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Introduction to Mass Communication

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The medium had, after nickelodeon days, converted many legitimate theaters into movie houses.
Later, during Hollywood's “golden age,” thousands of sumptuous movie palaces were erected all over the
United States, and drive-in movie theaters became popular outside urban centers. Since their inception the
movies have always been termed an industry, with good reason. In 1938 there were more than 80 million
single admissions per week (65% of the population). To meet the huge box-office demand, more than 500
films were produced that year.

From studios to film series

The industry in its heyday (1930–49) was managed by a number of omnipotent studios, including
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Warner Brothers, RKO, Paramount, Twentieth Century-Fox, and Universal. They
produced endless cycles of films in imitation of a few successful original types. The range of themes
included the criminal underworld, behind-the-scenes newspaper dramas, westerns, musicals, and costume
romances, character series such as the Charlie Chaplin films, prison stories, mysteries, comedies, and
Broadway shows. Because of their enormous investments and gargantuan rewards (the film industry's gross
income for 1946, its best year, was nearly $2 billion), the studios were encouraged to repeat
conventionalized formula pictures.

Post-Studio Era

In the 1950s, two developments ended the studios' grip on the entertainment business: the
overwhelming popularity of television began to eat into studio profits and the studios were forced by the
federal courts to yield the control of distribution and exhibition that they had maintained by means of
massive conglomerate corporations. In 1962 box-office receipts were only $900 million; by 1968 only 20
million people per week were going to a movie (10% of the population). Independent distributors and
theaters took a huge cut of the industry's income after World War II, and the studios cut wages and laid off
employees in a struggle to survive.

Challenges from TV

In order to compete with television the studio heads strongly urged technological innovation. In
the 1950s experiments abounded with wide-screen processes, such as Cinema Scope and Cinerama and
stereophonic sound systems. The movies of the 1950s and 60s traded a bit of glamour for an increased
sense of realism, providing vehicles for new directors, including Elia Kazan, John Frankenheimer, Stanley
Kubrick, and Sidney Lumet, and for a great number of popular film stars, including Marlon Brando, Marilyn
Monroe, Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Judy Holliday, James Dean, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor,
Charlton Heston, Doris Day, George C. Scott, Audrey Hepburn, and Sidney Poitier.
Eventually, 1956 many studios began to produce material especially for television, including commercials,
and to sell their old films for television reruns. Independent production became the norm, with the studios
acting as distributors only, and new kinds of films emerged: horror, science fiction, and rock 'n' roll stories
aimed at teen-agers proliferated. Concurrently, larger studio-backed films eschewed romanticism and
sentimentality, fighting the long-imposed bans on depictions of a harsher reality and a more explicit
The trend away from the glamorous celebrity image that began in the 1960s gained momentum in the 70s.
The principal stars of these years include Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Steve McQueen,
and Woody Allen. Important American directors of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s include Peter Bogdanovich,
Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola, Robert Altman, and Martin Scorsese.

Jaws marks the change

A change came with the release of Jaws (1975), an unassuming suspense picture that unexpectedly
grossed over $100 million by appealing to all ages and both sexes. Filmmakers were now encouraged to
speak to the widest possible audience. The result was a series of films given over to spectacle. Star Wars
(1977) cracked the $200 million barrier, and E.T. (1982) earned over $300 million. While many of these
films aroused criticism for representing the triumph of special effects over any kind of human values, the
net effect was to draw the audience back into movie theaters, and many movies, including those without
spectacular elements, succeeded during this period. This trend has continued into the 21st cent. The leading
directors are Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the latter more active as a producer.

VCRs introduction

Two developments that greatly enhanced profitability in the 1980s were the development of lowcost
videocassette recorders (VCRs), which allow films to be shown at home, and the government's
relaxation of the decrees separating production from distribution. The studios first felt that videocassettes
would weaken the theatrical market; the reverse was true, as viewers became more interested in movie
entertainment in general.
Beginning in the 1960s, many of the old movie palaces began to be divided into two or more auditoriums
due to weakening attendance. When audiences returned in the 1980s, multiplexes, or theaters with multiple
auditoriums, became the norm and mushroomed in suburban shopping malls and urban centers. In the
early 1990s, however, the recession was reflected in movie attendance. By the turn of the decade, two major
studios, MGM and Orion, suffered financial difficulties, and two others, Columbia and Universal, were
bought by Japanese electronics companies, although Universal later became part of a French conglomerate.
One of the few positive motion-picture trends during the late 20th and early 21st century was the
development and proliferation of IMAX. The format, which debuted in Japan in 1970, utilizes special film
and projectors, features a gigantic screen and huge sound system, and has been used to take viewers on
ultra-realistic trips to earthly (e.g., Everest, 1998) and outer-space (e.g., Destiny in Space, 1994) destinations.

Censorship and ethics

After several scandals led to the fear that the immorality perceived to be rampant in Hollywood
might appear on screen, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, headed by Will H.
Hays, was established in 1922 as a film review board. The Production Code, popularly known as the “Hays
Code,” a highly restrictive set of guidelines for movie content, was promulgated in 1934 and complied with
by virtually every Hollywood producer. In the late 1960s, the determination of what constituted
pornography was turned over to the states for enforcement at the same time that filmmakers were
attempting to break away from the Production Code's bans on sexuality and violence.
In 1966, the Production Code was abandoned completely and succeeded by the Motion Picture Code and Rating Program.
Adopted to avoid a threatened state-controlled system, the program has characterized itself as providing guidance for parents,
not for filmmakers. The program initially assigned each film one of four ratings: G (general audiences, without restrictions), M
(mature audiences, parental guidance advised), R (restricted audiences, no one younger than 18 admitted without a parent or
guardian), and X (no one younger than 18 admitted). The age limit may be adjusted by individual state rulings. M was
eventually supplanted by PG (parental guidance suggested), PG-13, was introduced for films that might contain material
inappropriate for pre-teenagers, and NC-17 replaced X, which had become associated with pornographic films.

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