Asking Rick Jewell: Will Hollywood ever have another Golden Age?

Part two of a discussion with film scholar Rick Jewell. Photo: A montage of scenes from "Citizen Kane"

FLORIDA, October 14, 2012 — Today, the movies of Hollywood’s Golden Age are still treasured by audiences across the world.

Despite the fact that the Golden Age began shortly before the Great Depression and ended along with World War II, it remains relevant as ever. The era’s unmistakable glitz, glamor, and cultural impact cannot be understated.

In the first part of our discussion, film scholar Rick Jewell explained about — among other things — how the Golden Age earned its name and what role censorship played in American cinema.

Now he tells us about why Golden Age movies have found enduring popularity, how this era came to an end, whether or not it might repeat itself, and much more.  

Joseph F. Cotto: The movies of the Golden Age have, for the most part, found enduring popularity. Why do you suppose that this is?

Dr. Rick Jewell:

Dr. Rick Jewell

As with any art form, the greatest works of cinema are timeless. “Citizen Kane” speaks just as profoundly to the America of 2012 as it did to the America of 1941. Given our present fascination with the upcoming election, is “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” any less relevant now than it was in 1939? 

Will any story ever dramatize the conflict between love and duty more poignantly than ”Casablanca”? I have no difficulty convincing present-day students of the majesty of these movies.

Cotto: Why did the Golden Age come to an end?

Dr. Jewell: The Golden Age came to an end for many reasons, among them changes in the public’s movie-going habits, government anti-trust legislation, foreign protectionist efforts, and the rise of television. These factors brought about a rise in independent production and the end of the studio system. 

The changes were not all damaging and led to the production of some excellent films. But, to offer just one example, it also meant the dismantling of the musical unit at MGM which had given us “The Wizard of Oz,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “On the Town,” “An American in Paris,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” and other sublime examples of the genre. Musicals (and some other genres) would never be the same after the studio system came apart.

Cotto: In your opinion, will Hollywood ever have another Golden Age?

Dr. Jewell: No, at least not with respect to feature films. Though I hesitate to mention this because we need more historical perspective; we may be in the middle of the Golden Age of television right now. There are a number of compelling shows to watch, at least if you have access to the full range of broadcast and cable channels.

Cotto: What inspired you to write about the Golden Age?

Dr. Jewell: I love this period because it is one of the most important and dramatic of the Twentieth Century. Revisiting these films, enjoying their aesthetic achievements and making sense of them in relation to the important social, political, cultural and artistic developments of the time never grows old.

Cotto: Now that our discussion is at its end, many readers are probably wondering how it was that you came to be such a prominent film scholar. Tell us a bit about your life and career.

Dr. Jewell: I always loved movies when I was a kid, but never imagined I could make a living from them. When I graduated from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. A strange series of twists and turns brought me to a University of Florida classroom where I was expected to teach a course entitled, “Introduction to Film.” Though I had no training or credentials to teach such a class, I read a lot and muddled through. Most importantly, the experience married my love of the movies to my newfound passion — teaching.  By happenstance, I had found a career and it’s been “a wonderful life” ever since. 

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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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