Distilled (un-credited) from Kevin Brownlow's 1968 book "The Parade's Gone By...", this 13-part mini-series follows the rise and fall of the American silent film industry. Each episode focuses on a different aspect of silent film history and production. Several silent film makers - stars, writers, directors, producers, stunt-men and crew - and their family and friends are interviewed. Also included are hundreds of film clips and behind-the-scene photographs, how-did-they-do-that spoilers and lots of trivia. Written by
Steven W. Siferd <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Agnes de Mille:
There was great excitement, and great fervor, and great sense of romance, romantic adventure. They didn't know what they were working in. They didn't know what the future would be. They didn't know what they were doing. They knew that every picture broke boundaries. Some one new thing would be done. A new way of handling the camera. A new way of cutting. A new way of lighting. And they would be so excited by it! And my father used to say, always, "We are not real artists. None of us. We are ...
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An Utterly Superlative and Beautiful Episode of a Powerful Miniseries
Until I found this page, I had thought the very first episode was all there was--I watched very little television in 1980 and had never even heard of the series. I just checked this VHS out of the NYPL and watched it just now--but I will search out all the other episodes.
This one is the one I would want to make a few comments on. As a real aficionado of Los Angeles and its history--which is not entirely composed of its bond with Hollywood, but most aspects of it are somewhat suffused with it even now, even when Los Angeles has long had a reputation as a volatile place--there were things I saw and, perhaps even more, heard, that I had never seen and heard before; and I have done a LOT of research and made a lot of journeys to and within Hollywood and Los Angeles.
In this first hour of the series (I assume it must be, because it is called "In the Beginning") I was able to see the incredible photographs and footage of geographical Hollywood when it was still rural. I had seen only a few in a D.W. Griffith volume (which I recommend: It has excellent commentary by the great film historian Aileen Bowser), and one--a battle scene from 'Birth of a Nation' filmed right down in the Hollywood Flats--I xeroxed in 1998 and framed and placed it on my living room wall. These pictures of earliest Hollywood are breathtaking to me; they show the fragility of a bucolic and special land just before it is rendered unrecognizable--and there may never have been a more violently rapid transformation of an environment. Of course, there are houses from the silent era that can still be seen in the Hollywood Hills and in Beverly Hills (but Pickfair can't be; a few years after this production, Pia Zadora had it razed--an astonishing act, it would seem), but the photos from about 1903 till about 1920 are almost all of landscape that has disappeared: I was even vaguely surprised that when the transformation from 1903 to the present is dramatically shown, that the Hollywood Hills in the background still had their general shape--at least the far-off taller one did; I think one closer to the foreground had been leveled.
And, especially in Agnes de Mille's inspired description of the "virility" of the grass in Los Angeles at that time "that was so exciting," of the "lupine, marigolds, the poppies.." that were "just growing wild" and that "we just gathered by the armload.." this is just so moving. In fact, Miss de Mille's love for the place itself is perhaps the strongest of those who speak of their memories; she also describes wonderfully a moment when she and her mother were stuck at a location shooting and all the actors changed their clothes without a thought, her mother telling her not to look, but instead to "think of God." What a glorious lady she was, as was Lillian Gish, one of the greatest actresses of the period , primarily for her work in the great works of Griffith, and who also offers fine commentary here.
There is wonderful footage of 'Intolerance', of Douglas Fairbanks's sets for 'Robin Hood' and 'The Thief of Baghdad' (which ends with the remarkable words "Happiness Must Be Earned" streaked across the movie sky). There is a wonderful history of Pickfair and the fantastic reception given Fairbanks and Pickford in Europe and even in Moscow.
I can't wait to see the rest of this glory of a documentary, but this one alone captures the spirit of camaraderie and fun and experimentation that preceded many of the harsher elements we now associate with the business of Hollywood.
James Mason narrates and his voice is appreciated, as always.
Carl Davis, who has written so much glamour-sounding music for movies and TV, as for THE RAINBOW by Ken Russell, does the same for this superlative production, and the "Englishness" of the music is not at all obtrusive.
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