The Smiling Lieutenant. 1931. USA. Directed by Ernst Lubitsch

Hollywood on the Hudson traces the roots of the modern American film industry to New York City between the two world wars, when an industry built on centralized authority began to listen, for the first time, to a range of independent voices, each with their own ideas about what the movies could say and do. The Hollywood studio system was geared toward creating a standardized product and sought to appeal to all ages and classes, whereas New York cinema was technically innovative and culturally specific, and played to niche audiences, from art houses to ethnic enclaves. But the collapse of Hollywood’s economic and industrial model in the post–World War I era forced American filmmakers to rethink the way they made films and sold them to audiences. Finding they could no longer depend on a system that required long-term contracts and studio backlots with elaborate standing sets, they began to adopt the methods being used by writers, directors, and actors in New York.

This exhibition surveys filmmaking in New York during the hegemony of Hollywood, from D. W. Griffith’s return from the West Coast in 1919 to the World’s Fair of 1939. Screenings include pioneering sound films shot at the Paramount Studios in Astoria, Queens, and starring Broadway luminaries; films featuring such stars as Louise Brooks, Marion Davies, the Marx Brothers, Gloria Swanson, and Rudolph Valentino; and noteworthy African American and Yiddish films.

Co-organized by Laurence Kardish, Senior Curator, Department of Film, and Richard Koszarski, on whose book, Hollywood on the Hudson: Film and Television in New York from Griffith to Sarnoff, the exhibition is based.

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