Studios Before the System: Architecture, Technology, and the Emergence of Cinematic Space

For sale from Columbia University Press

By 1915, Hollywood had become the epicenter of American filmmaking, with studio “dream factories” structuring its vast production. Filmmakers designed Hollywood studios with a distinct artistic and industrial mission in mind, which in turn influenced the form, content, and business of the films that were made and the impressions of the people who viewed them. The first book to retell the history of film studio architecture, Studios Before the System expands the social and cultural footprint of cinema’s virtual worlds and their contribution to wider developments in global technology and urban modernism.

Focusing on six significant early film corporations in the United States and France–the Edison Manufacturing Company, American Mutoscope and Biograph, American Vitagraph, Georges Méliès’s Star Films, Gaumont, and Pathé Frères–as well as smaller producers and film companies, Studios Before the System describes how filmmakers first envisioned the space they needed and then sourced modern materials to create novel film worlds. Artificially reproducing the natural environment, film studios helped usher in the world’s Second Industrial Revolution and what Lewis Mumford would later call the “specific art of the machine.” From housing workshops for set, prop, and costume design to dressing rooms and writing departments, studio architecture was always present though rarely visible to the average spectator in the twentieth century, providing the scaffolding under which culture, film aesthetics, and our relation to lived space took shape.

About Brian Jacobson

Brian Jacobson is Professor of Visual Culture in the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences at the California Institute of Technology. He is a historian of modern visual culture and media. His writing about film, art, energy, technology, and the environment has appeared in Cinema Journal, Screen, Film Quarterly, Framework, Film History, Environmental History, History and Technology, Early Popular Visual Culture, and numerous anthologies. He also writes criticism, including essays and reviews in The Atlantic, the Literary Review of Canada, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. Jacobson is currently working on a book about the visual culture of petroleum in post-World War II France. Other projects include a book about mid-century American environmentalist media and articles generally concerned with the visual and material cultures of energy and the environment in a range of national and historical contexts. Jacobson is the author of Studios Before the System: Architecture, Technology, and the Emergence of Cinematic Space (Columbia University Press, Film & Culture Series, 2015), a book that situates the world’s first film studios in the architectural and technological developments of urban industrial modernity and argues that cinema should be understood both as a system of environmental regulation and as a critical component of what historians of technology have termed the “human-built world.” He is the editor of In the Studio: Visual Creation and Its Material Environments (University of California Press, 2020), a volume that examines film, television, art, and new media studios in a range of historical and geographic contexts. Jacobson is the recipient of Fulbright, Social Science Research Council (SSRC, US), Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC, Canada), Carnegie Trust, and other fellowships. He was a 2016-2017 fellow at the University of Rochester Humanities Center. Thesis: Constructions of Cinematic Space: Spatial Practice at the Intersection of Film and Theory


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