Tom Scatz’s The Studio System and Conglomerate Hollywood, in compiling a quick history of the American studio system, acts as a rather frightening display of the power held in Hollywood on an international level – in particular given our focus on the Canadian film industry. That these major film companies have become the properties of huge media conglomerates, focused on complete domination of screen-time in the United States and internationally (not to mention, television time, radio time, internet time, and even iPod time) leaves little room for the Canadian film industry to make much of an impact either at home or abroad.
That said, however, Donald Shebib’s Goin’ Down The Road, somehow fits within the 1970s period of director-driven cinema referred to by Schatz (a period which he also points out will most likely never appear again), a friendlier cousin to Five Easy Pieces. At least, for Canadians, when it comes to filmmakers like Shebib and Jutra, this period seems to have been one supplying us with more than one important work. Perhaps, in this case, at least, the influence of Hollywood operations was a good one – a director-driven cinema that truly captured Canadian stories on screen for Canadian audiences.
Richard Maltby’s somewhat lengthier Industry, fleshes out the ideas present in Scatz’s profile of the Hollywood studio system, but with a somewhat more downcast opinion of the “golden days” of Hollywood cinema (which Scatz quickly glosses over, before moving along to the series of mega-conglomerate mergers that drive most of his article forward). Surprisingly, Maltby points out that Hollywood, with its incredible overheads and risky business model (one largely eliminated by the current set-up of vertical integration and post-theatrical profits, as outlined by Scatz), was for much of its existence not quite as successful as we’d think.
Given my taste in films, what strikes me most about both pieces of writing, is Scatz’s definition of what it means to be “independent” in present-day Hollywood, where a film like The Mask can be ranked in the same world of production as somewhat more challenging fare most typically considered indicative of what constitutes an “independent” film.
Above all else, both Scatz and Maltby make it obvious that the Hollywood studio system has always been a moving beast, set on the near-complete control of the entertainment we consume. In the face of these behemoths, it’s somehow multi-fold easier to love a rough nugget like Goin’ Down The Road. One can only imagine the struggle behind getting it made in the shadow of Hollywood.