Skip to main content

Ohio University Libraries

Film Studies

film studies research guide

What to look for in Classic Hollywood Cinema

First sound film was in 1927 with the Jazz Singer; from this comes the Hollywood Studio System, the Star System.

Basic ideas of Classic Hollywood Cinema (Golden Age of Hollywood)

  • "A chain of events in a cause-effect relationship occurring in time and space" by Bordwell and Thompson, Film Art.
  • Mostly a style between 1920-1960's
  • Environment looks realistic and believable to viewer
  • Continuity editing is preferred style of editing during this time.  Make sure story makes sense and looks smooth.
  • Style is predictable
  • Time is linear
  • In development of plot and story each scene is motivated (cause and effect).  It has beginning, middle and end. 
  • All employees of studios work together, directors are part of a team, as opposed to auteurs (which came later).  

Classical Hollywood Cinema 

Classical Hollywood Cinema is a term that has been coined by David Bordwell, Janet Staiger and Kristin Thompson in their seminal study of the same name. In this study the authors performed formalist analysis on a random selection of 100 Hollywood films from 1917 to 1960. They came to the conclusion that during this period a distinctive cinematic style developed that they called classical Hollywood style. Furthermore the authors claimed that this style has become paradigmatic because of the global dominance of Hollywood cinema. The most controversial claim of the authors has been that filmmakers anywhere basically face a choice between two alternatives. Either they succumb to the classical Hollywood style and follow its example, or they revolt against it and try to consciously subvert the norms of that style. (from U of Washington, Michael Lewis Goldberg)


Perhaps more correctly labelled fabula and syuzhet, story refers to all the audience infers about the events that occur in the diegesis on the basis of what they are shown by the plot -- the events that are directly presented in the film. The order, duration, and setting of those events, as well as the relation between them, all constitute elements of the plot. Story is always more extensive than plot even in the most straightforward drama but certain genres, such as the film noir and the thriller, manipulate the relationship of story and plot for dramatic purposes.  (Yale U, Film Analysis Guide)