The above statement does not entirely reflect the reality. At the level of creative expressions, the relationship between these two continents has always been, to say the very least, a two-way road. The exchanges concerning Hollywood and the international cinema scene are long-standing and deeply rooted. During the formation of classical Hollywood cinema, many of its key architects were in fact European emigrants – Lubitsch, Dieterle, Lang, Hitchcock, Sirk, to name but a few.
More recently, many of Hollywood’s finest contemporary directors – Scorsese, Altman, Coppola and others – have often turned to Europe, to the French New Wave, Italian neo-realism and the New German Cinemas for a source of inspiration and influence. In the Bioscope of 8 January 1925, Joseph Schenck, then president of United Artist, commented brutally on British film productions: “You have no personalities to put on the screen. Your stage actors and actresses are no good on the screen.
Your effects are no good, and you do not spend nearly so much money. ” Similar remarks can be found about almost any European cinema in almost any decade. It is possible to question the aesthetic standards by which such complaints are made. It can be argued that slow rhythms, deliberate staginess, and lack of star presence or of visible production values are positive qualities which European film-makers have exploited in creative ways and which the Hollywood cinema is the poorer for not possessing.
How Schenk would have hated La Regle du jeu, Ladri di Biciclette, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant or The Long Day Closes! And how wrong he would have been. But at the level of mass perception Schenk was right. European cinema has for too long been hung up on notions of quality – wrapped for preference in a national flag, like “Belgian” chocolates. Hollywood, partly for reasons of sheer scale, has not had this problem. It can machine-produce quality when it needs to, but it can also shamelessly produce trash. European cinema has lost the art of producing trash.
But it is trashy films – whether “good” trash or “bad” trash makes no difference – that are the manure of film culture, the source of modern mythologies through which the cinema speaks to its remaining audience. Europe’s only mythology at the moment seems to be heritage. If it is to be viable as an industrial and cultural entity, European cinema needs to rediscover the present, forget rural idylls and plunge into urban nightmares, reconnecting with the mythologies of everyday fear and desire. If it can’t do this – and it may as well be too late – it will have to settle for a role of permanent understudy, bit-part player in the world game.
Thus the division of Europe into a number of national states, each with its own cultural characteristics, and the low distribution of European films in Europe itself (only 10 per cent of European films are screened in another European country) make a definition of one European cinema too diffuse and heterogeneous in the attempt to characterize the relationship between Hollywood and European cinema in any other way than already stated – in other words: industrial big business film production versus small, craft-based productions partly seen as “an artistic alternative to crass commercialism”