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Here is the definitive video history of the art of the
silent film. This 13-episode documentary was literally
in the nick of time, as many of those interviewed would
deceased in a few short years - their wonderful memories
Produced in 1980 for Thames Television, this is certainly one of the crowning achievements of the British team of Kevin Brownlow & David Gill, who together have done so much to preserve not only the history of silent cinema, but also the actual films themselves.
The one great lesson of the series is that non-talking films were a distinct art form, complete & satisfying, which had developed a universal language, understood everywhere, through the perfected medium of mime. This was all swept away with the arrival of Talk. So complete was the dismissal of silent films (which were never really silent) that within a short period of time they would be disparaged as intrinsically valueless & technically inferior.
As HOLLYWOOD triumphantly shows, nothing could have been further from the truth. Films of enormous expertise & intense emotional impact were almost routinely created by the pioneers who were perfecting their new invention. The achievements of Silent Cinema's 35 years constitute a new cultural renaissance.
Episodes focus on such topics as Westerns, comedies, war films, stunts, camera techniques & scandals. Not only do we hear from such luminaries as Lillian Gish, Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. & even John Wayne, but we are also enchanted by the recollections of Viola Dana, Leatrice Joy, Bessie Love, Colleen Moore & Blanche Sweet, performers in danger of obscurement due to the fact that their careers were so very long ago and their films are largely unavailable or lost. Hearing Miss Dana discuss the death of the stunt pilot she loved, or Miss Joy recollecting a tender note from husband John Gilbert, or Miss Moore hilariously describing her voice lessons when talkies arrived, is to inculcate real human personalities into what would otherwise be only historical footnotes.
A parade of directors, cameramen, stunt men & theater musicians also reminisce, as do writer Adela Rogers St. Johns & choreographer Agnes de Mille, who between them seem to have been everywhere & known everyone. Even Lord Louis Mountbatten recalls his memories of halcyon days at Pickfair.
While some fans may not want to have all the mysteries revealed as to how Douglas Fairbanks & Harold Lloyd achieved some of their most famous stunts, it is still fascinating information and detracts not a whit from the stars' prestige. It is rather sad, however, to see such stars as John Gilbert, Roscoe Arbuckle, James Murray & Ramon Novarro in their prime, with the knowledge of what Fate had in store for them...
Fans of HOLLYWOOD will be pleased to know that in the decades that have passed since its production many of the silent films it highlights have been fully restored and show now to much greater advantage that the rather faded appearance they make in the documentary.
Much appreciation must go to two men whose contributions go very far in contributing to the success of the series. Carl Davis provides a wonderfully evocative score for HOLLYWOOD, his use of traditional tunes & his own lilting melodies a splendid match for what is taking place on screen. James Mason's narration is absolutely perfect - his rich voice, so warm & intimate, ironically proving that there is a place for talking pictures after all.
This series is a definite must-have for silent film buffs and film lovers
general. Several years in the making (late 1970s), "Hollywood" covers the
directors, stars, and films that made Hollywood world famous in the 1920s.
Rare clips from silent classics are presented with James Mason's wonderful
The big draws are the interviews with surviving silent stars who lived into the late 1970s. Interviews with Colleen Moore, Ben Lyon, and many others permeate the series with their unique perspectives. Of particular note is a rare interview with Louise Brooks -- a "must see" for Brooks fans.
"Hollywood" also discusses the scandals that made the film industry shiver, such as the deaths of William Desmond Taylor and Wallace Reid.
The series concludes with a review of the coming of sound and how many silent stars were forgotten with the coming of talkies; the faded careers of Clara Bow, John Gilbert and many others are discussed and analyzed.
I first saw this series on television as a teenager in 1981 and became hooked on silent films thereafter. There has never been a period when movies were more thrilling and popular than the silent era; I heartily recommend "Hollywood" to prove this assertion. The best documentary series about the silent era ever produced. 10 out of 10.
This is a wonderful history of the early days of Hollywood. It was made in the 1970s using filmed interviews with a rapidly shrinking group of the great stars and directors. These interviews are matched with the scenes that the actors or actresses are discussing. It is one of the great editing achievements of all time. I first saw it on public television in the late 1980s and was very happy when it was released on video. I hope it is released on DVD. I have purchased many copies of the 13 set series and given them as gifts. Everyone who I gave this set to told me that it was really great. If you want to take a wonderful trip back in time to a long forgotten land this is for you. I think this is the best documentary ever. Period. Nothing comes close. Hope you enjoy it.
If you are a fan of the silent period, this series is a must see.
Interviews with the silent stars, producers, directors, writers, and craft people, as well as more footage of the era than you can possibly imagine. Brownlow and Gill, two of Hollywood's premier historians, have put together this highly entertaining documentary series and are able to capture the feel and the look of early Hollywood.
Particularly interesting is that each episode is a theme. From comedies, to westerns, to a particular star or director, to the frequent scandals, each episode has insight into what made Hollywood tick.
Those of us who see the silent film as a beautiful art form marvel at the beauty of the technique when sound doesn't get in the way. Brownlow and Gill have found footage frequently thought to be destroyed but found in someone's garage or basement.
I am raising my son to appreciate the silent film, and with the help of this series he has become a fan of Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, and many others.
Thanks to David and Kevin.
I heard of this documentary years ago and bought it on Laser Disc
(that's right, Laser Disc, eat your hearts out!) in the 90's. This is
THE BEST documentary on silent film I have every seen. 10 of 10!
If my house was on fire, and I only had time to grab one laser disc, this would be it. From the fantastic, sweet music of the opening titles to the end of part 13, this will HOLD your interest for 12 hours (each part is about 52 min. long). The 4 page essay by Kevin Brownlow with the laser disc set is fantastic.
Watching silent film on television at home is different than watching a sound film. With a sound film, you might glance at the newspaper, let the dog out, etc. and still use your ears to keep up with the story, but a silent film HOLDS you to the screen.
To quote the last lines of the Brownlow essay: "It is impossible to listen to these people without marvelling; they are so extraordinary in their old age... what must Hollywood have been like when they were all young? This series tries to find out."
I agree: WHERE IS THE DVD!!!!
The "Hollywood" series is the best documentary on Hollywood that I have ever seen. It presents silent movies in their correct speed and this makes a huge difference. It reveals that silent movies were not silent and in fact had orchestras of up to 100 musicians. It shows how different these films were,visual poems of music and picture. Silent films often had surprisingly good special effects as good as today's special effects. This series also tells us about the pitfalls and dangers of silents film production with extras sometimes getting killed. It reveals forgotten movie stars of the past and tells us about their lives and what befell them. This wonderful series deserves a DVD release as it is quite unique. My only regret is that they should have done a second series on the sound movies of the 1930's,which was Hollywood's greatest era.
I happened to catch this on local TV back in the early 80's (it was
broadcast irregularly, so it was a painful experience not being able to
all of it) and loved it, so you can imagine my joy when it was released
VHS in the dark days before that godsend known as DVD. Unfortunately, it
on the shelves for about a month before disappearing, but I got to see
entire run and have never forgotten it. This doc was such an education to
(the only exposure to silent film I had prior to this wonderful,
documentary was a series of shorts called "Who's The Funny Man?" on
Penny back in the sixties, which was narrated by an actor named as Cliff
Norton, I believe) - until I saw this, I thought of silent movies exactly
the way James Mason described them as being thought of in the opening of
first episode, not knowing the artistry that went into their creation or
talent behind and in front of the cameras.
To sum up, this is, and I'll say it a thousand times, the most entertaining, informative, amazing documentary about the unfortunately ignored silent era you will ever see. Absolutely stunning.
This series was the finest documentary on the early days of Hollywood ever made. Put together in late 1970's, many from the silent era were still alive and they gave their very last interviews for this documentary. I can't say enough about this brilliant series. A must see for any movie fan.
Indescribably essential. Kevin Brownlow, the late David Gill, and their superlative production and support staff at Thames Television created the absolute apotheosis of film documentary in this series. AND, to boot, they provided undoubtedly the greatest single service ever rendered to film history in seeking out these amazing pioneers and capturing their recollections and memories, shortly before they all passed forever from the scene. I have seen this innumerable times, yet I still fall back in awe at sequences such as director Allan Dwan describing his entry into the film industry in 1911, or cameraman Karl Brown speaking of the 1915 opening night of "Birth of a Nation". I also highly recommend Brownlow's predecessor book "The Parade's Gone By" (1969), and the companion book to the series "Hollywood, the Pioneers" (out of print). Also, the subsequent Brownlow documentaries on Chaplin, Keaton, Harold Lloyd, DW Griffith, and Lon Chaney are all of equal quality, and beautifully augment original the series. I can only hope that when the DVD version of Hollywood is released, it will include unedited interviews with the participants.
This is a remarkable document of the silent film era. Many of the participants make their last appearances to describe their film history. Agnes De Mille, Colleen Moore, King Vidor, Harold Lloyd, and Viola Dana are just a handful of names that participated in this documentary. They are but a few historical film names that participated before they passed away soon after (or before) this production was completed. Multiple Oscar winner Frank Capra, Oscar Honoree Hal Roach, and Hollywood legend Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. also participated in this series. This is essential viewing for anyone who calls themselves a film historian and anyone who values the history of film. It's great viewing for even casual fans of movie history and is not to be ignored by those who enjoy a good miniseries.
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