The studio sound stages are empty, the props and costumes auctioned, the back lots turned into office buildings. The Garden of Allah and Romanoffs are gone, and part of Hollywood Boulevards is a sleazy strip of adult bookstores and fast-food restaurants.

But the place retains its magic aura. The tourists come all the same, look at the old-time stars' footprints at the Chinese Theatre and buy the maps that guide them past the present-day stars' homes.

Though a shadow of its former self, Hollywood still holds a firm grip on the public imagination as the popular culture capital of America - indeed, of the world.

The Dream Factory, they called Hollywood in its heyday. Every week, 10 or more films came off the studios' assembly lines. For decades movies made in Hollywood dominated the world's screens.

All that has changed.

Television arrived. Political controversy in the 1940s disrupted the old Hollywood. A federal antitrust suit brought about a restructuring of the movie companies. Attendance dropped, then production.

From a weekly habit, moviegoing became an event, like going to the theather. People began to think of movies less as part of popular culture and more as one of the arts.

The Dream Factory shifted to the small screen. Television producers took over some of the old studios. Their programs reach far more viewers than the movies did even at the height of their success. On television, Hollywood's s products are more popular than ever.

But movies still fulfill a unique role as purveyors of dreams to a popular audience. Even today, Hollywood's glamorous attraction derives more from movies than from television. Our feelings about current films are passionately formed and avidly debated.

Movies occupy a much more central place in contemporary popular culture than simple numbers would indicate.

The reasons for this are partly psychological. Our reactions are shaped by our personal histories, our cultural backgrounds, even our momentary moods - what pleases us one day may be distressing the next, or the reverse.

Nevertheless, some aspects of moviegoing seem to have a common impact.

As we sit in the darkened theater, watching larger than-life-size figures moving freely through time and space, we may easily enter into a dreamlike state. We feel a sense of heightened power and awareness and a close identification with the heroes and heroines on the screen.

In real life our dreams are often troubled. Movies, with their fictional plots can provide emotionally satisfying resolutions - an underdog's triumph, a wrong righted, a true love fulfilled.

When this happens, we walk out of the theater with that familiar "bigger-than-life" feeling of well-being. A recent film that gave audiences that experience was the Academy Award-winning "Rocky," the story of an Italian-American club boxer who gets a crack at the heavyweight title.

The roots of our attachment to movie heroes and heroines also lie in the specific way movies became a part of our cultural life early in this century.

When movies became part of the American scene around 1900, they were looked down upon by the comfortable classes. Movies found their first audience in the big city working class districts and immigrant ghettoes, where it cost only a nickel to see their flickering images in hot, rank storefront theaters.

The silent movies were accessible to the polyglot audience of Eastern and Southern European immigrants, as language-based entertainment, such as theater and magazines, was not.

The newcomers, faced with the task of shaping a culture from their old country origins and their new urban setting, discovered new heroes and heroines in the movie players.

Actors and actresses were not simply characters in a filmed story. They were people the audience saw week after week, striving through the different conventionalized plots to gain success or romance, some small, secure foothold in pursuit of the American dream.

Familiar faces, such as those of Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish, served as surrogates for the immigrant audience, achieving a triumph one week, suffering tragedy the next. Though film players were anonymous, the working class public recognized its favorites. Enterprising producers, themselves immigrants who learned the trade operating nickelodeon theaters, began to promote the favored players into stars.

Throughout the history of American movies, the beguiling and emblematic images of the stars have given the medium its pervasive and lasting power as a force in popular culture.

The needs of that early working class audiences also fundamentally shaped motion picture content. Seeking release from their tolls, moviegoers liked to laugh, to be amazed, shocked and titillated. The moviemakers provided their viewers with large doses of comedy, science and horror fantasy, Western and urban violence and sexual innuendo.

By World War I most of the major movie companies were run by immigrant entrepreneurs, such as Adolph Zucker and William Fox who had sprung from the same urban ghettoes where the movies first showed their popular potential. These men were the "moguls" and "tycoons" of later legend.

Although some immigrants, such as newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer, had previously risen to prominence in the communications field, the movies were the first medium of popular culture that seemed to be broadly controlled by people who did not share the ethnic and religious backgrounds of the traditional cultural elites.

With their upstart producers and indecorous content, the movies were for a long time - and indeed in some places still are - regarded by many Americans as a disreputable and unsafe form of entertainment, providing access to false values and ideals, contributing to juvenile delinquency, sexual promiscuity and other social ills.

For some years a number of states and municipalities precensored movies before they were allowed to be shown. Following a threatened boycott of theaters by a Roman Catholic organization named The Legion of Decency, the movie industry strictly enforced a production code from the 1930s to the 1960s. Over the past decade it has simply rated movies for their suitability for young viewers.

Despite such criticisms and controls, movies expanded steadily in importance in American popular culture for half a century. The view of America they presented was attacked as unrealistic, but the producers realized that their fantasy images of American life were exactly the point of their success.

The movies have never offered a full and rounded portrait of American society on the screen.

Rather, this most characteristic feature has been their presentation of extremes - extremes of wealth and glamour, of violence and action. Think of the great movie names such as Garbo, Hepburn, Bette Davis, Cagney, Bogart and John Wayne. The lure of their performances has been their capacity to take us out of our own lives and into distant and exotic worlds - the Park Avenue penthouse, the underworld hideout, the Western frontier.

"A Star Is Born" and "King Kong," recent remakes of motion picture classics, have re-emphasized the appeal both to audiences and producers of extremes of glamour and exotic violence.

Nevertheless, the movies have also portrayed a counterbalancing image of social harmony - the traditional American ideal of happiness achieved through family and community. The "Andy Hardy" series of the 1930s and 1940s, starring Mickey Rooney, offered one of the most long-lasting and successful versions of this social ideal.

Since the rise of television and the subsequent decline of motion picture attendance, the movies have less often tried to present this balancing social theme. The most successful recent movies - "Jaws," "The God-father," "Star Wars" - have been closer to the extreme.

The movies today are pre-eminently a popular culture medium of spectacle and have left to television the opportunity and challenge of creating images of who we are now.