Six weeks on Thursdays from 30 April to 4 June 2020, 7:00 - 9:00pm
Lecturer: Dr Katie Da Cunha Lewin
‘All movies are movies about Hollywood: some just happen to be set there as well’ – Christopher Ames
In this course we look at and discuss films that are about Hollywood’s favourite topic: Hollywood. From Hollywood’s earliest days, it was fascinated by its own story, its star-making machinery, and mythology. But why? In this course, we look at several films and think about what they tell us: Do ‘behind-the-camera’ films actually reveal more about Hollywood or do they merely create more myths about the glamour of the film industry? In what ways do these films ask questions about Hollywood films should do? We will also think about the Hollywood autobiography by stars such as Lauren Bacall and directors such as Elia Kazan.
Week 1: Hollywood on Hollywood
In our first session, we’ll begin think about why there is so much of a fascination with ‘behind-the-camera’ films. We’ll specifically focus on the move from silent films to talkies, and the way that this was represented in the classic 1952 film Singin’ in the Rain.
Recommended viewing: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Week 2: The rise of the star
This week we’ll think about one of the best-known Hollywood films, A Star is Born, in all of its many iterations. Whether the main role is played by Judy Garland or Barbara Streisand, or known by Ally or Esther, this film clearly tells an important Hollywood story that both studios and audiences want to hear. We’ll also look at some clips from a film from 1932, What Price Hollywood, which tells a similar story, but in the pre-code era, demonstrating that the fascination with the creation of ‘the star’ was already well-established narrative in the early days of film.
Recommended viewing: A Star is Born (1937), A Star is Born (1954), A Star is Born (1976), A Star is Born (2018)
Week 3: The fading star
Hollywood seems to find the fading star the most distinctly melancholy of all their Hollywood narratives. This week we consider the most famous of these in Gloria Swanson’s terrifying Norma Desmond and Bette Davis’s creepy turn as Baby Jane Hudson.
Recommended viewing: Sunset Boulevard (1950) Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1966)
Week 4: The screenwriter and the producer
Films about Hollywood are not limited to just the star, but also branch out to the producer and the screenwriter. We will think about representations of these two important roles in our two films for this week, as well as considering the way that Hollywood mythologises the behind the scenes roles of the film industry.
Recommended viewing: In a Lonely Place (1950), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952)
Week 5: The theatre as the screen
This week we take an oblique look at our topic through the theatre and Broadway film. We focus on All about Eve, and the rivalry between the old and new star, as well tales of the struggling up and coming theatre actor. We also think about the way that performing on stage on screen has shaped the Hollywood film experience more generally.
Recommended viewing: All about Eve (1950)
Week 6: The journey of the director
In our final session we look at representations of the director. From Hitchcock’s cameos to Capra’s tell-tale sentimentality, we think about the ways directors tried to make specific stamps on their work during the height of Hollywood’s power. We also think about the Preston Sturges film Sullivan’s Travels, in which a successful director tries to look for a ‘real America’ in order to make a more socially conscious film.
Recommended viewing: Sullivan’s Travels (1941) Tickets are £80 for the full six-week course (£75 concession / £70 Picturehouse Members).