Monday, October 4, 2010

Kevin Brownlow & David Gill - Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film - 01 - The Pioneers (1980)

Review from IMDb:
Here is the definitive video history of the art of the American silent film. This 13-episode documentary was literally produced in the nick of time, as many of those interviewed would be deceased in a few short years - their wonderful memories lost forever.

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.

Cast Listing (all thirteen episodes):
James Mason .... Himself/Narrator (voice)
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Renée Adorée .... (archive footage)
Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson .... (archive footage)
Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle .... (archive footage)
Dorothy Arzner .... Herself
Irving Asher .... Himself
Mary Astor .... Herself
Theda Bara .... (archive footage)
Cedric Belfrage .... Himself
Eleanor Boardman .... Herself
Clara Bow .... (archive footage)
Louise Brooks .... Herself
Clarence Brown .... Himself
Karl Brown .... Himself
Mrs. Patrick Campbell .... (archive footage)
Yakima Canutt .... Himself
Frank Capra .... Himself
Olive Carey .... Herself
Gaylord Carter .... Himself
Lon Chaney .... (archive footage)
Charles Chaplin .... (archive footage)
Iron Eyes Cody .... Himself
Jackie Coogan .... Himself
Dolores Costello .... Herself
George Cukor .... Himself
Dorothy Dalton .... (archive footage)
Viola Dana .... Herself
Marion Davies .... (archive footage)
Agnes de Mille .... Herself
Rose Dionne .... (archive footage)
Allan Dwan .... Himself
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. .... Himself
Geraldine Farrar .... (archive footage)
George J. Folsey .... Himself
Greta Garbo .... (archive footage)
Janet Gaynor .... Herself
Valerie Germonprez .... Herself (as Valerie von Stroheim)
John Gilbert .... (archive footage)
Leatrice Joy Gilbert .... Herself (as Leatrice Gilbert Fountain)
A. Arnold Gillespie .... Himself
Lillian Gish .... Herself (archive footage)
D.W. Griffith .... (archive footage)
Chauncey Haines .... Himself
George Harris .... Himself
William S. Hart .... (archive footage)
Byron Haskin .... Himself
Henry Hathaway .... Himself
Howard Hawks .... Himself
Will H. Hays .... (archive footage)
William Hornbeck .... Himself
R.L. Hough .... Himself (as R. Lee 'Lefty' Hough)
Al Hoxie .... Himself
Rex Ingram .... (archive footage)
Paul Ivano .... Himself
Mrs. Buck Jones .... Herself
Leatrice Joy .... Herself
Buster Keaton .... Himself (voice from radio interview) (voice)
Henry King .... Himself
Paul Kohner .... Himself
Barbara La Marr .... (archive footage)
Harry Langdon .... (archive footage)
Jesse Lasky Jr. .... Himself
Harold Lloyd .... (archive footage)
Anita Loos .... Herself
Bessie Love .... Herself
Ben Lyon .... Himself
Marion Mack .... Herself
Paul Malvern .... Himself
Samuel Marx .... Himself
Tim McCoy .... Himself (as Col. Tim McCoy)
Lewis Milestone .... Himself
Mary Miles Minter .... (archive footage)
Colleen Moore .... Herself
Louis Mountbatten .... Himself (as Lord Mountbatten)
Mae Murray .... (archive footage)
Ramon Navarro .... (archive footage)
Mabel Normand .... (archive footage)
Mary Paige .... Herself
Harvey Parry .... Himself
Mary Pickford .... (archive footage)
Wallace Reid .... (archive footage)
Hal Roach .... Himself
Albert S. Rogell .... Himself (as Al Rogell)
Charles 'Buddy' Rogers .... Himself
Bob Rose .... Himself
Harold D. Schuster .... Himself
Adela Rogers St. Johns .... Herseslf
Gloria Swanson .... Herself
Blanche Sweet .... Herself
Norma Talmadge .... (archive footage)
William Desmond Taylor .... (archive footage)
Alice Terry .... (archive footage)
Irving Thalberg .... (archive footage)
Albert Valentino .... Himself (as Alberto Valentino)
Jean G. Valentino .... Himself (as Jean Valentino)
Rudolph Valentino .... (archive footage)
Florence Vidor .... Herself (platfom diver, USA) (archive footage)
King Vidor .... Himself
Eva von Berne .... Herself
Erich von Stroheim .... (archive footage)
Raoul Walsh .... Himself (1973 interview) (archive footage)
John Wayne .... Himself (archive footage)
William A. Wellman .... Himself (1973 TV interview)
Grant Whytock .... Himself
Lois Wilson .... Herself
Fay Wray .... (archive footage)
William Wyler .... Himself

Episode Listing:
Vol. 1 - The Pioneers
Vol. 2 - In the Beginning
Vol. 3 - Single Beds and Double Standards
Vol. 4 - Hollywood Goes to War
Vol. 5 - Hazard of the Game
Vol. 6 - Swanson & Valentino
Vol. 7 - The Autocrats
Vol. 8 - Comedy - A Serious Business
Vol. 9 - Out West
Vol. 10 - The Man with the Megaphone
Vol. 11 - Trick of the Light
Vol. 12 - Star Treatment
Vol. 13 - End of an Era

no pass