The American movie business started as peepshows and grew into a near-mythical art form that used an exciting new technology to create drama, laughter and adventure bigger than life.

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Cast

Episode credited cast:
...
Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Jeanine Basinger ...
Herself - Interviewee
Cari Beauchamp ...
Herself - Interviewee
A. Scott Berg ...
Himself - Interviewee
...
Himself - Interviewee
Donald Bogle ...
Himself - Interviewee
Scott Eyman
Gary Giddins ...
Himself - Interviewee
...
Himself - Producer
Aljean Harmetz ...
Herself - Interviewee
Molly Haskell ...
Herself - Interviewee
Stanley R. Jaffe ...
Himself - Interviewee
Miles Kreuger ...
Himself - Interviewee
Carla Laemmle ...
Herself - Niece of Carl Laemmle
Tony Maietta ...
Himself - Interviewee
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The American movie business started as peepshows and grew into a near-mythical art form that used an exciting new technology to create drama, laughter and adventure bigger than life.

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22 November 2010 (USA)  »

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Soundtracks

Don't Say Good-Night
(uncredited)
Music by Harry Warren
Played during Busby Berkeley's introduction
Also during clips from Wonder Bar (1934)
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Hollywood - from Vitaphone to the winds of war
20 September 2015 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This is the time period covered with probably the most change in film due to the changes in society and technology. The beginning of the documentary talks about how the sound revolution - starting with The Jazz Singer but really taking about three years - threw both actors and directors out of work and a fresh new wave of talent descended on Hollywood. As one of the narrators said - Talking film was not a hybrid that evolved from silent film, it was a new creation entirely that choked out the existence of the former. Sound coupled with the Great Depression brought the money men - pure bankers - into the business and imposed a new discipline. It also greatly shrank the number of studios.

Independent African American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux's contributions are brought up, although I thought it was odd to do that in this installment since Micheaux had been writing, directing and producing films since 1920. It seemed to be brought up here in parallel with Hattie McDaniel winning her Academy Award to note that progress was being made in race relations on film, but the documentary did mention that there was still very much progress to be made.

New moguls entering the field include David O. Selznick and Walt Disney, and it is mentioned how Louis Mayer used Irving Thalberg's illness to dilute his power during his recovery. New stars entering the field that are mentioned include Bette Davis, James Cagney, Mae West, Clark Gable, and Jean Harlow. Although Columbia was formed in the 20's, this is the episode in which Columbia is first mentioned, primarily because their premiere director, Frank Capra, rose to prominence during this period.

As Hitler rose to power in Europe, it is mentioned that the moguls - many Jewish - did not put out any films remotely criticizing the Nazis because they did not want to lose German audiences. The only exception was the Warner Brothers.

The end of the documentary makes a very interesting observation - that perhaps people identified with Scarlet O'Hara in Gone with the Wind because of her going suddenly from a life of abundance to poverty to the point of hunger and her promise to never go hungry again mirrored audiences' own experience in having just come out of the Depression.

The production code is mentioned briefly, but in my opinion it can't be emphasized enough how the production code changed films from being realistic sometimes to the point of pain to so idealistic and neutered that many studios turned to period pieces in the mid 30's, many of which were inconsistent, silly and even boring disasters, just because the moguls figured the now all powerful censors would not object because nobody could be having sex if so many layers of petticoats were involved.

Again, as in all of the episodes, an after-discussion is held with Robert Osborne presiding. You only get to see this if you recorded the original broadcast in 2010 or if you bought the DVD of the series. Recommended as a good overview, but you'll need to dig deeper for the details, and in the after discussion the panel even admits this.


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