Hollywood – A Celebration Of The American Silent Film by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill (1980 Thames TV series)
Thames Video Collection VHS 1 of 13
|Written by||Kevin Brownlow|
|Directed by||Kevin Brownlow
|Narrated by||James Mason|
|Theme music composer||Carl Davis|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of episodes||13|
|Running time||c.50 mins (ex. commercials)|
|Production company(s)||Thames Television|
|Original release||January 8 – April 1, 1980|
Hollywood (also known as Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film) is a 1980 documentary series produced by Thames Television which explored the establishment and development of the Hollywoodstudios and its impact on 1920s culture.
The series consists of thirteen fifty-minute episodes, with each episode dealing with a specific aspect of Hollywood history. The actor James Mason, an enthusiast of the period, supplied the narration; a lilting score was contributed by Carl Davis.
Technical quality was an important aspect of the production. Silent films had often been screened on television from poor-quality copies running at an inaccurate speed, usually accompanied by honky tonk piano music. Hollywood used silent film clips sourced from the best available material, shown at their original running speed and with an orchestral score, giving viewers a chance to see what they originally looked and sounded like.
The producers filmed the recollections of many of the period’s surviving participants, and illustrated their interviews with scenes from their various films, as well as production still photographs, and historical photographs of the Los Angeles environs. Some of these interviews are notable for being among the only filmed interviews given by their subjects.
Among the notable people who contributed interviews were:
Actors – Mary Astor, Eleanor Boardman, Louise Brooks, Olive Carey, Iron Eyes Cody, Jackie Coogan, Dolores Costello, Viola Dana, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Janet Gaynor, Leatrice Joy, Lillian Gish, Bessie Love, Ben Lyon, Marion Mack, Tim McCoy, Colleen Moore, Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers, Gloria Swanson, Blanche Sweet, John Wayne, and Lois Wilson.
Directors – Dorothy Arzner, Clarence Brown, Karl Brown, Frank Capra, George Cukor, Allan Dwan, Byron Haskin, Henry Hathaway, Henry King, Lewis Milestone, Hal Roach, Albert S. Rogell, King Vidor, and William Wyler.
Also interviewed were choreographer Agnes de Mille, writer Anita Loos, writer Adela Rogers St. Johns, press agent/writer Cedric Belfrage, organist Gaylord Carter, cinematographers George J. Folsey, Lee Garmes and Paul Ivano, writer Jesse L. Lasky, Jr., special effects artist A. Arnold Gillespie, Lord Mountbatten, agent Paul Kohner, producer/writer Samuel Marx, editors William Hornbeck and Grant Whytock, property man “Lefty” Hough, stuntmen Bob Rose, Yakima Canutt, Paul Malvern, and Harvey Parry, Rudolph Valentino’s brother, Alberto Valentino and English set designer Laurence Irving.
The series generated a new interest in the rebroadcast of silent films in the UK and elsewhere, and led to Thames producing several further series under the imprint of Thames Silents.
- “The Pioneers” – The evolution of film from penny arcade curiosity to art form, from what was considered the first plot driven film, The Great Train Robbery, through to The Birth of a Nation, films showing the power of the medium. Early Technicolor footage, along with other color technologies, are also featured. Interviews include Lillian Gish, Jackie Coogan and King Vidor.
- “In the Beginning” – Hollywood is transformed from a peaceful village with dusty streets and lemon groves to the birthplace of the industry in California. Silent film transcends international boundaries to become a worldwide phenomenon. Interviews include Henry King, Agnes de Mille, and Lillian Gish.
- “Single Beds and Double Standards” – Fast success in Hollywood brings a cavalier party lifestyle, which led to shocking scandals such as Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle‘s trial and subsequent acquittal for manslaughter. To tone down the image of Hollywood and curtail films with footage unsuitable to all audiences, Will H. Hays is appointed and introduces Hollywood’s self regulatedProduction Code, which would be enforced well into the 1960s, while filmmakers still found creative ways to present ‘adult’ situations. Interviews include King Vidor and Gloria Swanson.
- “Hollywood Goes To War” – The outbreak of World War I provides Hollywood with a successful source for plots and profits. Peacetime curtails the release of war movies, until the release of King Vidor’s The Big Parade in 1925. Wings (1927) earns the first Academy Award for Best Picture. As movies transition to sound, Universal releases Lewis Milestone‘s All Quiet on the Western Front, showing the German side of the conflict, becoming a powerful statement of war by the generation that fought it. Interviews include Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., King Vidor, Blanche Sweet and Lillian Gish.
- “Hazard of the Game” – Silent films are often remembered for slapstick gags and dangerous stunts. Stuntmen took anonymous credit for very little pay and could not reveal their involvement. Stuntmen Yakima Canutt, Harvey Parry, Bob Rose and Paul Malvern tell hair-raising and humorous stories, and reveal the secrets behind many famous stunts.
- “Swanson and Valentino” – Two of the great romantic legends of the silent screen are profiled. Rudolph Valentino’s on-screen persona is remarkably different from his real personal life, as recounted by his brother, Albert, and Gloria Swanson recalls her meteoric rise – and fall – with remarkable candor.
- “The Autocrats” – Two of Hollywood’s greatest directors, Cecil B. DeMille and Erich von Stroheim. One worked with the Hollywood system, the other against it. DeMille’s pictures, lavish in detail and cost, made his studio a fortune, while Von Stroheim’s similar ways, albeit to excess in footage and expense, resulted in films that were often either excessively cut by the studios or never released, leading to his being fired on several occasions. Interviews include Agnes DeMille, Gloria Swanson, Allen Dwan, and Henry King.
- “Comedy – A Serious Business” – Hollywood learned very early how to make people laugh. Comedy was king, and battling for the throne were stars like Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon and Charlie Chaplin. In a purely visual medium, their comedy was a work of genius. Interviews include Hal Roach, Sr., Jackie Coogan, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.
- “Out West” – ‘The Old West’ was still in existence in the silent days. Old cowboys and outlaws relived their youth, and got paid for doing it, by working in films. The ‘western craze’ really begins with stars like William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Tom Mix. Interviews include Yakima Canutt, Colonel Tim McCoy, Harvey Parry and John Wayne.
- “The Man With the Megaphone” – Silent film directors were flamboyant pioneers, making up their technique as they went along. Filming ‘indoor’ sets on open outdoor lots and combating the elements, communicating with actors in spite of overwhelming distraction and deafening noise, directors (male and female) fashion great films out of chaos and confusion. Interviews include Bessie Love, Janet Gaynor and King Vidor.
- “Trick of the Light” – Skilled cameramen had the ability to turn an actress into a screen goddess, and were valuable assets to studios and stars. With the aid of art directors, they achieved some of the most amazing and dangerous sequences captured on film, pioneering photography effects used through the remainder of the 20th century. Interviews include William Wyler and Lillian Gish.
- “Star Treatment” – Producers discovered the effect of ‘star power’ on their box office bottom line. Creating Hollywood stars becomes its own industry, resulting in the Hollywood Star System, from which came Clara Bow, Greta Garbo, and John Gilbert, successor to Rudolph Valentino as “The Great Lover”. But as easily as they made them, studios could break them. Interviews include Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Louise Brooks and King Vidor.
- “End of an Era” – Silent films had universal appeal, simply by replacing intertitles and dialogue cards for the foreign markets. Sound film was experimented with in many forms since the 1890s, but did not become commercially successful until The Jazz Singer in 1927. Hollywood movie making was transformed and ultimately shattered, taking the careers of many silent film stars, directors and producers with it, victims of the emerging technology. Interviews include Lillian Gish, Mary Astor, Janet Gaynor, George Cukor and Frank Capra, Sr.
Films featured in Hollywood
This list, according to the IMDB, is said to be complete. Not included in the list are behind the scenes footage, costume and makeup tests, or other production material.
Merchandise and home video
Tie-in products at the time of the first British transmission were a book written by Brownlow, Gill and John Kobal, a soundtrack LP featuring Carl Davis’s music, a 7″ single of the main theme, a pictoral newspaper-style publication featuring many of the stills used in the production and several posters bearing the Hollywood logo, licensed from various picture libraries.
In North America, the series was released in 1990 by HBO Video on VHS and laserdisc. Attempts to release the series on DVD in the United Kingdom in 2006 were met with legal entanglements of copyright issues and clip clearances, due to the overwhelming number of participants and film clips involved in the series; it was briefly available in a few online stores in the UK before being quickly pulled.