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 Hollywood studios 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. 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. Frame-paradiso comes to the rescue. This is a marvelous documentary series and required viewing for film buffs. Here’s the first four episodes of the series.
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 regulated Production 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.
Also, highly recommended viewing: Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood (1995) is a documentary series produced by David Gill and silent film historian Kevin Brownlow. Chronicles the birth of European cinema, from the Lumiere brothers to World War I, and then the first golden age of Swedish cinema, from the formation of Svenska Bio to the departure for Hollywood of Stiller and Sjöström.
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This documentary is one of the best ever. I found it early in my development as a silent film enthusiast and it is astounding. It’s criminal how legal issues have prevented it from a DVD release!