How will Hollywood’s history be written?
Hollywood’s deep-seated desire to honor the past most recently was evident by this year’s Academy Award nominations of history-heavy movies.
Hugo, The Artist, The Help, Midnight in Paris and War Horse illustrated that the industry was tipping its hat to the culture and glamour of the past – including its own, according to USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism professor Alison Trope.
But the legacy of Hollywood – and American film culture – is far from settled.
In a new book, Stardust Monuments: The Saving and Selling of Hollywood (Dartmouth College Press), Trope examines the role of Hollywood as an icon and its influence on global culture. Two key questions posed by the author: How will the history of Hollywood be told? And who will tell it?
The book investigates for the first time how the entertainment industry has portrayed itself. Hollywood’s success in the commercial arena through movies, DVDs and tourist attractions like the Hollywood Walk of Fame has outstripped its success in establishing a lasting cultural and historical memorial or artifact, Trope found.
The tension between those wanting a museum for the sake of preservation and those pushing to profit from a more tourist-centered attraction is ever-present, Trope wrote.
“When it comes to Hollywood memorializing itself,” she said, “we see a constant tension – a desire to preserve Hollywood as a historical artifact of cultural import and at the same time a need to profit from that history.”
The book chronicles the industry’s many failed attempts – since the 1930s – to open a museum in Hollywood, while similar efforts in New York and further afield in France, Italy and Germany have been successful. Outside Los Angeles, Trope said, the stakes aren’t as high to produce a memorial that meets the approval of heavy-handed studios and stakeholders.
And yet, Hollywood’s global appeal and profitability is still paramount. Individuals are steeped in Hollywood culture and history – whether they realize it or not, Trope argued. And it comes to them in myriad ways. Trope believes the book is the first in-depth account of Hollywood’s influence outside the movie theatre: through museums, restaurants, retail stores, theme parks, DVDs, classic cable movie channels and the Internet. Hollywood infiltrates lives, and its value – both symbolic and financial – is shaped by the industry itself and its offshoots in for-profit and nonprofit arenas.
Therein lies the meaning behind the title (a nod to Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories). It’s a signal of the nostalgia for the different ways people understand – and get sold – an idea of Hollywood and how Hollywood’s past informs how they appreciate it now, Trope said.