Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2020

Abstract

Within their first five years (1896-1901), Thomas Edison’s moving pictures escalated from a peep-show novelty to a multi-million-dollar business catering to the immigrants and the working-class masses. By 1906, several genres such as the western, science fiction, fantasy, crime, romance, and newsreel and documentary were established. The new industry not only attracted millions to movie theaters it also attracted entrepreneurs and investors seeking profits, respectability, and recognition. This paper argues that socially and economically, the time was right for a mass medium that would appeal to those who were unable to read or with little knowledge of the English language. Once the silent movies established themselves as a democratic medium, they aspired to become an art form bringing culture, class, and literature to the patrons who readily embraced whatever the movies offered. From action-adventure to comedy and romance to history and fantasy, the movie could do no wrong. It was the boundless appetite for movies that sent the filmmakers in search of a production system that could meet the demand. The answer emerged in the form of a studio system – a model that resembled the automotive assembly line. The paper describes how the key players fought for a larger piece of the pie and what emerged once the dust settled.

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