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Greta Garbo, The Mysterious Lady, 1928Tuesday, 8.16.05: The More Things Change

I'm trying to educate myself a little about Hollywood photography of the 1925 - 1940 era, since getting that collection organized is this week's project.

Everyone's heard about the "studio system" of yesteryear. The moguls were in control -- masters of their universe. And the actors were bought, sold, and traded like plantation slaves. A movie was churned out every week. An essential part of the image factory was still photography. The industry was still young when the moguls saw the value of hiring their own photographers, who could trail after the stars and give us the impression that they sizzled and shined 24 hours a day.

The old studio system is gone. The industry has been chopped up and recombined in myriad ways. But you have to ask yourself: has anything really changed?

We have in our mind a few good ol' black and white movies that we think of as the Golden Age. But as I go through our movie-related sheet music I see that for every movie title I recognize, there are dozens that I never heard of. Their oblivion is probably well-deserved.

Today, when I flip through all the "premium" movie channels that are part of my cable package, I have to come to the same conclusion about most of the movies being produced today. Utter crap.

But we still worship our celebrities. The only difference is that we don't need them to be quite as flawless as the moguls thought we did in the 1930s. Their diets, their crimes, and their love lives keep us as mesmerized as their beautiful clothes and mansions.

I guess in a business so complicated and so intertwined with our culture, the more things change, the more they stay the same.




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