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Encyclopedia > Social problem film

A social problem film is a narrative film that integrates a larger social conflict into the individual conflict between its characters. Like many film genres, the exact definition is often in the eye of the beholder, but Hollywood did produce and market a number of topical films in the 1930s and by the 1940s, the boxoffice heyday, the term "social problem" or "message" film was conventional in its usage among the film industry and the public. The narrative film uses filmed reality to tell a fictional story. ... Even in the early days of film history, the audience appetite for new content was voracious. ...

Contents

History

Progressive Era

Historian Kay Sloan has shown how various reformist groups made social problem shorts and features during the silent era. Generally, these dealt with prohibition, labor relations and concerns over "white slavery." As a genre, however, these Progressive statements did not touch off a long-lasting concern in the film industry, which was solidifying behind standardized product, oligopoly and the star system. Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcohol. ...


The 1930s

Warner Brothers, largely under the impetus of Darryl F. Zanuck started making topical films "ripped from the headlines." These "headliners" generally were cheaply made, gritty in their realist aesthetic, and foregrounded a working class milieu and New Deal political sympathies. Mervyn LeRoy's I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang was the most notable of the genre, and its success led Warner Brothers and other studios to copy the formula. Warner Bros. ... Darryl Francis Zanuck (September 5, 1902 - December 22, 1979) was one of the major figures in the Hollywood studio system and the longest survivor of that system. ... Mervyn LeRoy (October 15, 1900 - September 13, 1987) was an American film director, producer and sometime actor. ...


Meanwhile, at Columbia Pictures, Frank Capra made a reputation, among the industry and filmgoing public alike (a rarity in those days), by developing his signature blend of social problem film and screwball comedy. Working with writer Robert Riskin, he would develop, repeat and refine this blend in films like Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Meet John Doe, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Columbia Pictures logo, used only from 1981-1993 Columbia Pictures, now Columbia TriStar Pictures after their merger with the former TriStar Entertainment in 1998, is a film production company, and part of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ... Frank Capra Frank Capra (May 18, 1897 – September 3, 1991) was an American film director and a major creative force behind a number of highly popular films. ... The screwball comedy has proven to be one of the most elusive of the film genres. ...


The 1940s

The postwar social problem films marked a noticeable shift away from economic problems to ones of social and psychological adjustment. William Wyler's Best Years of Our Lives chronicled three returning veterans adjusting to civilian life. Billy Wilder's Lost Weekend was about alcoholism, inaugurating a cycle of films dealing with drug and alcohol abuse. Films like Gentleman's Agreement, Pinky and Home of the Brave tackled anti-Semitism and racism. William Wyler (July 1, 1902 - July 27, 1981) was a gallant and award-winning motion picture director. ... Billy Wilder (June 22, 1906–March 27, 2002) had a career as a screenwriter, film director and producer that spanned more than 50 years and more than 60 films. ...


The 1950s and 1960s

McCarthyism - in the form of the House Unamerican Activities Committee - dampened some of Hollywood's enthusiasm for left-leaning critiques of American society, but the genre continued nonetheless over the next two decades. Stanley Kramer's exposés of racism - The Defiant Ones, Pressure Point and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? - became synonmyous with the genre. Also, juvenile delinquency films combined the censorious tone of social problem films with exploitation film and melodrama. McCarthyism, named for Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, was a period of intense anti-communism, and is also popularly known as the second Red Scare. ... The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) was an investigating committee of the United States House of Representatives. ... Stanley Kramer (September 29, 1913 – February 19, 2001) was an American movie director and producer. ... Exploitation is the name given to genre of films, extant since the earliest days of moviemaking, but popularized in the 1970s. ... Poster for The Perils of Pauline (1914). ...


References

Peter Roffman and Jim Purdy, The Hollywood Social Problem Film. ISBN 0253127076 Kay Sloan, The Loud Silents. ISBN 0252015444


  Results from FactBites:
 
http://xft001/metz/postwar.htm (1641 words)
War-related social problems (returning G.I.s, the threat of foreign infiltration, the effects of the atomic bomb’s invention).
The end of the film actually works to redefine the meaning of "the beginning" and "the end." At the film’s onset, "the beginning" meant the beginning of the age of atomic warfare, while "the end" meant the end of life on earth as we know it.
At the film's end, "the beginning" means the beginning of the benefits of the atomic age, while "the end" means the end of war on earth.
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