01 mars 2012

Hollywoodworld Monoculture (Segrave)

Hollywood Dream of Hollywoodworld (1980-1995)

"[..] Foreign films in America continued to fare dismally. In 1991, films from other countries (including English-language ones) took less than 2% of US box office gross. Their best year was in 1973 when they reportedly took around 9%. For 1993 the foreign take was again less than 2%. At the end of 1993 the highest grossing foreign film of all time in the US was I Am Curious Yellow (1968) with $22.5 Million. La Dolce Vita (1961) with $19.5 M. and Like Water for Chocolate (1993) with $19.5 M. while the latter film was likely to become the all-time leader since it was still in first-run release, it had sold only 1/5th as many tickets, to that date, as did La Dolce Vita. The higher earnings were due to higher admission prices. total domestic box office receipts in 1992 were $4.9 billion with foreign-language films grossing just $22 million of that. English-language foreign imports grossed $44 million that gear (arm-length films only, excluding such releases as Lawnmower Man nominally a UK product but filmed in the US with American financial involvement.) Thus the total and true import gross amount to $66 million of the $4.9 billion domestic gross, just 1.3%, which (said Variety) was 'a typical result over the past decade'"


"[..] When European writer and contributor to The Nation Daniel Singer observed in 1994 that Rambo was splashed all over Asia, that recent American soaps, sitcoms and movies dominated the TV screens of Western Europe while older (and cheaper) US material did the same in Eastern Europe, he warned :
'If this trend is allowed to continue, we will be sentenced to a sinister uniformity of heroes and models, metaphors and dreams. Mastery of the image may well become both the instrument and the symbol of leadership in the new world order.'
Hollywood likes to claim that the world is dominated by American films because the world selects them and loves US movies best of all, but as Alexander Cockburn wrote :
'It has actually been force-fed to the world through the careful engineering of taste, ruthless commercial clout, arm-twisting by the US departments of commerce and State, threats of reverse trade embargoes and other such heavy artillery'
Hollywood's cartel has worked through a combination of economic and political pressure rationalized mainly in terms of free trade - but also as a Cold War weapon - driven all the while by the insatiable greed of the producing studios for more and more profits.
People in foreign countries did not exercise free choice in selecting US films over local productions since those local movies were normally foreclosed by unfair trade practices used by the US producers. Through  at least the 1970s most Australians had never even seen an Australian movie; most Canadians had never seen a Canadian film. As Canadian film historian Manjunath Pendakur wrote :
'Audiences can only be formed for films that are effectively available to them. The free-choice argument is no more than the myth of consumer sovereignty which masks the demand created by film-distributing companies through massive advertising and promotion. furthermore, the free-choice argument assumes free and open competition between American and Canadian film production companies for theatrical markets.'
With its huge domestic base and quick-to-develop cartel, Hollywood's handful of major studios went on to dominate in fully integrated fashion, producing, distributing and exhibiting at home and abroad. The star system, publicity machinery and huge, plush cinemas were put into place and extended with the large profits flowing to the cartel. It was a business strategy suited to a wealthy cartel, forced into cinemas around the world, which produced more profits and led to greater control. Nations fought back but with little effect. One tactic was for a country to impose restrictive measures (indirect government supports) through such things as screen quotas, import limits and high tariffs. Support measures were direct government aid through film subsidies, easier bank loans, and so forth. Comprehensive steps involved a government simultaneously using both restrictive and supportive tactics. Yet there always seemed to be a snag. When a screen quota was imposed, the exhibitor often turned to a pool of cheaper foreign movies, declining to show any more local movies once he met the quota. Thus the screen quota which was meant to be a minimum often became at the same time a maximum quota. When imports were limited to a certain number per year, extended runs by those films severely curtailed local access. And extended runs could be imposed on local exhibitors through contracts as well as through the practice of block booking wherein an exhibitor was compelled to take a certain number of films from a studio in order to book the single film he was really interested in. Although illegal in America for close to 40 years, the Hollywood cartel members imposed it on nations around the world, and had since 1915.
US mass culture is the most prolific disseminator of images in history. If films are viewed as a medium of expression, then the context for judging its purpose changes from one of profit to one of communications. In board terms film is a conveyor of a society's values and beliefs. It is a medium through which artists, allied with their culture and their own perceptions, can provide the public with views of life and its problems. It carries images of people and society - all carry ideas and have the power to impart them to the viewers. This is especially so when there are no other images and ideas of other cultures with which to compare them. Often the ideas may be in direct conflict with those of the importing nations.
Hollywood myth is that an individual can change society and can even change the world. complex reality is simplified. US films cannibalize history and present it through a prism that simply entertains Americans but does not move them into action. Reclaiming and reinterpreting history should be a high priority for decolonized nations. Films can play a vital role in that process but if those films are made to profit from US market they can hardly serve such purpose. the state is responsible for the maintenance and perpetuation of national heritage and culture; the authority of the state gives it the missions to preserve and encourage art and culture for it is the only institution representative of its people and their traditions.
State support has been necessary everywhere because of Hollywood's domination of the local markets. Foreign control is in the interests of certain national groups (such as large exhibitor chains) who benefit financially from cooperation with foreign producers and distributors. Hollywood integrates its consumers from top down; producing a product for mass consumption, then creating a demand for it. There is no common demand from the bottom up, forcing the cartel to produce certain types of movies. The US industry is not subject to public demand, rather the public is the subject of calculation and manipulation by the industry. Film, and all cultural material, are of course, also commodities but to Hollywood they are only commodities with no cultural or artistic facets, no different from ball bearings. Movies such as Jurassic Park are programmed for release around the world even before the first script stage. Originality was and is the enemy of this instrumental efficiency, unless co-opted. Thus individuality is reduced to formula. What parades as progress in Hollywood, as the ever new, remains a cloak for an unchanging sameness of the product. [..]"
Source : American Films Abroad. Hollywood's domination of the World's Movie Screens (Kerry Segrave; 1997)
  1. In the beguining was Europe, especially France (1895-1919)
  2. Consolidating control (1920s)
  3. The Eagle Screams in English (1928-1930)
  4. One Film Suits All (1930s)
  5. Another War, Another Opportunity (1939-1945)
  6. Under the Celluloid Boot (1945-1952)
  7. Hollywood Sells Everywhere (1952-1975)
  8. Hollywood Dream of Hollywoodworld (1980-1995)
  9. Monoculture


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