L.A. Replays Itself

Neil Patrick Harris flits across the screen, and a series of long-familiar film scenes dances beside him. Being, as it is, one of the de rigueur elements of the proceedings, we all know what to expect from the “Hollywood ode to itself” medley with which the Oscars ceremonies often open. Time-worn tropes and images lifted from the studios’ back catalogues will assert the apparently undying ‘magic of the movies.’ But where do these images really come from, you ask? And has Hollywood always been so reverentially cognizant of the immortal value of its past output? Enter Eric Hoyt’s recent work Hollywood Vault: Film Libraries Before Home Video. Hoyt traces the emergence and evolution of the business of film libraries from the 1910s to the 1950s, challenging the assumption that the industry only came to realize the economic value of its vaults with the advent of television. With many parties now scrambling to ascertain the worth, whether commercial or cultural, of digital film libraries, Hoyt’s examination of the first half of the American film industry’s 20th century sheds a curious light on the shifting perception of film libraries’ “value.”

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