At the start of the 20th century, a new city was beginning to grow on some flat land near the sea in southern California; its name was Los Angeles – the name of the old Spanish mission that had been there for many years.
At the same time, a new industry was just being born; the cinema. In America, they talked of “motion pictures”, but this soon became shortened to “movies”.
America’s movie industry began life in New York; but by 1910, movie-makers were moving to Los Angeles. In New York, everything was too expensive; workers, land, taxes. Worse than that, it was difficult to make movies in winter, because it was too cold.
By contrast, the Los Angeles region was full of advantages. In California, they could make films all through the year; and everything was cheaper. In particular, there was lots of land for sale.
The movie-makers found what they needed a few miles outside Los Angeles; and before long, large new studios were being built in an area called Hollywood, at the foot of some small dry hills.
Movies quickly became very popular, particularly after “talkies” first appeared in 1925. Nevertheless, movies were expensive to make, and film companies needed money – lots of it. For this reason, Hollywood rapidly became dominated by a small number of big companies such as MGM, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. and Paramount.
Since then, the big companies have had their ups and downs, but most of them are still there. Some old names have disappeared, but some new ones have appeared, companies like Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg’s company Amblin.
Naturally, Hollywood has changed a lot in 80 years! Today the biggest studios belong to huge international firms. For instance, News Corporation, which now owns Fox, also owns newspapers on three continents (including the Times of London), and satellite TV networks in America, Europe and Asia.
It is only huge companies like Fox that can afford to make today’s very expensive films; and for Titanic – which was at the time the most expensive film ever – Fox had to get help from another big company, Paramount!
Once Hollywood could make films just for America; today it has to make them for the world. The suburb of Los Angeles has become the headquarters of a global dream-machine. Perhaps we dreamed differently in the past. Today, thanks in part to Hollywood, people everwhere have similar dreams.
We now live in the age of global culture. Hollywood did not invent this culture – but for better or for worse, it has become one of the most powerful elements in it. Like it or not, we all now live on planet Hollywood.