Hollywood reconsidered

by Deborah H. Holdstein

from Jump Cut, no. 31, March 1986, p. 13
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1986, 2006

Why "reconsider Hollywood? Why devote space, time, and critical attention to the "image-makers," the "dream factory," the "predictable oppressor"? That Hollywood features permeate our culture and reflect only certain dominant cultures and values sparks our usual immersion in otherwise neglected areas of video, filmmaking and criticism. However, Hollywood film continues to encourage not only the mainstream criticism of Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, and Roger Ebert, it also provides the complex medium for insightful, provocative work for criticism on the left. The purpose of "Hollywood Reconsidered," then, is to open a forum for wide-ranging, pluralistic responses to Hollywood genres, history, and influences: to offer JUMP CUT readers representative and varying approaches to Hollywood in its various forms, continuing JUMP CUT's tradition of widening "the boundaries of discussion while holding to an understanding of the specifics of cinema." (Peter Steven, JUMP CUT: Hollywood, Politics, and Counter-Cinema (New York: Praeger, 1985).

Ten years ago, JUMP CUT editors John Hess and Chuck Kleinhans acknowledged the "inescapable fact" of Hollywood, and marked JUMP CUT's commitment to encouraging "a way of thinking about film that blocks naive critical perceptions about Hollywood." Since then, JUMP CUT authors have challenged the critical status quo, quite often with groundbreaking, innovative work on major Hollywood productions. To mention John Hess' work on the GODFATHER films, a study of the family disintegrating under the stresses of "business" (capitalism); to note Linda Williams' acute analysis of PERSONAL BEST, which brought dialogue between lesbian and other critical communities; to cite Julia Lesage's continuing contributions to feminist criticism — would be to mention only three highlights within numerous major efforts in JUMP CUT towards Hollywood and criticism in general. JUMP CUT continues to embrace a variety of critical perspectives on Hollywood to stand along with its long-held commitment to third world, radical, and feminist film and video from critical and teaching perspectives.

After ten years of publication, it seems appropriate for JUMP CUT to reconsider Hollywood: our contributors' various perspectives offer us not only a summing up of our last decade but also a look towards our next. We reprint the "Last Word" editorial of 1974 in its timeliness for left criticism. Along with other members of the JUMP CUT staff, I chose the articles in this special section for their range of perspective, purpose, and method: some demonstrate close readings and ideological analyses of Hollywood films; one is a review featuring an important book on an often-neglected Hollywood genre; one, an illustration of Hollywood's influence on films in other countries; another, a genre study; one, an historical analysis; and so on. "Hollywood Reconsidered," as a special section, will continue over several issues of JUMP CUT.

Chuck Kleinhans and Scott Brewer develop a close Marxist analysis of the success sequence in LADY BE GOOD, considering terms both internal (the actual montage and narrative events) and external (the terms of 1941 success in the music industry) to the film. Similarly and yet in terms focused on critical theory applied within the film, Jane Gaines works through the text of a sequence between Eleanor Powell and her pet terrier, "dancing" together in the same film. Gaines' approach suggests that "much more cultural information is relayed by the cinema than critics ordinarily acknowledge." She demonstrates how basic semiotics (the code which makes it possible for us to derive meaning from cultural units — to tell a smile from a smirk, a giggle from a cry, of fear) can "force us to think more exactly about the viewer's cultural competence." While both essays use a close analysis of the same film, Kleinhans and Brewer's is a close reading from an economic/historic perspective. Gaines' is a close textual analysis using the tools of an important critical theory.

In reviewing Jane Feuer's book, The Hollywood Musical, Jeremy Butler notes that Feuer provides "intriguing insights about the musical that she has culled from recent … analyses of the cinema." In discussing the book, Butler uses the context of recent criticism to review, support, and occasionally question Feuer's assertions. But the review serves several functions within this first "Hollywood Reconsidered" section. It demonstrates Feuer's innovative work in an often neglected area (the musical), and in itself, representing Butler's frequently entertaining, always eclectic approach to a book review. Barry Grant's review of Theories of Authorship helps to define John Caughie's use of terms such as "Auteurism," "Auteur-structuralism," and "Fiction of the Author" by comparison with other books of its type and analyses of specific films — Hollywood films, at that.

In sum, this first edition of "Hollywood Reconsidered" brings JUMP CUT readers a range of articles illustrating the influences, genres, and varieties of Hollywood film as well as a sampling of various perspectives and approaches to them. As Hess and Kleinhans wrote in 1974,

"To acknowledge Hollywood … does not mean to uncritically embrace it. Hollywood is not the answer; it is the problem."
Editorial, Jump Cut no. 2, 1974

With this in mind, we welcome your responses and comments to "Hollywood Reconsidered," and hope that the special section will encourage your participation and still more critical dialogue.