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The Description of Hollywood as a ‘Dream Factory’ Expresses an Essential Contradiction at the Heart of Hollywood Film.

This piece requires an examination of the term 'Dream Factory' in reference to the Hollywood film industry. The contradiction between creativity and artistic dreams and the factory like commercial interests will be examined. An examination of the difference between traditional 'dreams' of Hollywood and the reality, will be shown. The detraction from creativity by commercial interest will be analysed in the second paragraph. Finally and examination of the career of Orson Welles will back up the argument running through the text.

The notion of the 'Dream Factory' is summed up by this quote from the character Happy Man in Pretty Woman, 'Welcome to Hollywood, what's your dream? Everyone comes here. This is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don't, but keep on dreamin'.' Richard Maltby expands on this, giving an idea of the traditional dream of those who go to Hollywood to seek their fortune, 'With every viewing, these mundane places are transformed into Hollywood, the movies, a never-never land of wish fulfillment, fantasy and immediate gratification where, as the song says 'every shop girl can be a top girl', and every office worker can fulfill her dream of being for a while, Joan Crawford.' An important part of this dream of young Americans was the aspiring nature that seeing these characters gave. However, this was heavily dependent on the commercial aspect of Hollywood. Bette Davis played a ladylike part in 1933 in Ex Lady, but by 1935 she was a dangerous vamp. Maltby describes this thusly, 'What could have caused this radical change? The answer must be found in the broader inquiry into how the star system functioned in the American film industry during the 1930s and 1940s, the era of oligopoly control.' The extent to which Hollywood fed into the dreams of normal, poor Americans to make it big was short lived anyway, with business interests forcing a heavier focus on mass market middle class appeal. R.B. Ray corroborates this, 'The exclusively working class audience was at most a short lived phenomenon. Film historians have demonstrated that, from the start, the American movie industry sought to attract the middle class ticket buyer.'  The extent to which this dream was a falsehood and a creation of business interests is confirmed by an explanation of the attitudes towards the character portrayed to the viewer. The reality of a heavily commercial business is shown to us by A.J. Scott, 'Hollywood emerged as the main center of the US motion picture industry, after about 1915, and how its pioneering model of film production, helped to ensure its success by generating an expanding system of agglomeration economies.' Hortense Powdermaker was a respected anthropologist, who went from examining Hortesian tribes, to the upper echelons of Hollywood. She explained, 'Just as the Melonesian thinks failure would result from changing the form of a spell, so men in Hollywood consider it dangerous to depart form their formulas.' Her study corroborates this view of the dream and creativity being restricted, 'Hollywood…was a site of irretrievable contradictions, both a centre for creative genius and a place where mediocrity flourishes at the same time a important industry with worldwide significance and an environment of trivialities.'

The extent to which commercialist necessities, and the ideas that this entrenched in the studio executives in Hollywood, controlled creativeness will be shown by attempting a case study of the effect of this on the career of Orson Welles. Welles directly commented on this himself, 'Film is the great art form of our century. It is just too bad it is…so very meaningless most of the time. When I tell that to people in Hollywood they get mad at me.' The problems during Welles' Hollywood career are summed up by the response of the studio executive of RKO, Charles Koerner, to the original cut of Magnificent Ambersons, 'The picture is magnificent…very good. Far too high for general consumption. However, I enjoyed it but…I don't think it will have much box office appeal. A good psychological study. Photography excellent but the darkness gets on one's nerves.' Half of the films Orson Welles made during his period in Hollywood, three out of six, were noir thrillers. The extent to which this proves that Welles was forced into making films he had no interest in, by commercial incentives is shown by his quote, 'I have only twice been given any voice at all as to the level of subject matter. In my trunks stuffed with un produced film scripts, there are no thrillers. When I make this sort of picture for which I can pretend to no special interest or aptitude.' The necessity of sticking to the formula that the studio believed would succeed, as shown in the first paragraph, would lead to studio executives and editors they brought in re-editing Welles' films so that all the Hollywood pictures, excepting Citizen Kane were not wholly his. Welles said, 'I didn't do [The Stranger] with a completely cynical attitude…Quite the contrary. I tried to do it as well as I could. But it's the one of my films of which I am least the author.' Furthermore, Touch of Evil was the most well known example, with Welles begging the studio, unsuccessfully to re-edit it to his standards. Lim shows the extent to which this was a Hollywood problem, by comparing it to Europe, 'Universal balked at what it saw, too murky, too baroque, and Welles lost control of the film. Re-edited and padded out with additional expository scenes, 'Touch of Evil', was released on the bottom half of a double bill. It received tepid reviews in the States, although it was right away championed by French critics.' The factory system in Hollywood was directly attributed to this wrecking of his films by Welles himself, 'I have lost years and years of my life fighting for the right to do things my own way, and mostly fighting in vain…Among the pictures I have made I can only accept full responsibility for on: Citizen Kane. In all the others I have been more or less muzzled, and the narrative line of my stories…ruined by commercially minded people.'

The idea of the dream factory is predicated upon the idea that young Americans, especially working class, had that they could be a Hollywood star. This was a contradiction because the factory element of the system requires that the star system was heavily controlled during the studio era, and deliberately a part of the marketing drive. More importantly the commercial part of the industry limits creativity and the artist element in the dream aspect of 'Dream Factory.' The extent to which this plays a part is shown by the changing nature of films, as the make up of the cinema going audience has changed. The footage of merchandise in the Dinosaur blockbuster Jurassic Park from 1993 shows the changing nature of the content of film in the more heavily commercialized industry, and the impact on the content of the film. The career of Orson Welles provides modern evidence of this to be true. After making Citizen Kane, the most critically successful and a commercial success, Welles was never allowed to make a film in the Hollywood studio system again without being interfered with by the studio system and its editors. In the final analysis, the description of Hollywood as a 'Dream Factory' does show us an essential contradiction at the heart of Hollywood film.

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