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Hollywood: In the Beginning (1980)
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
Second entry in the documentary series shows us the beginning of the home of movies, which was actually Fort Lee, NJ and not Hollywood. We see the eventually trip West as directors, such as D.W. Griffith, started going to California so that they could use the many visuals styles that it offered. We see early shots of Hollywood streets in Griffith's FAITHFUL before hearing about the first feature, Cecil B. DeMille's THE SQUAW MAN. From here we learn about some of the more ambitious projects like INTOLERANCE, JOAN THE WOMAN, ROBIN HOOD and THE THIEF OF BAGDAD. That there leads to the first super-team of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. Once again we're treated to some wonderful film clips but the real key to watching to this are for the wonderful interviews. In this episode we hear from Allan Dwan, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Byron Haskin, Henry King and Colleen Moore among many others. Fans of silent cinema are really going to eat this thing up thanks in large part to the terrific interviews that really give you a clear understanding and look of what it must have been like making movies back in the day. The stories are all full of life and you can't help but feel that these folks are so happy to be telling these stories as I'm sure there were decades where people didn't bothered to ask for these stories. This episode really does a good job at showing how quickly Hollywood came to be one of the largest businesses in the world and how things were changing daily. Sometimes these changes were for the better but sometimes for the worst. Just listen to Gish talking about having to film outside with nothing to block the wind.
Like episode 1, episode 2 seems to suffer a bit when it comes to an analysis of the early American silent films. While it talks some about the film industry in New Jersey (the biggest in America in the early part of the 20th century), it skips through this important period VERY quickly--too quickly for my taste. So, the works of the Edison Company and others are barely mentioned at all. It makes it seem like until Hollywood was incorporated, there was almost no American film industry. However, apart from this mistaken impression it gives, the show is top- notch. As always, it was great interviews and clips. It also gives a lot of interesting material about the early king and queen of silents, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford and the impact they had on the world. And, it explains how the American films surpassed the output of the rest of the world and soon were the leading exporter of culture to the world. Well worth seeing.
It must have been a pretty place, Los Angeles and Hollywood, about
1910. Other industries were dampened by laws. Hollywood itself was a
fruit orchard, bought by the Wilcox family and named after an estate
back East. Mr. Wilcox, an entrepreneur, chopped down the trees, divvied
the land up into parcels, and sold them at a profit to prim
Midwesterners. This is what's known as "land development", which
suggests that a butcher should really be called a cow developer. There
was a balmy climate, abundant sunshine, no smog, no congestion, varied
natural environments, wide spaces, and stunning landscapes. There were
snowy mountains, rushing rivers, open ranges, sea ports, forests,
valleys filled with wildflowers, and deserts.
Before the advantages of Southern California were discovered, films were mainly shot in the New York metropolitan area, with a focus on Fort Lee, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River. The movies were shot on roof tops to take advantage of the sunlight. There was so much corruption and rivalry between the established studios and the independents, that the latter were more or less forced out of town. Cecile B. DeMille arrived in Hollywood in 1912 when the first studio was built. There was no electric lighting but movies didn't need to be shot on rooftops. Sets with no roofs could be slapped together outdoors. The newcomers from the East were déclassé. They were Jews and roughnecks who didn't go to church, who drank immoderately, and who rode horses over privately owned lawns, leaving ragged hoofprints and horse turds in their wake. Ads for rooms to rent were often accompanied by a notice -- "No Movies", the first time the word was used.
After World War I, with the European film industry in bad shape, Hollywood's product, even more resplendent, became the international standard, influencing hair styles and the like. Stars became rich and famous. The King of Siam stayed at "Pickfair," the name of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks' modest cottage in Hollywood.
This episode, like the others, illustrates its point with excerpts from the films. Ah, to be a movie star. Better yet, a Mogul.
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