Classical Hollywood Norms

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American film industry had started dominating the screen in the early 1900s with the MPCC dominating the industry. In 1912, many film companies and producers began coming up with Carl Laemmle being the first producer to own a film company. By early 1920, many film companies and directors had come up in the film industry, and America had the most influential film producing companies in the whole world (SLOCUM). Therefore, classical Hollywood films were defined as the as traditional due to the narration and visual style of filmmaking which started in the early 1900s to 1960 which was then taken up to be the film-making style in the whole world. The involvement of David Griffith was generally appreciated after he produced the film The Mothering Heart (Bordwell).

Norms of classical Hollywood Films

Classical Hollywood cinemas were categorized into two eras. The first era was referred to as the silent era which was a period between 1917-1920 where they mostly used the narrative and the visual style of production which was dominating in 1917. The second era was the sound era which began in the late 1920s to 1960. There was the introduction of the studio system and new styles, and this was receipted after the production of The Jazz Singer in 1927 (Bordwell et al.). David Bordwell expanded more about the methods of the Classical Hollywood films especially the visual-narrative style where he categorized them into three; devices, systems and relations of systems (Bordwell).

On the devices, he explained the continuity editing and the 180-degree rule which allows the photographer on play mode and gives the viewers the chance to know the position and scene of the action. He also explained the 30 degrees rule which allows the photographer to cut the scene but allows the viewer to understand the purpose of the change in perspective (Bordwell et al). The 180 and 30 degrees rules were the necessary guidelines in filmmaking that came before the beginning of a classical era. The cutting technique served the purpose of showing continuity, change f geographical locations and change in character positions. Systematic was divided into narrative logic, cinematic time and cinematic space. Classical narration progressed with the psychological motivation. It was mostly comprised of a primary goal like crime then seconded with a secondary goal like romance (SLOCUM)

The style of cinematic time explained how time in the cinema was continuous, uniform and linear. The only linearity of time allowed is when there is a flashback, and it is used to create a constant memory of character, especially lead character (Greene, 47). The rule of the cinematic space is that the viewers must believe that the scene is outside the shot of cinematic frame to create reality. Most of the shots in classical Hollywood cinema center on gestures and facial expression. The treatment of space must be in four aspects: centering, balancing, frontality and depth. Persons or pictures of interest are the center part of the frame and always in the focus (Maltby).

The Film Bringing up Baby

The film Bringing up Baby is an American classical screwball film directed by Howard Hawks in 1938. The film story is written about a paleontologist in several problems and a leopard called baby. The Bringing up Baby film was preserved in the National Film Registry of Library of Congress since they considered it cultural and historical (Hawks).

How Bringing up baby film conforms to classical Hollywood Norms

            The director, Howard Hawks was able to depict the Hollywood norms in the film Bringing up Baby

by ensuring the studio mandated styles were portrayed as well as communicating his message through showing his creativity. In the second scene, David Huxley (Cary Grant) is seen talking to a lawyer, Mr. Alexander Peabody (George Irving) on a golf course about the possibility of a one million dollar donation to his museum. While on the golf post, David Huxley (Cary Grant) proceeds to meet Susan Vance (Katherine Hepburn) who steals his golf ball and destroys his car. The scene which goes for almost five minutes contains three sequences; David meeting Alexander to discuss of the donation to the museum, David meeting Susan and Susan stealing David’s golf ball and smashing his car (“A Scene Dissected: Bringing up Baby”)

 The scene depicts Hollywood norms when there is a time difference between the two sequences to enable the viewer to differentiate between the two scenarios. Also, there is a time lapse during the dissolve and between the scene before David meeting Alexander where Alexander was with his fiancée Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker) and a colleague about the game they were to play with David Huxley. The scene also demonstrates Hollywood norms because there is a change in geographical position between the sequences or scenarios (McClure). Again in this scene, there is the use of the tracking shot which takes David and Alexander as they walk in the golf course. The tracking shot serves the purpose of helping the audience identify with the characters and creates transparency (”A Scene Dissected: Bringing up Baby”)

 Using the tracking shot helps the audience feel like they are walking with them on the golf course and this establishes the openness. Also, Hawk directed a long shot after David and Alexander had stopped to enable the audience to understand where the men are in the course itself (Maltby). Moreover, Hawks demonstrates the importance of the character David when he took he shot Alexander explaining how he is not the one with the one million dollar donation but his boss, Mrs. Random. As much as Alexander was the one talking, his face is the only one shown yet Mr. Huxley’s bag is overly shown to show the audience that he is the male lead character and that they can identify with him. Huxley’s back is also well shown to keep the viewer’s attention on him even if he was not the one speaking since he is the lead character and not Peabody (Belton, 57)

Another way where Howard Hawks conformed to classical Hollywood norms is where he used foreshadowing after he cut Huxley and Susan walking out of the frame to another tracking shot of two of them approaching the eighteenth hole. This particular shot is almost similar to the first tracking shot that opened the scene. However, there is a notable difference where the first shot ran from right to left whereas the short of Huxley and Susan approaching the eighteenth hole ran from left to right (Bower). Therefore, Hawks demonstrated foreshadowing when he ran the tracking shot from left to right where David was with Susan, to demonstrate how David will not be able to chase after the million dollar donation for his museum due to Susan quest to make him fall in love with her. It was apparent that David wouldn’t get back to Mr. Peabody when he was leaving with Susan as much as he said he would be with him in a minute (”A Scene Dissected: Bringing Up Baby”)

How Bringing up Baby diverges from Classical Hollywood Norms

The director Hawks goes against the transparency norms of Classical Hollywood cinema when he calls out a woman off-screen who was later learned to have been Susan. He cuts a very large long short of a woman with a cuddy preparing to hit her ball (Hawks). The straight cut from Huxley means that viewers saw in Huxley’s point of view which demonstrates that there was no transparency due to the point-of-view shot. Another scene where Bringing up baby did not portray traditional holly wood norms is where the character David Huxley, showering puts on the character Susan’s bathing robe. When asked by Susan’s aunt, he says he just became gay. Cary mentioning gay was the first time the term gay was mentioned in the classical Hollywood cinemas. As much as the term gay was used to mean happiness in the days, David said it meaning sexuality. Saying the term was not in classical Hollywood cinema style especially onset (McClure).

How Classical Hollywood Norms were flexible in the film Bringing up Baby

            As much as using words slang to explain sexuality of individuals was not widely accepted in Hollywood cinema, David used the name gay to mean homosexuality in the context as much as the name was used to indicate happiness (Bonheim). There were rarely found screwball comedy with romance in it but Howard introduced the new style of script writing when he introduced adventure in comedy, and it was widely accepted with less criticism. There was a lot of suspense as the movie starts with already lost dinosaur bone and David and Susan as couples. Rarely would many classic films have uncertainty in them (Bower).


             Bringing up baby has used a lot of classical Hollywood styles, but still, the director Hawks made sure that his original version was well demonstrated. Most of the scenes adhered to the rule of systems, devices, and relations of the system in the production of the film. It described how screwball comedy should be as well as portraying the social norms of the society. The characters were well coached to become comic actors even though it was their first time to act screwball film. The film bringing up baby production was a clear depiction of culture, and it is reserved in the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress meant that it was a success. The unique style of romance in a screwball comedy brought it creativeness and new style in the Classical Hollywood Cinema.

Work Cited

David Bordwell, ‘An Excessively Obvious Cinema’ In the Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style& Mode of Production to 1960 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985), pp. 3-12.

John Belton, ‘Classical Hollywood Cinema: Narration’, and ‘Classical Hollywood Cinema: Style’ In American Cinema/American Culture, pp. 21-63.

Stanley Cavell, The Pursuit of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1981)

Jane M. Greene, ‘A Proper Dash of Spice: Screwball Comedy and the Production Code’, Journal of Film and Video, 63.3 (2011), 45-63

Richard Maltby, ‘The Commercial Aesthetic’, Hollywood Cinema: An Introduction, 2nd

edition (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), pp.5-10

Hawks, Howard. Bringing Up Baby. 1938.

”A Scene Dissected: Bringing Up Baby”. Upstartfilmcollective.Com, 2018, Accessed 19 June 2018.

Bordwell, David et al. ”The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & Mode Of Production To 1960”. Poetics Today, vol 7, no. 1, 1986, p. 179. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/1772109.

McClure, I. ”TV: Bringing Up Baby”. BMJ, vol 323, no. 7304, 2001, pp. 116-116. BMJ, doi:10.1136/bmj.323.7304.116.

SLOCUM, J. DAVID. ”Classical Film Violence: Designing And Regulating Brutality In Hollywood Cinema, 1930–1968:Classical Film Violence: Designing And Regulating Brutality In Hollywood Cinema, 1930–1968”. Film Quarterly, vol 60, no. 1, 2006, pp. 64-65. University Of California Press, doi:10.1525/fq.2006.60.1.64.

Bower, B. ”Bringing Up Baby: Emotion’s Early Role”. Science News, vol 131, no. 7, 1987, p. 104. Wiley, doi:10.2307/3971282.

BONHEIM, HELMUT. ”BRINGING CLASSICAL RHETORIC UP-TO-DATE”. Semiotica, vol 13, no. 4, 1975. Walter De Gruyter Gmbh, doi:10.1515/semi.1975.13.4.375.

September 25, 2023




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Film Analysis Hollywood

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