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Title: Hollywood, the family audience and the family film, 1930-2010
Author: Brown, Noel
ISNI:       0000 0004 2692 3241
Awarding Body: Newcastle University
Current Institution: University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Date of Award: 2010
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This thesis is the first in-depth, historical study of Hollywood’s relationship with the ‘family audience’ and ‘family film’. Since the 1970s, Hollywood family films have been the most lucrative screen entertainments in the world, and despite their relativelyunexplored status in academic film criticism and history, I will argue that the format is centrally important in understanding mainstream Hollywood cinema. How have ‘family films’ become so globally dominant? One answer is that Hollywood’s international power facilitates the global proliferation of its products, but this explanation, in isolation, is insufficient. I will argue that Hollywood family films are designed to transcend normative barriers of age, gender, race, culture and even taste; they target the widest possible audiences to maximise commercial returns, trying to please as many people, and offend as few, as possible. This they achieve through a combination of ideological populism, emotional stimulation, impressive spectacle, and the calculated minimisation of potentially objectionable elements, such as sex, violence, and excessive socio-cultural specificity. Initially, the audience for family films was predominantly domestic, but with the increasing spending power of international audiences, family films are now formulated on the belief that no market is inaccessible. For this reason, they are inextricably linked with Hollywood – the only film industry in the world with the resources and distribution capacity to address a truly global mass audience. The ‘family film’ originated in early-1930s Hollywood as a mixture of propaganda and commercial idealism. Hollywood cinema was already an international cultural phenomenon, but was founded upon a claim to universality that was undermined by the predominance of adult-orientated films. The family film was the result both of external pressures to make films more morally-suitable for children, and the desire to engage a more middle-class mass audience. Films targeting the so-called ‘family audience’ were excellent propaganda for Hollywood, suggesting superior production, inoffensiveness and broad appeal. Although such movies have not always commanded the mass (‘family’) audiences for which they are intended, they have flourished in the domestic and international media marketplace since the 1970s, and their commercial and cultural dominance appears likely to extend further in the years to come. Whilst the idea of a universally-appealing film remains an impossible dream, mainstream Hollywood has pursued it relentlessly. It is the Holy Grail for mainstream producers, and has attained considerable importance in U.S. – and increasingly international – culture, as audiences flock to see films which appear to transcend run-ofthe- mill screen entertainment by providing universally-intelligible aesthetic and/or emotional satisfaction. This thesis maps the history of the Hollywood family film, documenting the motivations and strategies involved in its emergence and development, analysing the form creatively and ideologically, evaluating its place within global mass entertainment, and underlining its considerable importance.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, Newcastle University
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available