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Fleeting Fictions: Film Technology, Adaptation, and a History of the Hollywood Novel, 1920-1950

  • Author(s): Gautreau, Justin Richard
  • Advisor(s): Kinney, Katherine
  • et al.
Abstract

"Fleeting Fictions" argues that novels central to the genre of Hollywood fiction engaged with film’s technological ramifications as a method of countering the studio system’s promotional image of itself. My use of the word “technology” refers not only to the technical infrastructure of film production but also to the more figurative technologies surrounding Hollywood, specifically the Hays Office responding to celebrity scandal off screen while attempting to regulate content on screen.

The first half of this dissertation examines fiction of the 1920s and early 1930s that responded to film’s technological restrictions. Chapter 1, for instance, argues that the extra-girl novels of the 1920s viewed cinema’s lack of sound as linked to the broader forms of silence restricting women in the industry, while Chapter 2 argues that the hard-boiled detective novels of the late 1920s and early 1930s likened Hollywood Boulevard to an expansive soundstage where stars performed their studio-mandated “morals clause.” In their attempts to tap into the commercial potential of these behind-the-scenes narratives, the studios adapted several of the novels into sugarcoated films once they had the technological tools to do so, which in part doomed some novels to obscurity.

The second half of this dissertation examines texts that respond to the industry’s technological abundance with the rise of three-strip technicolor in the mid-1930s. Bringing the forgotten texts of the first half of the dissertation to bear on more canonical texts, Chapter 3 argues that fiction from 1939 pushed for an understanding of technicolor film as aesthetically rooted in Southern California boosterism and its political agenda to normalize whiteness. Such a literary critique prefigured film noir of the 1940s and 1950s. Chapter 4 argues that Los Angeles noir inherited the tradition of the Hollywood novel by engaging with the technological excess of the studio system. In so doing, however, film noir came to eclipse the function of the Hollywood novel.

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