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Why The "Golden Era"?


manderstoke
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Can someone tell me why this period, roughly from mid1930's to mid1960s is called the "Golden Era of Hollywood"?  This was the time of the infamous Production Code and the Legion of Catholic Decency, both of which worked tirelessly to prevent the production and eventual release of films that did not fit their narrow moralistic standards and to mutilate those which did find release in theatres.  It was a terrible era for movies dealing with substantive issues (instead audiences got mindless musicals), and woe the studio that wanted to produce a movie dealing with controversial issues. And, lest one forget, it dovetailed latterly quite well with the commie witch hunts.  Golden Era?  Is this a joke?

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Movies serve many purposes, not just one.

 

1930's was the depression. People wanted mindless musicals and slapstick comedies to laugh at to take a break from miseries of real life. They wanted fantasy swashbucklers, cowboys and heros. They wanted to see the cocktail parties they could never attend. Travel to far off places, at least for 90 mins.

 

And after that, there was lots of wars, civil rights, tragedy going on through the years. You can watch that on tv for free. People want to pay to get away, eat some popcorn and not have to think for a little while.

 

Its the golden era because the movie stars were kings and queens. No tv to compete with. They lived the lives many wished they could live. The best of everything, not a care in the world ( what people thought). Best clothes, best cars, the men women wanted to be with. The women men wanted to date. Studios worked hard to create auras around their biggest stars. And the people went along with it. And it worked for the most part.

 

The production code existed for a reason. People wanted it. There was no rating system then. Families ( back then families actually were the majority, imagine that !) wanted to know that when they went to a theater, they would see a film suitable for the whole family. I don't care for the code at all but, the majority then did. 

 

You can't really compare 1930 to today. You can find good and bad in anything if you look hard enough. I'm just glad we have these great films. Gives the modern films something to shoot for.

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Thank you GGGerald for posting what I was going to post. I came back here to post in this thread, but it was buried beneath the mass of spam. Isn't it sad, I had to go through the "Who's Online?" section to see that someone was reading this thread so that I could find it again.

 

I wanted to agree with GGGerald's statement that this era is referred to as the Golden Era because of what it represented and what it was during Hollywood's heyday. Since the rise in the popularity of television in the 1950s the movie industry is no longer the powerhouse it used to be. Now, with the rise in streaming online, the television industry is facing the same struggles the movie industry did 60 years prior. Nowadays, there is such a glut of television shows and films, that it is impossible to keep up with all of them. Even if shows or films are popular, none of them dominate like television or movies used to, back in the "golden era."

 

Look at Gone With the Wind, it was produced for $3.85 million dollars in 1939--which was a massive sum. It was a huge sensation during it's original run with about 60% of the public purchasing a ticket. What other film had 2/3 of the nation see the film? Nowadays, the population is about 3x what it was during The Depression and throughout the 1950s. In 1953, when Lucy Ricardo gave birth to Little Ricky, the episode, "Lucy Goes to the Hospital," had massive ratings with 68% of the country tuning in. No show these days, probably not even major events like the Super Bowl, report these numbers.

 

During the Great Depression, movies were a diversion. People didn't want to watch films about real world issues. They wanted to forget that they were hungry, unemployed, etc. They wanted to forget about their problems and be entertained by the antics of Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man. Screwball comedies, swashbucklers, fantasy films, etc. were huge during this time. Stars were bigger than life. Studios groomed and protected their "property" (so to speak). Stars during this time were immortal. Their images were protected so much that audiences were not made aware of the antics of huge stars like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. To the public, Garland and Rooney were two loveable cherubic teenagers. They weren't an addict and a womanizer (respectively).

 

While the production code definitely stifled film production, it also in a way, made these films more special. While I agree that sometimes these films can be a little too saccharine, "golly gee" for my tastes, there's also something very intriguing about them. The production code required filmmakers to be more clever with their innuendo and symbolism. If they wanted to "show" a sexual relationship between two characters, they were forced to use non-verbal clues to demonstrate to the audience what had happened or will happen.

 

The films from the golden era represent an idealized version of the world that makes them an attractive escape for even modern audiences. Like the audiences during these films' original releases, they want to escape modern life for the idealized lives depicted in these films. We want to forget about the mess the country is in and visit somewhere like Oz where their only problem is a witch that can be killed with a bucket of water. We want to visit Sherwood Forest and join Robin's band of merry men and run Prince John and his co-horts out of town. We want to go to Morocco and hang out in a swanky club and watch the drama unfold when old paramours meet.

 

While some of the happy endings can seem contrived and sometimes lame, with other films, it's comforting to know that everything will work out in the end. No matter what drama these characters face and how horrible their lives may be, it always works out in the end. In many of these films, there is a common motif-- love conquers all. Everyone loves a good romance right?

 

Finally, many technological strides emerged and new filmmaking and storytelling techniques were developed during this era that are still used today. Where would we be without Orson Welles' use of unique camera angles in Citizen Kane? Billy Wilder's use of shadow and Venetian blinds in Double Indemnity? The advances in Technicolor? There are so many wonderful things that emerged during this era which directly affected how films are made today.

 

It was also these film techniques that influenced Desi Arnaz' decision to film I Love Lucy like a movie, instead of on the standard kinoscope process which was a standard way to film television shows in the early 1950s. Arnaz wanted to make sure that everyone nationwide received a quality print of his program. At the time, it was customary for East Coasters to receive good prints of the kinoscope television shows, due to the fact that most shows were filmed there and that was where most of the country's population resided. The West Coast folks were treated to a blurry, fuzzy copy of the live television feed. Thanks to Desi Arnaz' foresight, I Love Lucy and the thousands and thousands of shows that followed are forever preserved on film for future generations to see again and again.

 

I'm sorry if this sounded like rambling. I consider this my stream of consciousness thoughts on why this era is referred to as "The Golden Age."

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Perhaps this should be qualified as being Hollywood's Golden Era as mandersoke points out.  

 

Arguably the Golden Era for Japanese, French, Italian, Swedish, British and Russian films began in the late 1950's and carried on through the 1960's.

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manderstoke--just a comment on musicals. They weren't All mindless; listen to the lyrics of Rodgers & Hart ("I Wish I Were In Love Again", to name one--a satiric look at marriage.  Listen to the lyrics of Rodgers & Hammersteins'  "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught"--a song about the roots of Racism, from 1958's "South Pacific" (from the 1949 Broadway hit): "Cabaret" (1972, from the 1966 Broadway hit) is Not mindless, in any sense.  Some were mindless, true (Esther Williams ones being the first example which comes to mind), but not All of them.  Some are very relevant today.  "Remember My Forgotten Man" from "Gold Diggers of 1933" was a tribute to veterans of WWI--sentiment still applies, IMHO.  Musicals gave pleasure while being socially conscious, in the best instances. :)

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I would like to see FredCDobbs come on to this thread and volunteer his opinions (if he is so inclined). I think he has a strong idea about what the golden age of Hollywood signifies.

 

Usually when someone asks 'why the golden age,' it is because they never lived in one and they do not know what it truly means. 

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I only disagree with GGGGerald on one point.

 

I don't think the majority of people really wanted "the code" as much as a majority of influential people.  Nonetheless...

 

(and since I too, am late to this party) I also think another reason why that era is called the "Golden Era" is that many of the movies made then sort of created the template for how movies mostly have been made ever since.  Whether technically or formula-wise, most movies from ANY era follow sort of, the same set of "rules".  Not that these rules are set in stone or anything, but look at it as the "rules of thumb" if you wish. 

 

Plus, many of the "stars" back then are still today used as yardsticks, sort of.  How many times for instance, have you heard of some young actress or actor referred to as, "The NEW______" (insert old time actor or actress's name)?  Or..."He/she has so-and-so's  qualities." ?

 

As far as musicals being "mindless", I'd agree to a point.  Sure, there were some that addressed stark social issues both in book and song lyric, but there were too, several that had frivolous storylines and song lyrics that didn't amount to much.  But given the most widely listened to popular music of the last ten or so years, I'd say some of those "mindless" musicals were MILES above what passes for lyrics these days.

 

Sure, manderstroke, I thought of the same stuff you did at one time, but as another pointed out here, the "Golden Era" to which you refer DID cover a large period of the depression, and notice too, besides what you called "mindless musicals", many of the characters in movies not only looked glamorous. but also lived glamorous.  Now, who wouldn't wish to escape their drab and financially precarious lives for an hour or two sitting in a dark room and admiring such glamour?  I mean, even today, with what's supposed to be a bad economy, television is rife with shows in which many people live lifestyles the majority of Americans never have, or ever will, have lived.

 

Sepiatone 

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I would like to see FredCDobbs come on to this thread and volunteer his opinions (if he is so inclined). I think he has a strong idea about what the golden age of Hollywood signifies.

 

It had quite a lot to do with the big film studios making most of the movies and almost all of the classic ones.

 

The studio system in the old days gradually learned certain “formulas” for making great films. The formulas were based basically on two things: Films being good and making the audience feel good or excited or filled with emotion, or, in some cases, extremely sad, and, above all, a lot of “happy endings”, which many foreign films did not have.

 

Another factor that made a good film was taking the audience on a roller coaster of emotion.... excitement, fear, sadness, happiness, love, romance, and loss of love and romance, plus tension, fearfulness, and all sorts of other emotions. A lot of this “formula” style of film making was learned and developed during the silent film era, and became fully developed during the 1930s. Oh, and let’s not forget the sex too.

 

Ok, that’s one thing.

 

Another thing is that the studios had the organizational system to develop the sound technicians into a large group of experts, and the same with the lighting technicians, the costume designers, the set decorators, and all sorts of other technical experts who were the best in their fields, and that is why some of the best actors and technicians in the world eventually moved from their own countries to Hollywood where they all worked together to make the best films in the world.

 

For example, unusual lighting and photography techniques from Germany. Realism from the neo-realism styles of Italy. Music styles from other countries. “British” type films that looked like they were made in England but they were actually made completely in Hollywood with mostly British actors, such as WUTHERING HEIGHTS, which was made completely in Hollywood and in rural areas not far from Hollywood.

 

And don’t forget all the different locations in California that looked like all parts of the world, such as Catalina Island, used in the first MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, the grassy hills around central California which were used in THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (which was filmed entirely in California).

 

But I think the main thing was “the studio system” which was very closely connected and even owned by the theater chains that showed the studio film, so a very efficient “factory” system was established in which every worker was an expert in his field, and the studio heads gradually learned what films would draw in audiences and what ones wouldn’t.

 

This monumental system began to crack and crumble when the government passed a law making the studios and theater systems break apart, and then television ruined the studios’ monopoly on visual entertainment. Gradually the studios began to lose money and fall apart, and was replaced by a hodge-podge system of poorly made “independent” films like HELLS ANGELS ON WHEELS, and HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, which split film audiences up into separate categories, so that the multi-targeted all-inclusive “family film” system was destroyed.

 

Movies were one of the few Arts that worked well under a “factory” system, but by the late 1960s the factories were gone and the new young production head and new studio heads had no idea how to make good classics again.

 

By the way, the Golden Age of Hollywood influenced Mexican fims quite a lot, and that era in Mexico became known as Época de oro del cine mexicano, with the word oro meaning "gold".

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Age_of_Mexican_cinema

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I only disagree with GGGGerald on one point.

 

I don't think the majority of people really wanted "the code" as much as a majority of influential people.  Nonetheless...

 

I don't mean so much that the majority wanted that code. But, they did want something. Maybe not as heavy handed as the code was though. Its no accident that the rating system came about around the time the code started to fade away. The industry was not going to revert to precode "free for all".

 

And people were much more religious then. Organized religion had much more influence in those days. And when the Catholic church demanded something be done, it was done.

 

Frankly, I just focus on the movies. What we had,not what we woulda, coulda shoulda had. And hey, there's always foreign films that had no code at all !  

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 The industry was not going to revert to precode "free for all".

 

 

 

Heh!

 

I'd say the industry went FAR beyond that!

 

You DO realize that the pre-code "free for all" you refer to really WASN'T all that "free" compared to what came AFTER the code was shedded, don't you?  :D

 

 

Sepiatone

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The production code existed for a reason. People wanted it. There was no rating system then. Families ( back then families actually were the majority, imagine that !) wanted to know that when they went to a theater, they would see a film suitable for the whole family. I don't care for the code at all but, the majority then did. 

 

 

The majority didn't want it and probably didn't care.  Just a very small minority forced it on everyone else.  That's why it eventually died.

As for Golden Era, the 1950's are referred to as American automobile's "golden era," but a lot of junk was produced.

Same for TV programs of the '50's and '60's - the Golden Era of TV.

I think Golden Era is one of those expressions bestowed by a minority on an era they liked, but maybe don't really understand that well.

Will have to say that I think movies and TV programs back in the "Golden Eras" had far better trained actors and producers, writers and directors who put more effort into producing a better product.

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Will have to say that I think movies and TV programs back in the "Golden Eras" had far better trained actors and producers, writers and directors who put more effort into producing a better product.

 

I agree.

 

But let's not forget the master lighting technicians;

 

Muley scene, lit by one small light bulb:

 

the_grapes_of_wrath_1940_760x521_980202.

 

 

Set designers and decorators, and excellent lighting technicians:

 

03_1940+Grapes+of+Wrath,+The+-+Hudson+%2:

 

Great cameramen, note the diagonal composition:

 

grapes-of-wrath-lc.jpg

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It's the golden age of Hollywood because even with all that constrained, same-old, overly-theatrical, Conservative weak tea, the theaters did great business and the industry made tons of money.

 

TV wouldn't begin to really be a threat until the late 50's - and, not coincidentally, that's when push-back against a lot of the code's influence really began to make itself felt. By the late 60's the boomers were spending most of the entertainment dollars the industry saw, and we were pretty damned sick of all the censorship and demanded to see realness.

 

The "golden age of hollywood" was definitely not the golden age of good movies. That wouldn't begin until the Supreme Court tore away the power of the production code.

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It had quite a lot to do with the big film studios making most of the movies and almost all of the classic ones...etc.

 

A few things I want to add to what Fred posted in such great detail.

 

First, some Hollywood stars who were bilingual appeared in foreign versions of their Hollywood hits. For example, Claudette Colbert made a few simultaneous French-language versions of some of her early Paramount talkies. And we also had people like Dolores Del Rio who made Spanish-language versions of some of her Hollywood movies, before she went to work exclusively in Mexican cinema during the 1940s. 

 

Second, we should also point out that Hollywood studios often hired European directors. These were people who brought their own unique ideas to filmmaking. And undoubtedly they were in turn influenced by Hollywood classical narratives and the 'factory' of the studio system. 

 

And I definitely agree that sound film owes a huge debt to the formulas that had been previously developed during the silent era. Film is a visually driven medium, and the silent movie technicians, who did not have elaborate soundtracks to fall back on, knew that better than everyone else. It had to be about the image and the emotions that the images stirred up in the viewers.

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Heh!

 

I'd say the industry went FAR beyond that!

 

You DO realize that the pre-code "free for all" you refer to really WASN'T all that "free" compared to what came AFTER the code was shedded, don't you?  :D

 

 

Sepiatone

 

1934 was only after the Ellis Island influx of immigrants. Approx. 25% of Americans were Catholic. The church got to the point of reading lists of films "good Catholics" shall not view, and the box office reflected that. Add in the devout members of other religions who felt the same way and that adds up to much more than a "small majority" . I'd say somewhat approaching 40-50% . 

 

We can never know how far film would have gone if left completely unchecked so one can only give an educated guess. And remember, no rating system. That's the key.

 

After the code was gone, a rating system replaced it. Of course things got more explicit, you knew exactly what you were getting. Rated X is not for families. If they had done something like that in 1934, the code may have not been needed. But, it even happens today. Unless a big business is threatened by gov't or a large entity, they are very reluctant to accept any restriction at all. Even if its for its own good. Baseball and UFC are examples in the sports world.

 

Understand, I am a strong proponent of freedom of speech and expression. I don't care for censorship of any kind. But, you have to understand your landscape and who are your customers. You have to cater to them, many of which wanted wholesome entertainment. Or at least could be able to avoid the more adult fare.

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I assume the term "Golden Age" was coined after that age had passed. That's what generally happens. When the new age doesn't seem to measure up, there is great nostalgia for the previous one.  We watch TCM because we love films from that period, because it was a "Golden Age." That doesn't mean bad things didn't take place in the world during that period.  Bad things took place during the Renaissance; still, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were considered part of a "Golden Age."  

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1934 was only after the Ellis Island influx of immigrants. Approx. 25% of Americans were Catholic. The church got to the point of reading lists of films "good Catholics" shall not view, and the box office reflected that. Add in the devout members of other religions who felt the same way and that adds up to much more than a "small majority" . I'd say somewhat approaching 40-50% . 

 

We can never know how far film would have gone if left completely unchecked so one can only give an educated guess. And remember, no rating system. That's the key.

 

After the code was gone, a rating system replaced it. Of course things got more explicit, you knew exactly what you were getting. Rated X is not for families. If they had done something like that in 1934, the code may have not been needed. But, it even happens today. Unless a big business is threatened by gov't or a large entity, they are very reluctant to accept any restriction at all. Even if its for its own good. Baseball and UFC are examples in the sports world.

 

Understand, I am a strong proponent of freedom of speech and expression. I don't care for censorship of any kind. But, you have to understand your landscape and who are your customers. You have to cater to them, many of which wanted wholesome entertainment. Or at least could be able to avoid the more adult fare.

"Wholesome entertainment" makes my artistic blood run cold.  Of course, you are right.  Mediocrity and the "safe" way usually triumph in this country.  And how well it dovetails with far right political viewpoints.  As H. L.  Mencken famously said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public."

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"Wholesome entertainment" makes my artistic blood run cold.  Of course, you are right.  Mediocrity and the "safe" way usually triumph in this country.  And how well it dovetails with far right political viewpoints.  As H. L.  Mencken famously said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public."

As enjoyable as Mencken may be to read, let's not overestimate him. He has been called a misogynist and a racist. Not just sporadically -- there seems to be justification.

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As enjoyable as Mencken may be to read, let's not overestimate him. He has been called a misogynist and a racist. Not just sporadically -- there seems to be justification.

 

Doesn't make him wrong about the American public. Flawed people can be right about some things.

 

And a good thing too, considering everyone is flawed to some degree at some time or other.

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Doesn't make him wrong about the American public. Flawed people can be right about some things - and a good thing too, considering everyone is flawed to some degree or other.

Yes, even a broken clock ... etc. etc.

 

But the subject in this thread seems to be about badness in one form or another. And Mencken's "badness" was even worse than many others. (Yes, I know -- Mussolini made the trains run on time...)

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And Mencken's "badness" was even worse than many others.

 

Says you. I'm sure there are many people who thought he was a fine fellow with a valuable mind.

 

Different times, different circumstances, different conventions, are easy to pass judgement upon in today's "enlightened" environment. Which is why people do it so much - it's easy.

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Says you. I'm sure there are many people who thought he was a fine fellow with a valuable mind.

 

Different times, different circumstances, different conventions, are easy to pass judgement upon in today's "enlightened" environment. Which is why people do it so much - it's easy.

Oh yes -- people thought all sorts of people were fine fellows. But my comments are not the revisionist ramblings of a contemporary liberal; they've been expressed by people since Mencken's time. I'm not really comfortable cutting and pasting this Mencken quote (one of MANY), but just as part of this exchange, I will (but I'll erase it in a little while; it's revolting).

 

Quote deleted by Swithin. Anyone who wants to see Mencken's racist posts can search for them -- they're not hard to find! (Never mind, I just noticed Mencken's quote appears in the response to my post.)

Edited by Swithin
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Oh yes -- people thought all sorts of people were fine fellows. But my comments are not the revisionist ramblings of a contemporary liberal; they've been expressed by people since Mencken's time. I'm not really comfortable cutting and pasting this Mencken quote (one of MANY), but just as part of this exchange, I will (but I'll erase it in a little while; it's revolting).

 

Mencken:

 

"I admit freely enough that, by careful breeding, supervision of environment and education, extending over many generations, it might be possible to make an appreciable improvement in the stock of the American negro, for example, but I must maintain that this enterprise would be a ridiculous waste of energy, for there is a high-caste white stock ready at hand, and it is inconceivable that the negro stock, however carefully it might be nurtured, could ever even remotely approach it."

 

I'm sure he was being very sincere and responsible at the time.

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