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Jayo

"Moguls and Movie Stars"

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Well this documentary is focusing more on the Moguls than the Movie Stars. I think you are right that they jump around a little with the stars and pick and choose who they are going to highlight for each studio. Although it does seem that they talked about stars that either made a lot of money for the studio or were not afraid to fight back.

 

But I do kind of understand why they talked about Frank Capra because in the 1930's he was associated primarily with Columbia and his movies helped Columbia compete with the bigger studios. So I think it was very fitting that Capra was discussed. When I read Capra's interview he talked specifically about his relationship with Harry Cohn.

 

Howard Hawks was more of an independent director not exactly associated with any particular studio.

 

So it is not as random as people are making out. They can't include everything but I feel they do have at least some rhyme and reason for what they do include.

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The downfall of so many of the Silent Stars is very hard to figure in retrospect.

*In many cases it wasn't the invention of sound and talkies, it was that the audiences tastes changed. Gilbert was the "The Great Lover" and thousands of movie goers loved him in that role.*

 

*But with the Depression and the end of the Jazz era, audiences moved away from many of the archetype characters that the silent era stars played.*

 

*Audiences wanted new archetypes and in the wings were waiting a slew of actors from Jimmy Cagney to Errol Flynn to fit the bill.*

 

Cagney yes, but Flynn actually arrived in the mid 30s. Cagney was one of many Broadway actors whose more subdued, naturalistic movements, and stage-trained voices allowed them to succeed in turn of the decade Hollywood, when talkie madness hastened the demise of many silent careers.

 

*Many silent stars continued working in character roles in talkies. Others like Bow retired. Gilbert likely could have had a long career as a character actor but his high salary demands during the transition to sound put a target on his back.*

 

*He's very good in some of his talkies but the majority of movie-goers only saw him in his more flamboyant "Great Lover" role and when that archetype became outmoded, they moved away from Gilbert and started looking for a new King, who they would find in Clark Gable.*

 

It's not just changing tastes that contributed to the downfall of many silent movie stars. Granted, John Gilbert did have the outsized gestures that were common during the silent era, which not only seemed silly in the new sound medium (and in the sobering jazz age hangover that was the Great Depression), but were actually problematic with the rudimentary recording equipment, which could pick up sounds made by these gestures. This equipment is also blamed for recording his voice poorly, coming out high-pitched and effeminate-sounding; obviously this did not match his image and did his popularity irreparable harm.

 

However, the stories of a Louis B. Mayer bent on ruining his top male star, because of hardball salary talks or whatever, cannot be discounted. He had the ability (and desire?) to record Gilbert's voice poorly, thus ensuring his more than underwhelming talkie debut. Coupled with changing tastes did the rest. But he was decent (even good) is some of his talkies, and he was no longer doing the great lover type stories, but playing more 30s rough guy roles. If he didn't have the drinking problem that he did, it's possible he could have resurrected his career.

 

With Clara Bow, it's not just that she retired. Her effervescent personality, and restless nature, moving all over the soundstage, were hard to record in the earliest days of talkies. But her Brooklyn accent did not clash notably with her image; she actually succeeded in transitioning to sound. She was just about the biggest star in 1930 when two back to back scandals about her personal life had people suddenly boycott her movies, as certain segments of American society censured the star's behavior. Her popularity evaporated overnight, and Paramount reassigned upcoming projects for her to Nancy Carroll, Sylvia Sidney and Claudette Colbert, among others. Attempts to regain her popularity at other studios had no lasting impact. This career collapse had her having at least one nervous breakdown. She married movie cowboy Rex Bell and retired to a ranch in Nevada by the mid 30s. But the main reason her popularity plummetted was not a poor talkie showing, but scandalous details of her personal life splashed across the front page.

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I have yet to see a Gilbert talkie with "outsized gestures" or a silent for that matter. I have seen him uncomfortable with his roles, or maybe his directors, most of whom were notoriously bad in those transition years. Gilbert was one of the best silent actors, with a bon vivant personality that slowly unfurled to reveal either tenderness or sometimes self hatred. He was able to convey the slightest change of emotion with a look. I personally don't think he ever went overboard with gestures.

 

Some of his roles called for sword fighting, or a larger than life, rather princely demeanor, but that is not the same thing as overacting. He was able to pull off a sweeping gesture or move that was called for in a role.

 

His roles in modern dress show a lovely economy of style. He was able to show the audience so much, using some small bit of business, like giving a girl a piece of chewing gum. Nothing too grand there. Even in his roles as princes or swashbucklers, he was able to subtly change the course of a scene by changing his eyes or looking downward. It's not all eye popping, wild gesticulation as some people seem to think.

 

If all you have seen are film clips, you might see some of those outsized gestures, picked specifically to show Gilbert in an outmoded way. I think that mainly, his upper crust persona didn't translate well to the depression, people mistrusted the rich and powerful, and he would be the first to tell you that. He tried hard to present himself in a new, more down to earth way, as in the wonderful *Downstairs*, which he wrote. But the studio continued to place him in the same types of roles that they had in silents. They only knew one thing, and they did it to death. I think there is definitely a sense that the studio didn't care much about him as a person, only as a commodity. They let him make money for them when he was on top, and cut him when he was not. Once the depression hit, audiences wanted grittier stars like Tracy, Gable and Cagney. Gilbert had his fans, but they moved on since Gilbert could not.

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i agree, the 4th chapter should have at least shown John Gilbert, he was the screen lover when Valentino died, his voice was not too high (some feel it was played with by the sound people, since many feel the powers that be were out to destroy him, some say it was his famous fight with the MGM big man over Garbo, etc, or that he was just too big, i personally love his movies, silent and talking......also how can TCM show Anna Christie with Garbo's talking debut, and show scenes from the Jazz Singer and NOT show these 2 landmark films after the showing of the 4th Chapter of this series...it make no sense whatsoever! also, how can they leave out Crawford out of the MGM story? they never even mention Norma Shearer, Wallace Beery, Cary Grant.......give me a break!

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It could be that they're saving people like Cary Grant for later in the series. That's what I reasoned when I thought the same thing.

 

I've been enjoying this immensely. In Film History land I'm in the Advanced category and even I learned a TON from this series, and thought of things in a new way, and appreciated people I never appreciated before. Awesome.

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I too feel that this episode was very disjointed, jumping all over the place. They didn't even do a good job of trying to illustrate each studio's top stars. Or each studio. What I find as very incomplete was mentioning Zanuck's 'straight from the headlines' style of filmmaking, but calling him a mogul when they're talking about his producer status at WB (NOT a mogul at this time), but don't mention that he DID become a mogul with 20th Century Pictures, and a couple of years later, 20th Century Fox, OR its outstanding entry into the 'straight from the headlines" films, THE GRAPES OF WRATH (This chapter was supposed to extend to 1941).

 

I know that time is obviously an issue, and agree that two hour episodes would have been more appropriate, but it doesn't excuse sloppy editing that has them going from 1930 to 1939 and back.

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While the series is far from perfect, the topic is vast so many details will be omitted. But, I too am enjoying the series and learning a lot.. Hope Moguls and Movie Stars will be expanded and shown with improvements and expanded again next year.

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> {quote:title=LonesomePolecat wrote:}{quote}

> I too had never heard of Oscar Micheaux. Now I want to keep my eye out for his films.

 

There is a collection of his films on DVD that came out a few years ago. Probably still available, maybe Netflix has it.

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A lot of actors/directors that people complained were not mentioned before were mentioned here. I did sort of feel there was a little too much focus on Bogart. Don't get me wrong I adore him and he is a favorite of mine but they must have talked about him 3 different times during this documentary.

 

I liked that they talked about Preston Sturges but what about Billy Wilder? There was just a brief mention of Double Indemnity? I guess he will be talked about in the 50's decade.

 

Starting with the 30's and especially this one I am a lot more knowledgeable than I was about the silent era so most of this stuff isn't new for me but if I can ever get my friends to watch this documentary maybe they would understand my love for old films.

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Maven, I've also been enjoying every episode. The 40s chapter did have the special problem of moving back and forth between the progress of the war and the happenings in Hollywood, so it was perhaps a little more disjointed. Loved the segments with Marsha Hunt, and what about Joseph P. Kennedy urging the moguls to avoid criticism of Hitler? That was a stunner.

 

Casablanca and The Great Dictator were excellent choices for follow-on movies, and I love next week's schedule for following "Attack of the Small Screens" with Marty, which is a remake of a TV play and has a key scene of Betsy Blair and her parents watching the Ed Sullivan Show; A Face in the Crowd, a prophetic film about the influence of TV personalities; and Sweet Smell of Success, which deals with the power of radio and newspapers. Very thoughtful choices from the programmers.

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I'm feeling ambivalent about the series. I look forward to it, wouldn't want to miss it, and stay glued to my chair when it's on. At the same time, I feel unsatisfied at the end of each segment, and feel there is so much more they could have done. Yes, there are reasons I suppose for limiting each episode to an hour, but at the end of that hour it always feels as though they've bitten off more than they can chew.

 

I think that by combining both "moguls" and movie stars, the makers of this documentary have tried to be too diverse and try to cover too much in the time they have alloted for each episode. You could easily spend more than an hour on just one or the other of those two topics. And as far as I can tell, most of the show concentrates on the " moguls", the "movie stars" being given a mention now and then, and not in any consistent way.

 

There is a very good maker of this kind of documentary series, Ken Burns. He has made, to date, three fantastic documentary series about the Civil War, Baseball, and Jazz. He has said that he feel all three of those subjects have contributed hugely to American's identity. I think we could safely say that Movies could and should be considered an fourth ingredient to that. Burns' episodes were , I think, either an hour and a half each, or even two hours. This enabled him to cover his subjects in a lot of depth. I do wonder what Burns could have done with a series like this.

 

Having said that, I do enjoy the series and acknowledge all the work and research that must have gone into it. And, critical though I may be, I'm always happy to watch it, and I do learn from it.

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> {quote:title=misswonderly wrote:}{quote}

> I'm feeling ambivalent about the series. I look forward to it, wouldn't want to miss it, and stay glued to my chair when it's on. At the same time, I feel unsatisfied at the end of each segment, and feel there is so much more they could have done.

 

Same here...I think the problem is that 60 minutes is a fraction of the amount of time each decade deserves to be looked at. Like Leonard Maltin said: "the history of movies is the history of America". How can you wrap up the 1940's in 60 minutes? They only used two clips of Casablanca (relatively insignificant ones too). If each episode was given 2 hours, I would love 10X more (and I _really_ love it the way it is!)

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*I'm feeling ambivalent about the series. I look forward to it, wouldn't want to miss it, and stay glued to my chair when it's on. At the same time, I feel unsatisfied at the end of each segment, and feel there is so much more they could have done. Yes, there are reasons I suppose for limiting each episode to an hour, but at the end of that hour it always feels as though they've bitten off more than they can chew.*

I'm with you on this one & you may have nailed it. They have to cover so much is such a limited amount of time that the episodes end up being Hollywood History 101. I am enjoying the series, but I'm not learning much new... for those who've read little on film history the series is instructive, but for those of us who's been reading on the subject for 40+ years it's mostly old news.

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missed the first few parts of the series but watched the 30s and 40s ones and i got to say that they were very disappointing. The 30s i think as we all know was mostly known for its comedy to keep a lighten mood during the depression and the fact that they only mentioned the Marx Brothers and not the Little Rascals, 3 stooges, and Laurel and Hardy just shows that they didnt have enough time for that episode.

 

Now as for the 40s during the War you had a nice mix of basically everything to try to keep the spirit of the nation going after the bombing of pearl harbor but once again they just didnt have enough time to show everything that went on in that decade when it came to movies and other things. Mentioned Judy Garland a lot on the 40s one for some reason not to say that she didnt deserve it but there were also some other actresses who needed mentioned.

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There is just too much to cover in 110 years of movie history.

 

Turner did a 2 hour documentary on Gone with the Wind in the 1990s. I would like to see a 5 hour documentary on Gone with the Wind. So it would take 10,000 hours of documentaries to cover 110 years of movies.

 

I like these programs because they contain new stills, new film clips, new stories, etc. They are enjoyable.

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I love it! I honestly think I will be going through withdrawl when it's over. I dwell on what it is rather than what it doesn't have time to be. I know more now and have seen more than I did when it started.

 

Folks, this is my first anniversary of joining the Board. I had never done anything like this before and was scared to death. All I wanted was information about a favorite star; what I've gotten back is more than I could have imagined. Sharing my ideas and questions with all of you and hearing yours-even when you're calling me to task-has been a treasure. You have truly enhanced my life and II value all of you. Good night and thank you.

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> {quote:title=Arturo wrote:}{quote}

> calling [Zanuck] a mogul when they're talking about his producer status at WB (NOT a mogul at this time), but don't mention that he DID become a mogul with 20th Century Pictures, and a couple of years later, 20th Century Fox, OR its outstanding entry into the 'straight from the headlines" films, THE GRAPES OF WRATH (This chapter was supposed to extend to 1941).

 

By the late 1920's Zanuck wasn't "a producer" at Warner's, he was head of production, generally the same position he held at 20th Century Pictures, and 20th Century-Fox when the former merged with Fox Studios in 1936. The difference is that at Warner's Zanuck was answerable to Jack, Harry and Albert Warner, whereas at 20th his superiors were the company's board of directors in New York. Those directors respected Zanuck's skills as a storyteller and administrator very highly, and gave him a lot of freedom; the studio lot in West Hollywood was very much his personal fiefdom, allowing him the unofficial title of "mogul," which his employ at Warner's did not, but while there he was no mere "producer."

 

As for THE GRAPES OF WRATH, that was hardly "torn from headlines," since the 1940 movie portrayed the plight of "Oakies" fleeing the Dust Bowl of the mid-1930's. What it was torn from (very respectfully) was John Steinbeck's 1939 novel.

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Well I think this documentary is absolutely stellar.

 

I do a fair share of historical writing and know a few documentarian film makers and know how difficult it is to write for the "masses". I also have a pretty good knowledge of the film industry and history. I am always disappointed in this sort of documentary; the corny music, repeating stills, bad/confusing script, leaving out important details or worse "talking down" to the audience.

 

Even though I've only seen 5 parts of this documentary, I think it's just about perfect. The mix of "talking heads", narration (what a classic voice!) film clips/stills and music all fits perfectly. Although most of what is covered I already know, it is arranged in a great flowing narrative. It's putting all that crazy tidbits of info in my head into a coherent, interesting STORY.

 

I really like the enthusiasm and verbal content of every person interviewed. Thank dog they recorded these people in a dignified way, without cheesy props behind them. They are lit well and well spoken and give personal contributions to the flow of the story.

 

I've been recording this (thanks TCM for going overtime & ruining my pt 5) and showing it to those who don't get TCM. Some people are only mildly interested in film history, others aren't film people at all. This story has worked for them all.... and it even works well for me!

 

I for one, am glad they haven't delved deeply into any one film or actor. They are telling a very well balanced story. I can't imagine what a bear this was to edit.

 

A production the writer/filmmaker should be very proud of.

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Hi there Soo...

 

Great commentary on "Moguls and Movie Stars." It's so easy to put something down and some can't see the forest for the trees; but you explained all the reasons this mammoth effort by TCM

is worth a view. I've been enjoying this series. I believe Part 5 will be repeated tonite so get your vcr/dvr/dvd player ready.

 

Very nice review. Thanx!

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I think we're on the same wavelength. I too have wished they hadn't combined the two, moguls & stars, as they really can't give enough time to both. I also was thinking about Ken Burns doing a documentary on the movie industry. It's such a major part of American history & has had such an influence on so many people. That all being said, I am enjoying the series & feel they have pretty well struck a balance, considering the time constraints.

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Maybe they can eventually take the stuff that was edited out and do a "Moguls and Movie Stars-2", similar to the way MGM did THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT, part 1, 2, and 3.

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