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The Irony of Paramount’s Star-Studded Photo

Paramount Pictures CEO Brad Grey and director Martin Scorsese

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for DGA

To celebrate its 100th Anniversary, Paramount Pictures has released a publicity spread featuring 116 movie stars who have contributed to the studio’s success. The photo garners an impressive array of talent, from heavy hitters like Spielberg and DeNiro to the less cinematically notable (like pop singer Justin Bieber, who playfully hangs off the side of a staircase, presumably in celebration of his concert film Never Say Never). The picture calls to mind a great 1944 publicity still from MGM, the studio whose slogan once claimed to have “more stars than there are in the heavens.”

Of course, technically speaking, Paramount doesn’t currently have any stars: The studio system has been dead since the Supreme Court lay down the Paramount Decree in 1948, an anti-trust decision that freed stars from rigid contracts that forced them to work with only one studio. Soon after the decision, the Screen Actors Guild was born.

MGM’s 1944 photo features all the stars that were then under contract to that studio. Many MGM stars—such as Gene Kelly and June Allyson—remain indelibly linked in the popular imagination with MGM, which was best known for its musicals and comedies. (Warner was known for its gangster films, Universal for its monster flicks.)

Paramount’s new publicity photo, on the other hand, brings together some of “the greatest talents ever to work at the studio”—meaning, basically, anyone famous who was once in a movie put out by Paramount.  The studio’s original logo featured 24 stars around a mountain-top to symbolize its 24 performers under contract, an image that has long since lost its original meaning. This new photo, however star-studded, feels equally meaningless.

Paramount is not the only studio celebrating 100 years in 2012: at the Tribeca Film Festival, DeNiro was on hand (along with Judd Apatow) to help celebrate Universal’s centennial—by, for some reason, simply ignoring that studio’s legacy. Ironically, by marking these anniversaries, both Paramount and Universal have highlighted just how little connection they now have to their storied pasts.