Classical Hollywood Style

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Classical Hollywood narrative

'Classical Hollywood cinema possesses a style which is largely invisible and difficult for the average spectator to see. The narrative is delivered so effortlessly and efficiently to the audience that it appears to have no source. It comes magically off the screen.' John Belton, film scholar, Rutgers University

Classical Hollywood narrative refers to the filmmaking tradition established in Hollywood during the 1920s and 1930s. It became the dominant style throughout the western world against which all other styles were judged. While there have been some challenges to it in recent years, it remains the accepted style for most Hollywood films today.

The Hollywood style is so effective in convincing us what we see on the screen is real that we often have to forcibly remind ourselves that it is 'only a movie'. Oddly Hollywood, so often associated with everything that is fake, is also the home of classical narrative realism. 'Tinsel town' has spent a fortune every year since the 1920s faking realism.

What are classical Hollywood narrative films?

Classical Hollywood narrative films have plots that progress through time in a linear way, are based on character-driven action and use the continuity editing style (see page 233).

The style is 'classical' because it is based on the classical principles of literature and art. A work is described as classical if it has perfect balance and symmetry. It must also be clear, simple and free of excesses of emotionalism or irrelevant detail. From beginning to end, all elements must be integrated and the resulting sense of harmony should reassure and satisfy the audience.

Features of classical Hollywood narrative

The Hollywood style takes advantage of the compact people make with the filmmaker when they pay their ticket price. They willingly want to 'suspend disbelief' (see page 135). Deep down, people know it is tomato sauce, but they really want to believe it is blood. In a...
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