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

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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.

Brian Jacobson

About Brian Jacobson

Brian R. Jacobson is Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies and History at the University of Toronto. His research spans the history and theory of moving image media, the history and philosophy of technology, environmental history, and art and architectural history. He is the author of Studios Before the System: Architecture, Technology, and the Emergence of Cinematic Space (Columbia University Press, Film and 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 as a critical component of what historians of technology have termed the “human-built world.” In 2013 he was the winner of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Dissertation Award. He has also been a Fulbright Advanced Student Fellow to France (2009-2010) and a fellow of the Social Science Research Council's International Dissertation Research Fellowship (2009-2011) and Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship (Visual Culture field, 2007). He is currently working on a series of projects about industrial and corporate media, including French industrial and agricultural films and film festivals and a monograph that focuses on cinema’s longstanding role in the politics, industrial processes, and public perception of global energy. Research for this work has been supported by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland and the University of Rochester Humanities Center (where he is an external faculty fellow for 2016-2017). His articles have appeared in journals including Film Quarterly, Framework, Film History, History and Technology, Amodern, Media Fields Journal, and Early Popular Visual Culture. Thesis: Constructions of Cinematic Space: Spatial Practice at the Intersection of Film and Theory


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