When one hears mention of Gregory Peck or Audrey Hepburn, a nostalgic trip descends upon him. Until he finds himself hallucinating about a bygone era of the film industry. A time where movies sat upon the pinnacle of American Entertainment, unbothered, unchallenged, and free from the intrusions of television. A time where studios possessed an ironclad grip over every major blockbuster, and game-changing production. A time bereft of the flattering convenience of CGI, forcing actors, writers, and directors to dig deep, and mine tirelessly for every ounce of raw talent strung within every fiber of muscle, every strand of string used to wound their hearts. A time where if things certainly weren't better, they were simply easier.
It's inconceivable. How easy it really is to romanticize, to fixate upon a time and place so distant by the rendering of time, and of place, that how we perceive ages long past becomes distorted into a delirium of maddening proportions. Pushing us beyond the bounds of reality. Beyond sanity. Yet behind the blind ecstasy of the lights, drawn back like a blanket, like a spell unleashing the last of its entanglements even as it untangles itself, lies only a truth capable of only being unable to match the acuity of our conjurements, the grandeur of our idealism. Standing before us unspoken, even as we ourselves are left unable to speak. With no voice daring to mutter the shame, the disappointment, the sobering weight of disillusionment -- that the time, the place we exhausted the highest, and the mightiest, of our confidences and hopes to see realized, was anything but high and mighty. Here are five reasons why we should be glad the Golden Age was but no longer is:
1. The contracts
Back in the Age of Silver Screens, actors and actresses couldn't just freely waltz back and forth between whatever projects they so desired to take part in. Well, they could, so long as they wanted to appear in a film that was being sponsored by a studio for whom they had a contract under. However, if he/she was signed with MGM, but wanted to participate in a movie being put forward by Warner Bros., MGM had to agree to loan the actor/actress, or in more extreme cases, let the actor/actress out of his/her contract. Both of which were processes that involved a fair share of backscratching and tugging of strings. While being under contract with a big studio came with an excess of perks too, it came at a great cost of one's agency.
2. The Hays Code
In response to negative backlash by religious groups who condemned movies for their glamorization of crime, violence, and sex -- a movement that nearly provoked the United States Congress to intervene, the Big Five Studios agreed to institute the Production Code, better known as The Hays Code, named after one of its founding architects, William H. Hays.
The code effectively outlawed course language, homosexuality, favorable depictions of extramarital relationships, and miscegenation (interracial marriage). Instituted to emphasize and promote the adoption of more traditional values in film-making, if this code didn't render Hollywood more racist, or intolerant on the grounds of gender and sexuality, it certainly caused Tinseltown to take a sharp turn far down the right.
3. The racism
With all the outcry, and call to see non-Caucasian actors, writers, and directors to be cast and recognized in the mainstream of Hollywood productions, it's hardly a surprise to find its treatment of skin color and ethnic origin as a taint on its past. From black facing, or casting white actors to portray characters of oriental background in a degrading manner, the reach of racial prejudice in Classical Hollywood extended far beyond the screen.
In fact, in those days, African and Asian-Americans were prohibited from living in certain neighborhoods unless they worked in one of the designated houses as a servant. At one point, even Jews were not permitted to come within an inch of a city whose influence they not only shaped but mythologized, altogether.
4. The misogyny
In the midst of the #metoo era that has brought a reckoning of divine proportions in the movie industry, Hollywood's less than dignifying treatment of women goes beyond, and way far back from the exploits of Harvey Weinstein. With the exceptions of Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn who were able to power their way onto the screen through the prowess of their acting alone, actresses were almost exclusively recruited for how well they could fit into a dress or something that proved to be more revealing than the character they were tasked to portray. Physically speaking, of course.
But studios didn't just control what actresses were allowed to wear or not wear on set, they also had the final say of what she was allowed to wear on her way to the grocery store, or when she decided to enjoy a cigarette while sitting on her balcony -- wary she might go bulimic, or hurl herself off if it wasn't going to be the contents of her stomach. With their wardrobes seized from beyond their control with zealous precision, being an actress meant you were subject to how people wanted to see you. And not how you saw yourself.
5. The gossip
You may laugh now, but back then, you're appearing in the tabloids could determine whether you won an Oscar, or died a broke, washed up, has been. With the talk of town largely controlled by gossip columnists Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, and Sheilah Graham, these three woman -- the unholy trio -- had the power to crush an actors's career beneath the tip of their pens, or write his name into history, to go along with the countless names cast in Golden Stars on The Walk of Fame.
Though many in Hollywood despised the unholy trio, it was better not to piss them off if you truly valued your career, your livelihood, or your life for that matter. Despite how the tabloids have become more aggressive in the contemporary era, they certainly don't wield the power to draw or redraw the boundaries of life and death. Something Hopper, Parsons, and Graham did at their own discretion.
However beautiful the past is to think about, it is important to remember that although it was a time of great simplicity, it was also a time of limits. Limits far greater than our own. And though such boundaries, and prejudices maybe lost beneath the height and might from which we gaze down from, it is our ability to venture forth. To descend down into its depths, which will allow us to raise heights fortified by the might that was first conceived of when we looked back for what was the first, but far from the last time.
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- How TV Killed Hollywood's Golden Age - HISTORY ›
- Hollywood's Golden Age ›
- old hollywood glamour on Tumblr ›
- Classical Hollywood cinema - Wikipedia ›