the American Dream. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, New York 1973, ISBN 0-698-10545-1 .
  • Steven J. Ross: Working class Hollywood: silent film and the shaping of class in America. Princeton University Press, 1998.
  • Jean Rouverol: Refugees from Hollywood: a journal of the blacklist years. University of New Mexico Press, 2000.
  • Kerry Segrave: American television abroad: Hollywood's attempt to dominate world television. McFarland, 1998.
  • Dawn B. Sova: Women in Hollywood: from vamp to studio head. Fromm International Publ., New York 1998.
  • John Trumpbour: Selling Hollywood to the World: US and European Struggles for Mastery of the Global Film Industry 1920–1950. Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Eileen Whitfield: Pickford: the woman who made Hollywood. Macfarlane Walter & Ross, 1997.

Experimental film

  • Lauren Rabinovitz: Points of resistance: women, power & politics in the New York avant-garde cinema, 1943-71. 2nd Edition. University of Illinois Press, 2003.
  • P. Adams Sitney: Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde 1943–1978. 2nd Edition. Oxford University Press, 1979.


  • Bill Nichols: Newsreel: documentary filmmaking on the American left. Arno Pr., New York 1980.
  • Janet K. Cutler, Phyllis Rauch Klotman (Eds.): Struggles for Representation: African American Documentary Film and Video. Indiana University Press, 2000.

Independent film

  • Peter Biskind: Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film. Bloomsbury, 2005.
  • Greg Merritt: Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Film. Thunder's Mouth Press, 2001.

Individual evidence

  2. Gertrude Jobes: Motion Picture Empire. 1966, p. 219.
  3. ^ Benjamin B. Hampton: History of the American Film Industry, From its Beginnings to 1931. 1970, p. 255.
  4. 1917-1919: Paramount, First National, and United Artists . In: History of the American Cinema .
  5. ^ A b L'Estrange Fawcett: The world of film. Amalthea-Verlag, Zurich / Leipzig / Vienna 1928, p. 21 (translated by C. Zell, supplemented by S. Walter Fischer).
  6. ^ Fawcett, p. 44.
  7. ^ Fawcett, p. 35.
  8. a b Helmut G. Asper: Something better than death - film exile in Hollywood. Schüren Verlag, Marburg 2002, pp. 20, 28, 49.
  9. World film production report (excerpt). ( Memento of August 8, 2007 in the Internet Archive ; PDF) Screen Digest, June 2006, pp. 205–207; Retrieved October 3, 2015.