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A year in Hollywood


TopBilled
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I will try to finish up the eighties today and this weekend. Then... *hint hint*... maybe either TopBilled or Eric can take on the next decade even if we need a little break (so all "essentials" are covered).

 

You've done a fabulous job. More than was expected. Truly.

 

I'm willing to help outline the main points for each year in the 1990s and beyond...but maybe someone else can flesh it out.

 

I would like any more specific writing I do for this thread to be on the silent film years. I looked back at how this started, and it began by focusing on the advent of sound. But there were many years before 1927 that should be covered. So I'd prefer to go back and work on the silent film decades, while someone else keeps working on the later years leading up to the present.

 

We can also take a break and let people catch up on reading about the 70s and 80s while we decide how we're going forward.

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This is the book you need. Year by year from 1908 to 1929, with a chapter covering 1889-1907.

You would have to include the Talkie developments too, such as Lee De Forest's company churning all sound shorties in 1922, followed by Warner Brothers/Vitaphone in 1926, then The Jazz Singer and Fox Movietone the following year.

 

9780399506673-us-300.jpg

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Ha ha! Amazon has copies for $4.49. The editions date to 1953, 1974 and 1982 (in paperback). There is also a Talkies version that stretches to the year 1981 in its last of, I think, four editions. That would be the red cover version (1982). My copies are old and coming apart. Martin Scorsese, as I recall, was a huge fan of these books.

 

The silent one, in particular, is really a FUN book right up your alley. Tons and tons of pictures, often clustered by film companies and top stars. That and the old Motion Picture News and Film Daily magazines scans on the Internet Archive will give you more than enough.

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Ha ha! Amazon has copies for $4.49. The editions date to 1953, 1974 and 1982 (in paperback). There is also a Talkies version that stretches to the year 1981 in its last of, I think, four editions. That would be the red cover version (1982). My copies are old and coming apart. Martin Scorsese, as I recall, was a huge fan of these books.

 

The silent one, in particular, is really a FUN book right up your alley. Tons and tons of pictures, often clustered by film companies and top stars. That and the old Motion Picture News and Film Daily magazines scans on the Internet Archive will give you more than enough.

 

Thank you for being such a valuable reference librarian today! :)

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You can easily google images to see what it looks like inside. Here is one of several pages for the year 1919. They structure this much like our posts here with all of the industry news of that year a.k.a. what Adolph Zukor was up to, where Theda Bara was positioned in the box office polls, etc. Occasionally you will notice a boo-boo here and there (i.e. Gertie The Dinosaur was released in 1914, not 1909, and it was NOT the first cartoon and Don Juan and its Vitaphone sound shorts were first shown in August 1926, not December), but maybe 95% of the information is accurate.

 

a-pictorial-history-of-the-silent-screen

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This could be explained by demographics: the Baby Boom generation was settling down and popping out the first wave of the modern day “Millennial” generation late in the decade, with many toddlers and elementary school students building up a market in entertainment that would appeal to as wide a range of ages as possible. 

 

 

And it wasn't just the cartoons (in an age when Disney was almost completely kaput, and the Care Bears' money had opened the floodgates for animation as commercialism, until Disney turned the tables and re-invented Scrooge McDuck and Chip & Dale for the Disney Afternoon):

 

The Baby Boom--also spurred on by the good reception of "Three Men & a Baby"'s successful Americanization of French comedy--suddenly tried to appeal to an entire GENERATION of business-yuppie adults whose biological clocks were all going off at the same time, but weren't ready for pregnancy or longterm relationships.

Everyone remembers Diane Keaton being saddled with an instant baby in, well, "Baby Boom", but some of the right traumatized generation remembers the entire plot of "Ghostbusters II" revolving around Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray protecting a new baby (without actually having to make one themselves).  

And the big news in summer '88?  George Lucas came back out of retirement to bring us an all-new fantasy franchise, "Willow"!  And what's it about?  Our rag-tag fantasy heroes having to....protect a baby.  (Someone else's baby, that they didn't have to make or permanently raise themselves, either.)

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A Year In Hollywood 1989

 

Part 1: Sony's “wonder boys”

 

0c570e6.jpg

 

Japan now had a stake in Hollywood. Sony, the company that revolutionized home entertainment worldwide with smaller televisions, Betamax, Walkmans and improved compact discs, had recently purchased CBS Records, formerly Columbia Records, and was now ready to take over the movie company that was only related in a common name. An exhausted Coca-Cola officially sold Columbia Pictures to Sony on September 25th. Price tag: $3.4 billion, along with the studio's debt of over $1 billion. Americans were kept in charge, but no longer Dawn Steel, formerly the most powerful woman in the business. Instead Sony took a gamble. Riding high from their success with BATMAN, Peter Guber and Jon Peters were promoted to the top position. Unfortunately Sony had to fork over more money just to secure them, giving this purchase the $5 billion dollar price tag.

 

Meanwhile, in a strictly American move, Time Inc. swooped in to take over Warner Communications, the company that was distributing BATMAN, at $14 billion with Steven J. Ross, N. J. Nicholas and Gerald Levin firmly in charge. By this time, Warner was eager to get rid of its room-mate, Columbia Pictures, which had been sharing its Burbank facilities since 1972. They now owned two studios, the original in Burbank and the former MGM studio in Culver City (since their take-over of Lorimar). The solution: let Sony buy Culver City (at yet more cost) so “we” can put the WB logo back up on “our” water tower. Adding salt to Sony's wounds, Steve Ross was all too eager to get rid of all financial ties with Guber & Peters as if knowing secretly that they resembled The Joker even more than on screen Jack Nicholson did. He demanded a hefty price tag of his own that would give Sony an even bigger headache.

 

image.jpg

 

Guber and Peters behaved like little boys in a candy store occupying the former haunt of THE WIZARD OF OZ. They even remodeled parts of the Culver City lot with designers from BATMAN to suit their tastes. Despite their past success as film-by-film producers, neither was particularly well suited to running a full-fledged movie company. Both would be out within three years, albeit with mighty nice pay-offs, after spending a fortune on several box-office disasters and signing on stars at ridiculous prices. Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters would later chronicle their flamboyant behavior in Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony For a Ride in Hollywood... and it was quite a ride. After Sony was forced to fork over $200 million to buy out Guber-Peters Entertainment (and, by this stage, the mighty Mitsui, Tokyo, Fuji, Mitsubishi and Industrial Bank of Japan were all required to chip in to help), one American stockholder quipped "Those people at Sony have to be the dumbest b***ards that ever lived!"

 

No... not really, but certainly too soft. While many American companies can be quite ruthless in the way they take over foreign companies, the Japanese owners tried their best not to upset the apple-cart with their take-over even if their choice of who to run it backfired. Waiting on the side-lines with an eye on MCA/Universal and a 76 year old Lew Wasserman eager to retire, Matsushita Electric would make sure they would do even less to upset the apple cart in next year's takeover. Sony's problems were studied with great precision and interest so as not to suffer as greatly.

 

Despite all of its corporate woes, Columbia/Tri-Star did stay afloat with a string of comedies produced during Dawn Steel and Jeff Sagansky's reign such as LOOK WHO'S TALKING and the critically acclaimed Castle Rock co-production WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan with yet-another-former TV star Rob Reiner directing. Likewise, Warner's BATMAN rivaled Paramount's INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE in year end's ticket sales and, released in December, DRIVING MISS DAISY gave them a much needed critical success. This time the co-producer was Richard Zanuck's company; Zanuck being the fall guy back in 1970 when his father's nearly bankrupt 20th Century Fox booted him out, but making up for it in the decades since with THE STING, JAWS, MACARTHUR, THE VERDICT and COCOON. Director of MISS DAISY, Bruce Bereford, favored Jessica Tandy over Dana Ivey (featured in Alfred Uhry's play) and she would win the Best Actress Oscar, but he retained Morgan Freeman from the stage based on his Oscar nomination in the earlier STREET SMART. Thanks to this, GLORY (a Civil War drama directed by Edward Zwick for Tri-Star/Columbia) and LEAN ON ME (which Warner distributed early in the year), 1989 was one very good year for actor Freeman.

 

4268ef0a-f725-406e-8e22-2092eaa69612.jpg

 

By now, MGM-UA was enjoying its best profits with RAIN MAN (released December 1988), if less successful with the 16th James Bond film, LICENSED TO KILL. (Although profitable, it had stiff competition being released too close in time to LETHAL WEAPON 2, INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE and BATMAN.) It was soon battling its ownership of the 007 franchise in the courts, which meant that the 17th installment wouldn't get made for another five years. Kirk Kerkorian, who fought so hard to control more than one film company in the 1970s was increasingly getting frustrated with MGM-UA and was, once again, eager to sell it off to the next buyer who came along. The Australian based Qintex made an offer that fell through, then Ted Turner made yet another unsuccessful attempt on November 29th.

 

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Orion Pictures began the year on a high note with the delightfully retro BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, while Woody Allen's CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS was the critical darling of the year, making most of the Ten Best lists of the year alongside JESUS OF MONTREAL, a Canadian import shared by Orion and Cineplex Odeon. Top star Kevin Costner was busy filming DANCES WITH WOLVES in South Dakota that summer/fall and Jonathan Demme was allowed to adapt Thomas Harris' SILENCE OF THE LAMBS for the cameras starting November 15th, but there was little confidence among the executives that either would be a future hit. Meanwhile, the theaters were flooded with a string of flops: Miloš Forman's costumed VALMONT (cost $33 million; returns $1.1 million), Dennis Quaid in GREAT BALLS OF FIRE , Weird Al Yankovich in UHF (although it became a cult favorite later) and the under-rated SHE-DEVIL teaming Meryl Streep with TV sensation Roseanne Barr. Metromedia, a TV company run by John Kluge (a friend of Orion's Arthur Krim), had controlling interest in Orion over the last few years and successfully branched the company in that area of entertainment, but had been battling with Sumner Redstone's National Amusements recently. As the company scrambled to find quick ways of making cash, Krim & company began negotiating with rival Sony/Columbia to help it with its overseas distribution.

 

1989 was, however, one very good year for both MCA/Universal and Disney/Touchstone. Amblin and director Robert Zemeckis had two BACK TO THE FUTURE sequels in production this year with their releases scheduled half a year apart. This was a year when something as silly as HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS (which nonetheless boasted outstanding special effects) would out-gross practically everything else that Disney put out. It was accompanied by a delightful Roger Rabbit theatrical short TUMMY TROUBLE, even if this didn't exactly reboot major interest in shorts production like THE LITTLE MERMAID restored the studio's dominance in feature animation. Robin Williams also followed his previous success for Disney/Touchstone, GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM, with DEAD POETS SOCIETY.

 

Julia-Roberts-Garry-Marshall-e1468989061

Roberts and Marshall

 

Garry Marshall directed, for 1990 release, PRETTY WOMAN which marked a key break-out role for a little-known actress named Julia Roberts, just beginning to gain attention with indy hits like MYSTIC PIZZA (1988) and her supporting role in Tri-Star's all-star-ensemble STEEL MAGNOLIAS. The latter ended the year as one of the most successful “women's pictures” of the decade and would open the nineties to a more distinctly feminine market than the RAMBO dominated eighties. Within a year, Julia would skyrocket in stardom as the first actress to top Quigley's polls since Julie Andrews back in 1967. Yet a more interesting detail of PRETTY WOMAN was the casting of Richard Gere as a Wall Street tycoon bent on dismantling companies for profit before a woman changes his mind. He was essentially playing a composite of Saul Steinberg and Irv Jacobs, the pair who gave the company backing PRETTY WOMAN so much trouble back in 1984. Hollywood would enter the new decade reflecting on all that it had learned in this past one.

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A Year In Hollywood 1989

 

Part 2: Variety is the spice of life

parenthood-fc1.jpg

 

With the Zanuck Company and Malpaso operating mostly with Time-Warner and Steven Spielberg's Amblin spreading its wealth among several companies, the growing trend was to maintain a couple mini-companies operating in conjunction with a major. This trend was encouraged by former heads of the majors themselves: Ned Tanen had left Universal to launch Channel Productions and then joined Paramount, only to leave them as well when he once again got the independent producer “bug” in November 1988. Anthony Thomopoulis left the United Artists division of MGM-UA this year to form a company under his own name. In a reverse move, Joe Roth of Morgan Creek Productions (behind the western 1988 hit YOUNG GUNS and this year's less successful ENEMIES: A LOVE STORY, directed by Paul Mazursky) got promoted as head of 20th Century Fox, which handled all of Morgan Creek's releases in an attempt to increase its theatrical releases after focusing too much on Barry Diller's “baby”, the Fox TV Network. Most profitable of the corporate/mini-company associations was director and former child star Ron Howard's Imagine Films (co-owned by Brian Grazer), working almost exclusively now with Universal and providing them the Steve Martin-lead ensemble comedy PARENTHOOD after some hopscotching between different companies.

 

Although Paramount had a modest international comedy hit with SHIRLEY VALENTINE featuring Pauline Collins (a familiar with many American audiences back in the seventies in PBS airings of UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS), the majors had cut back somewhat on their British investments. Taking over this market temporarily were the emerging mini-majors: the Samuel Goldwyn Company and Harvey and Bob Weinstein's Miramax. The former's most successful distribution was HENRY V with Kenneth Branagh, judged by some as the new Lawrence Olivier after the star of the 1944 version passed away just three months before the newer edition's release. Daniel Day Lewis gained equal attention playing cerebral palsy artist Christy Brown in Jim Sheridan's MY LEFT FOOT, which also earned a supporting Oscar win for Brenda Fricker. Miramax chipped in with Cineplex Odeon to support the next Ismail Merchant and James Ivory production that started filming: MR. & MRS. BRIDGE was a British production set mostly in Kansas City with U.S. star couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

 

jaguar.jpg

 

In the field of theatrical shorts, the British again had the edge, with animator Nick Park of Aardman Animations eventually racking up six Oscar nominations. Two entered belatedly in the 1991 competition (one of several years when no American productions were nominated in the short subject categories) were the first of his “Wallace & Gromit” vehicles, A GRAND DAY OUT, and the even funnier CREATURE COMFORTS. Among the plasticine critters commenting about their life-in-prison for the BBC news reporters, the part-Portuguese and part-British accented puma sits on his lonely tree stump fussing “In Brazil, you have the space although you don't have all of this technological, y'know, double glaze and things like that, y'know, but you have the space and we need to space to live, we need the space to feel we are part of the world...”

 

If the puma wanted to get out of his cage and become part of the world, many humans wished to go back to their cages to escape it. Miramax's big American hit this year was SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE. Filmed in under a month (August-September 1988) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on a budget of just over a million dollars, it eventually grossed $24 million. As director Steven Soderbergh later told Film Comment: “Video is a way of distancing ourselves from people and events. We tend to think that we can experience things because we watch them on tape. For Graham [James Spader's character], this was an aspect of myself taken to an extreme measure. He needs the distance to feel free to react without anybody watching, which I guess, is the definition of voyeurism, even though I think voyeurism has mostly negative connotations.”

 

sex_lies_videotape.jpg

 

Meanwhile, the eighties nostalgic obsession with the sixties continued uninterrupted with another wave of Vietnam trips: THE IRON TRIANGLE, THE SIEGE OF FIREBASE GLORIA, 84 CHARLIE MOPIC, CASUALTIES OF WAR (with Michael J. Fox toughing it out before making his next two BACK TO THE FUTURE sequels), culminating in Oliver Stone's second journey to the war, BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, this time using Tom Cruise to play Ron Kovic. As with so many others, there was much stretching of the time period to fit the choice of Stone's favorite music like Don McLean's 1971 hit “American Pie” played in a key scene set three years earlier. Norman Jewison's IN COUNTRY was a bit different than the competition by bringing the Vietnam era up to present times.

 

Sixties music continued to dominate the soundtracks, but eighties hip-hop was finally taking over, if belatedly. There had been a handful of musicals stretching back to the modestly budgeted WILD STYLE and STYLE WARS in 1983, but Spike Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING had a more typical urban score to fit its racial tension story. Unfortunately it also demonstrated how alienated the races were in both viewing audience and critics writing for newspapers. TV hosts Siskel & Ebert loved it, but other Caucasian critics were less supportive, such as Joe Klein in New York magazine (June 26th) disapproving the inclusion of Public Enemy, whose lyrics were attacked for being too suggestive of violence and potentially anti-Semitic. Director Lee felt much of the criticism was condescending: “to think that black moviegoers don't have the intelligence to discern what is on screen, and that they would duplicate what Mookie was doing, was ludicrous.”

 

5a6cb0f9d93db1226e3eb510bf8bee9c.jpg

 

Generally speaking, the moguls in charge of the companies favored their “black” entertainment a little more historical with a bit more of the let's-all-get-along logic, the most famous examples being GLORY (which garnered Denzel Washington's first Oscar win) and DRIVING MISS DAISY. Yet Universal's successful marketing of DO THE RIGHT THING for Lee's 40 Acres & A Mule mini-company indicated that that company at least was in a more anything-goes sort of mood now than they survived the firestorm with THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST last year. Time-Warner, however, was breathing a sigh of relief that LAST TEMPTATION's director Martin Scorsese was back to the less polarizing topic of gangster violence with the filming of GOODFELLAS, a much, much easier production to promote for 1990.

 

Yet even Time-Warner was willing to take a few risks, provided they were cheap enough productions like Michael Moore's Dog Eat Dogs documentary ROGER & ME. Its coverage of the Flint, Michigan recession after General Motors bailed out was hardly the type of film you would expect a major corporation to support, but, as long as you still had NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION to fall back on, what was there to lose? Documentaries were much in vogue now and the same Sundance Film Festival that premiered SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (January 20-29) saw a most interesting hodge-podge that reflected the current trends: FOR ALL MANKIND was Al Reinert's valentine to the upcoming 20th anniversary of Apollo 11's landing and feeding into all of the sixties nostalgia and Ron Mann's COMIC BOOK CONFIDENTIAL and Bruce Weber's LET'S GET LOST (covering jazz musician Chet Baker) were part of a new trend in “neglected arts” profiles. Michael Moore's contemporary in polarizing opinion pieces dealing with politics and big business was Barbara Trent, who followed up her award-winning THE PANAMA DECEPTION with the very hot button piece COVER UP: BEHIND THE IRAN CONTRA AFFAIR, initially previewed in July 1988 while Ronald Reagan was still in the White House and then given a wider release after Sundance. (Narration on Trent's top two features was done, oddly enough, by BEWITCHED veteran TV star, Elizabeth Montgomery.)

 

coverup2.jpg

 

Oliver North in Barbara Trent's oh-so-naughty flick

 

Also shown at Sundance, Frank Martin's JOHN HUSTON: THE MAN, THE MOVIES, THE MAVERICK was just the latest in a decade long series of movie clip compilations, the type often appearing frequently on television courtesy of PBS or American Movie Classics (a fore-runner to TCM). Movie history was more important than ever, especially in light of the 100th anniversary of Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope machine. (The 1990s would mark the centennial of film-making itself as an industry depending on what year you used.) Overall, only 276 domestically made features were released in the United States this year, 109 by the major companies. If you increase that number by a third, you get the approximate number of unreleased features due to the studios getting increasingly nitpicky in their selections along with independents failing to find a distributor and some bypassing theaters altogether straight to video. Only 23, 700 screens were in operation compared to well over 90 million TV sets, many with VCRs attached. Yet movies had a wider audience than ever before: GONE WITH THE WIND had its own special anniversary theatrical showings on February 3rd but more people still saw it on TV or video (the over-priced VHS seeing more rentals than sales).

 

The final decade of the 20th century would see new digital technologies gradually take over the industry, with the very word “movie” even changing definitions. As a result, film itself would pass into yesteryear...

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  • 4 weeks later...

&

 

A Year In Hollywood 1989

 

Part 2: Variety is the spice of life

 

how0-018.jpg

Grazer and Howard

 

With the Zanuck Company and Malpaso operating mostly with Time-Warner and Steven Spielberg's Amblin spreading its wealth among several companies, the growing trend was to maintain a couple mini-companies operating in conjunction with a major. This trend was encouraged by former heads of the majors themselves: Ned Tanen had left Universal to launch Channel Productions and then joined Paramount, only to leave them as well when he once again got the independent producer “bug” in November 1988. Anthony Thomopoulis left the United Artists division of MGM-UA this year to form a company under his own name. In a reverse move, Joe Roth of Morgan Creek Productions (behind the western 1988 hit YOUNG GUNS and this year's less successful ENEMIES: A LOVE STORY, directed by Paul Mazursky) got promoted as head of 20th Century Fox, which handled all of Morgan Creek's releases in an attempt to increase its theatrical releases after focusing too much on Barry Diller's “baby”, the Fox TV Network. Most profitable of the corporate/mini-company associations was director and former child star Ron Howard's Imagine Films (co-owned by Brian Grazer), working almost exclusively now with Universal and providing them the Steve Martin-lead ensemble comedy PARENTHOOD after some hopscotching between different companies.

 

Although Paramount had a modest international comedy hit with SHIRLEY VALENTINE featuring Pauline Collins (a familiar with many American audiences back in the seventies in PBS airings of UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS), the majors had cut back somewhat on their British investments. Taking over this market temporarily were the emerging mini-majors: the Samuel Goldwyn Company and Harvey and Bob Weinstein's Miramax. The former's most successful distribution was HENRY V with Kenneth Branagh, judged by some as the new Lawrence Olivier after the star of the 1944 version passed away just three months before the newer edition's release. Daniel Day Lewis gained equal attention playing cerebral palsy artist Christy Brown in Jim Sheridan's MY LEFT FOOT, which also earned a supporting Oscar win for Brenda Fricker. Miramax chipped in with Cineplex Odeon to support the next Ismail Merchant and James Ivory production that started filming: MR. & MRS. BRIDGE was a British production set mostly in Kansas City with U.S. star couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

 

jaguar.jpg

 

In the field of theatrical shorts, the British again had the edge, with animator Nick Park of Aardman Animations eventually racking up six Oscar nominations. Two entered belatedly in the 1991 competition (one of several years when no American productions were nominated in the short subject categories) were the first of his “Wallace & Gromit” vehicles, A GRAND DAY OUT, and the even funnier CREATURE COMFORTS. Among the plasticine critters commenting about their life-in-prison for the BBC news reporters, the part-Portuguese and part-British accented puma sits on his lonely tree stump fussing “In Brazil, you have the space although you don't have all of this technological, y'know, double glaze and things like that, y'know, but you have the space and we need to space to live, we need the space to feel we are part of the world...”

 

If the puma wanted to get out of his cage and become part of the world, many humans wished to go back to their cages to escape it. Miramax's big American hit this year was SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE. Filmed in under a month (August-September 1988) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on a budget of just over a million dollars, it eventually grossed $24 million. As director Steven Soderbergh later told Film Comment: “Video is a way of distancing ourselves from people and events. We tend to think that we can experience things because we watch them on tape. For Graham [James Spader's character], this was an aspect of myself taken to an extreme measure. He needs the distance to feel free to react without anybody watching, which I guess, is the definition of voyeurism, even though I think voyeurism has mostly negative connotations.”

 

sex_lies_videotape.jpg

 

Meanwhile, the eighties nostalgic obsession with the sixties continued uninterrupted with another wave of Vietnam trips: THE IRON TRIANGLE, THE SIEGE OF FIREBASE GLORIA, 84 CHARLIE MOPIC, CASUALTIES OF WAR (with Michael J. Fox toughing it out before making his next two BACK TO THE FUTURE sequels), culminating in Oliver Stone's second journey to the war, BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, this time using Tom Cruise to play Ron Kovic. As with so many others, there was much stretching of the time period to fit the choice of Stone's favorite music like Don McLean's 1971 hit “American Pie” played in a key scene set three years earlier. Norman Jewison's IN COUNTRY was a bit different than the competition by bringing the Vietnam era up to present times.

 

Sixties music continued to dominate the soundtracks, but eighties hip-hop was finally taking over, if belatedly. There had been a handful of musicals stretching back to the modestly budgeted WILD STYLE and STYLE WARS in 1983, but Spike Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING had a more typical urban score to fit its racial tension story. Unfortunately it also demonstrated how alienated the races were in both viewing audience and critics writing for newspapers. TV hosts Siskel & Ebert loved it, but other Caucasian critics were less supportive, such as Joe Klein in New York magazine (June 26th) disapproving the inclusion of Public Enemy, whose lyrics were attacked for being too suggestive of violence and potentially anti-Semitic. Director Lee felt much of the criticism was condescending: “to think that black moviegoers don't have the intelligence to discern what is on screen, and that they would duplicate what Mookie was doing, was ludicrous.”

 

RR.jpg

 

Generally speaking, the moguls in charge of the companies favored their “black” entertainment a little more historical with a bit more of the let's-all-get-along logic, the most famous examples being GLORY (which garnered Denzel Washington's first Oscar win) and DRIVING MISS DAISY. Yet Universal's successful marketing of DO THE RIGHT THING for Lee's 40 Acres & A Mule mini-company indicated that that company at least was in a more anything-goes sort of mood now than they survived the firestorm with THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST last year. Time-Warner, however, was breathing a sigh of relief that LAST TEMPTATION's director Martin Scorsese was back to the less polarizing topic of gangster violence with the filming of GOODFELLAS, a much, much easier production to promote for 1990.

 

Yet even Time-Warner was willing to take a few risks, provided they were cheap enough productions like Michael Moore's Dog Eat Dogs documentary ROGER & ME. Its coverage of the Flint, Michigan recession after General Motors bailed out was hardly the type of film you would expect a major corporation to support, but, as long as you still had NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION to fall back on, what was there to lose? Documentaries were much in vogue now and the same Sundance Film Festival that premiered SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (January 20-29) saw a most interesting hodge-podge that reflected the current trends: FOR ALL MANKIND was Al Reinert's valentine to the upcoming 20th anniversary of Apollo 11's landing and feeding into all of the sixties nostalgia and Ron Mann's COMIC BOOK CONFIDENTIAL and Bruce Weber's LET'S GET LOST (covering jazz musician Chet Baker) were part of a new trend in “neglected arts” profiles. Michael Moore's contemporary in polarizing opinion pieces dealing with politics and big business was Barbara Trent, who followed up her award-winning THE PANAMA DECEPTION with the very hot button piece COVER UP: BEHIND THE IRAN CONTRA AFFAIR, initially previewed in July 1988 while Ronald Reagan was still in the White House and then given a wider release after Sundance. (Narration on Trent's top two features was done, oddly enough, by BEWITCHED veteran TV star, Elizabeth Montgomery.)

 

coverup2.jpg

 

Oliver North in Barbara Trent's oh-so-naughty flick

 

Also shown at Sundance, Frank Martin's JOHN HUSTON: THE MAN, THE MOVIES, THE MAVERICK was just the latest in a decade long series of movie clip compilations, the type often appearing frequently on television courtesy of PBS or American Movie Classics (a fore-runner to TCM). Movie history was more important than ever, especially in light of the 100th anniversary of Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope machine. (The 1990s would mark the centennial of film-making itself as an industry depending on what year you used.) Overall, only 276 domestically made features were released in the United States this year, 109 by the major companies. If you increase that number by a third, you get the approximate number of unreleased features due to the studios getting increasingly nitpicky in their selections along with independents failing to find a distributor and some bypassing theaters altogether straight to video. Only 23, 700 screens were in operation compared to well over 90 million TV sets, many with VCRs attached. Yet movies had a wider audience than ever before: GONE WITH THE WIND had its own special anniversary theatrical showings on February 3rd but more people still saw it on TV or video (the over-priced VHS seeing more rentals than sales).

 

The final decade of the 20th century would see new digital technologies gradually take over the industry, with the very word “movie” even changing definitions. As a result, film itself would pass into yesteryear...

 I've written about this before, but seeing *Ron Howard-(l953-) always reminds me of "My Day On the Set of "Cocoon" (l985 release)

 

It was the god awful humid-(as usual down here in FL) summer of 1984, when all of a sudden many 20th Century Fox vans were parked just nxt door to the apts I then lived at. It was a fancy retirement village & I

rushed over & they even allowed me to hang out about 8hrs. Meeting him, Tahnee Welch, Guttenberg, *Jessica Tandy, Gwen Verdon, *Maureen Stapleton-(nice lady) & Clint Howard. Unfortunately *Ameche, Brimley & Cronyn were not there that day  Still have the autographs too!  That it ended up being terrific (***1/2) ($76m) & took home 2 *Oscars *Don Ameche & Visuals just added perfection to it.

 

But, typically, upon trying to revisit the set the next day, people were showing up in bathing suits, crowding the place & nobody was allowed to stay!?

 

They only filmed some interiors at this place-(P.S. also ironically where later that yr I voted for pres. my first time!)

Down the rd a couple miles they filmed most of that film, not as nice a place though

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&

 

 I've written about this before, but seeing *Ron Howard-(l953-) always reminds me of "My Day On the Set of "Cocoon" (l985 release)

 

It was the god awful humid-(as usual down here in FL) summer of 1984, when all of a sudden many 20th Century Fox vans were parked just nxt door to the apts I then lived at. It was a fancy retirement village & I

rushed over & they even allowed me to hang out about 8hrs. Meeting him, Tahnee Welch, Guttenberg, *Jessica Tandy, Gwen Verdon, *Maureen Stapleton-(nice lady) & Clint Howard. Unfortunately *Ameche, Brimley & Cronyn were not there that day  Still have the autographs too!  That it ended up being terrific (***1/2) ($76m) & took home 2 *Oscars *Don Ameche & Visuals just added perfection to it.

 

But, typically, upon trying to revisit the set the next day, people were showing up in bathing suits, crowding the place & nobody was allowed to stay!?

 

They only filmed some interiors at this place-(P.S. also ironically where later that yr I voted for pres. my first time!)

Down the rd a couple miles they filmed most of that film, not as nice a place though

The actor you listed above Bill Nunn-(l953-2016) strangely just died fairly young from leukemia "Do the Right Thing" & other films

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Since spence brought this back to page one, I'll mention that I private messaged with Jlewis yesterday re: the direction of this thread.

 

I think it will be too confusing to start discussing the silent film years in this thread. It's better to keep moving forward, towards 2017.

 

Instead, I will cover the silent years (late 1800s to 1927) in a new thread down in the Silent Film genre sub-forum. I think that's the best way to proceed. Then that information is easier for silent movie fans to find.

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A Year In Hollywood 1990

 

Part 1: Hollywood Accounting

 

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Bruce Willis looking at his most “Hollywoodish” in BONFIRE

 

A new catch phrase opened the new decade: Hollywood Accounting. Tinsel Town was famous for creating make believe for the masses. It was equally famous for creating make believe with numbers on a grid sheet. Since few movies by this time were overcoming their production costs (and some, like THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES, suffered more than others), executives wishing to keep their jobs discovered clever ways of downsizing what-was-spent in their paper work. In a reverse move, they also found clever ways of increasing the size of what-was-spent just so that writers and performers could be paid less than what they were worth; the reasoning being “we didn't make enough money from this film to pay you as much as you want”. The term “net profit” had become increasingly loose in its definition. Not only was the 15% production “overhead” repeatedly deducted, along with the intake from distributors and marketing costs, but other costs were deducted by subsidiary companies specially created for different services required. Actress Lynda Carter had already joked with Joan Rivers a couple years back on her Fox TV talk show “Don't ever settle for net profits. It is called 'creative' accounting.”

 

Paramount Communications (Gulf & Western had recently dropped their name from the corporate logo) had become the poster child for Hollywood's “Creative” Accounting. One clever trick of theirs, gaining “inspiration” from stories it didn't want to pay for, would backfire in the courts. Writer Art Buchwald claimed the studio stole through “unconscionable means” a working treatment of “It's a Crude Crude World” which he pitched back in 1982 to executive Jeff Katzenberg (before he left Paramount for Disney). It later “evolved” into the 1988 hit COMING TO AMERICA, which Buchwald saw not one dime for. Rather than have the courts examine its books, Paramount reluctantly paid him off with a $900,000 check.

 

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Humorist Art Buchwald had no humor where money was concerned

 

Two years later, his lawyer Pierce O'Donnell would co-author a book detailing all of the tomfoolery in a slamming best seller Fatal Subtraction (spoofing in its title the 1987 hit of theirs). By the time it was published, several other companies were also in hot water over their accounting books, most spectacularly Time-Warner battling ferociously with Michael Uslan and Benjamin Melniker over the BATMAN franchise, followed by the estate of Jim Garrison over a film about the JFK assassination (starting production at the end of this year).

 

1990 was not a good year for Paramount. To be sure, there were some hits: THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER managed to get released in February, just before the Cold War ended and submarine adventures became a dying species, and the modestly budgeted (at $22 million) GHOST became a juggernaut “sleeper”. However, like Tony Goldwyn's Carl being spooked by his computer screen channeling in a spiritual Sam (Patrick Swayze), the company was constantly haunted by its own shadows. The attempt to stop Time Inc. from merging with Warner Brothers last year (and hoping to purchase Time outright for $12 billion) was a disaster in the courts, although Time-Warner had to borrow additional money (over a billion) from two Japanese companies to help keep the mountain-of-stars off their backs. Tom Cruise's DAYS OF THUNDER ended the once great winning streak of the Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer team, barely breaking even with its ridiculous $100 million price tag. Meanwhile, Francis Ford Coppola's THE GODFATHER III (first sequel in 16 years) failed to generate interest in a possible fourth. The company's top star, Eddie Murphy, was declining rather quickly in popularity, although he at least wasn't gypped in the name of “net profits” thanks to a suitable $9 million paycheck for ANOTHER 48 HOURS.

 

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News Corp./20th Century Fox was having a better year, thanks to Joe Roth in charge of movie production. A surprise $140 million gross (just under STAR WARS proportions) was earned by John Hughes' HOME ALONE, a family friendly comedy featuring pint-size Macaulay Culkin. It seemed like this company could do no wrong as long as it stayed as juvenile as possible, since its biggest hits during the past few years, aside from the DIE HARD franchise, tended to feature either child stars or adults behaving like children... either in a playful manner like Tom Hanks in 1988's BIG or in an aggressive and vengeful way like Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas (even taking a leak like a child) in WAR OF THE ROSES, released late in 1989 to add to this year's profits. After all, Bart Simpson (Fox TV's icon cartoon star) would remain a bratty child for decades. Among its holiday releases was EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, taking the fantasy route with a child-like Johnny Depp in the lead with Tim Burton in the director's chair and Vincent Price making one of his last performances in a small part.

 

Despite many claims that he was ready to retire, the always youthful Lew Wasserman was still keeping his office open at MCA/Universal. He was now encouraged with a flush of excitement thanks to rival Rupert Murdoch's success with Fox's booming TV and cable empire. If Columbia could successfully take on Sony in order to end its financial woes and expand its base, why not the Universal globe seek money from Japan as well?

 

On November 25th, the Los Angeles Times made headlines of Wasserman helping to negotiate a $6.5 billion deal with Matsushita Electric Industrial, better known in the United States as Panasonic. Carefully observing Sony's struggles, Matsushita executives were more cautious about changing what needn't be changed. Therefore, Wasserman maintained his power (if reduced) alongside Sidney Sheinberg and Tom Pollack (who joined four years earlier). However Matsushita suffered a greater “culture shock” than Sony did. Even though the take-over was smoother than Sony's, relations between Burbank's Universal City and Kodoma, Osaka were more tense over all and this relationship ran hot and cold, not lasting a full five years.

 

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Backtracking to March, another takeover took place from overseas on the opposite side. Italian financier Giancarlo Parretti bought MGM-UA, with a few bribes along the way, to the tune of almost 2 billion from an exhausted Kirk Kerkorian, micro-managing this company during the past two decades. MGM-UA merged with Pathé Communications, but a struggle involving his French bank slowed things down with Paretti only officially claiming power by October. He was forced to call back the recently departed Alan Ladd Jr. to manage production. This did not mean that Kerkorian had retired permanently though. Within six years, he would get it all back... again... and then sell it off... again.

 

As for Parretti, his management of MGM-UA was quite the roller-coaster ride. On the surface, the once struggling near-do-well (and sometimes petty crook) from Sicily lived like a king, complete with a 9 million dollar mansion in Beverly Hills, Rolls Royce, private jet and ladies on the payroll responsible for other things besides “business”. The cracks began showing within months: actor Sean Connery was boycotting the release of THE RUSSIA HOUSE due to a letter-of-credit and other stars like Dustin Hoffman saw their paychecks bouncing on account of a different kind of “Creative” Accounting in play. Inevitably even the bankers with Credit Lyonnais who supported Parretti the most would also be in a tug-of-war. Postponed in its release for almost a year due to all of the financial issues was Ridley Scott's THELMA & LOUISE, most famous for its scene of Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis driving off a cliff. Somehow this image would be symbolic of the direction MGM-UA was going...

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A Year In Hollywood 1990

 

Part 2: The digital decade begins

 

Disney, with its Touchstone label, was practically the only power house company not owned by somebody else and it was doing quite nicely with PRETTY WOMAN, DICK TRACY and THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER even if box office prestige was much better than critical prestige. Currently Disney had the lead with a 16% share of the industry market, slightly over Paramount and would even manage to steal the production team of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckenheimer away from their rival by the start of the next year. Increased funding came with an association with Silver Screen Partners and the creation of Touchwood Pacific Partners. One strategy of Disney's was to have several companies-within-a-company such as Hollywood Pictures adding an enormously popular horror spoof ARACHNOPHOBIA to its already established Touchstone and Disney in-house line-up.

 

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Orion Pictures had the opposite problem that Disney had in its profits vs. critical acclaim situation. Despite eventually winning another Best Picture Oscar with DANCES WITH WOLVES, much of its revenue would get lost in a sea of red ink. John Kluge, head of the company's largest investor Metromedia, was currently in a state of panic and his relationship with key owner Arthur Krim was deteriorating fast. After arranging with Sony/Columbia to handle a $175 million deal with overseas distribution, several attempts were made to sell the company, first to Marvin Davis (previously with Fox and now operating solo as a financial tycoon after Murdoch's take-over) and then even Sony/Columbia itself. Several working projects of Orion were sold off to rivals, among them THE ADDAMS FAMILY to Paramount.

 

One mini-major company that would be temporarily involved with Orion's fortunes in the future was riding high with HOUSE PARTY and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, both smash hits during the early months of the year. New Line Cinema was, like Disney at this time, hardly wowing the critics with Oscar worthy fare but wasn't crying over its bank statements either. Also you needed the Ninja Turtles to successfully market more prestigious fare like METROPOLITAN, the first of a trilogy of Whit Stillman dramas. Since it was launched as a distributor by Robert Shayne way back in 1967, New Line had expanded considerably with Michael Layne sharing executive responsibilities. Already with a string of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequels under its belt, it ended the year by successfully purchasing a 52% stake in RHI Entertainment, followed by increased investments in video companies run by Sultan Entertainment, Nelson Entertainment and even rival Sony's Castle Rock. It also launched a specialty line called Fine Line Features under the supervision of Ira Deutchman; one of its first successes being Jane Campion's AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE imported from Australia. After helping out Orion, it would later associate itself with CNN mogul Ted Turner in another interesting twist of events.

 

Miramax and The Goldwyn Company, both roughly the same size as New Line, had pretty much replaced the downsized United Artists division of MGM-UA and Orion Pictures in their artistic niche. In the case of the former, the release schedule was expanded to 12 features in comparison to last year's three, with the Oscar success of MY LEFT FOOT this spring helping considerably. Some of these were also quite polarizing, such as the British import THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER that was initially rated X upon its 1989 overseas release before the new NC-17 rating went into effect (which Universal also used to its advantage with HENRY & JUNE). Many of the most popular foreign language successes shown US-side came via Miramax, including CINEMA PARADISO, THE NASTY GIRL and JU DOU. Its association with Cineplex Odeon yielded MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE and THE GRIFTERS, the latter was one Martin Scorsese produced but did not direct (with Stephen Frears taking that role). The Goldwyn Company's line-up wasn't quite as impressive as Miramax, but it did include the 1989 crossover hit drama about the AIDS crisis, LONGTIME COMPANION, and David Lynch's WILD AT HEART starring Nicholas Cage and Laura Dern. All three (New Line included) took on many of the Sundance Film Festival winners this year; Charles Burnett's TO SLEEP WITH ANGER going to Goldwyn.

 

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Danny Glover in TO SLEEP WITH ANGER

 

Crime dramas, often more modestly budgeted, were back in vogue thanks to Time-Warner rekindling its Depression Era gangster and forties film noir roots; its two biggest hits being Martin Scorsese's GOODFELLAS winning a lot of top prizes and Jeremy Irons recreating Claus von Bülow in REVERSAL OF FORTUNE. Kathy Bates won an Oscar in Columbia's MISERY, creating plenty of that for poor James Caan. Caan had suffered a much quicker fate in the very first GODFATHER movie, but there wasn't enough crime and too much much talk in the latest THE GODFATHER III, so it wasn't quite the blockbuster its predecessors were. The Coen Brothers returned to their murdering roots in their latest for Fox, MILLER'S CROSSING.

 

Women's pictures continued to increase in number, thanks to the successes of PRETTY WOMAN and POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE. Although most were still directed by men (like Ridley Scott filming THELMA AND LOUISE), a larger number than ever before involved female directors. Among those filmed were Nancy Savoca's DOGFIGHT, Martha Coolidge's RAMBLING ROSE and Barbara Streisand's PRINCE OF TIDES, made after a seven year gap following YENTL and only allowed because she would star too. Penny Marshall's AWAKENINGS, in contrast, had a mostly male cast: Robin Williams, Robert De Niro and John Heard included.

 

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Martha Coolidge behind the camera

 

The new look of the nineties was very computer driven, with even the corporate logos sporting digital animation (Paramount being among the first three years back with its new logo). ROBOCOP 2, among the few Orion Pictures releases this year to make money, received considerable attention with all of its computer generated imagery involving its star character. TOTAL RECALL probably owed as much of its success to its very un-STAR WARS-ish special effects as its star Arnold Schwarzenegger. DIE HARD 2 was among the first to digital-ize its matte work, thus ending an era going back to the 1920s when paintings were optically composed (thanks to two projectors) to create backgrounds that would be next to impossible to achieve with a construction crew.

 

Also marking the end of an era, THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER was the first Disney animated feature to abandon the xeroxed (formerly inked by hand) cell-work in favor of also going the digital route. By this time, John Lasseter's Pixar was increasingly getting involved with the Magic Kingdom's film productions. Steve Jobs had been in charge for a few years since he bought out Lucasfilm's investment in Pixar and was using Disney to help make the Computer Animation Production System (CAPS) a way to decrease the production time on the cartoon features still done, at least partially, the old fashion way.

 

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Animation wasn't all done with computers. Original sketches of Frank the collared lizard in RESCUERS that would still be drawn frame-by-frame.

 

The steady increase in CGI was hardly surprising as Hollywood was looking for ways to decrease production costs. It was so much easier to plan special effects with a computer and morph the animation with live-action than with actual props built on a massive scale. In many ways, the great digital boom that hit cinema in the early nineties was a result of the deepening economic recession impacting the box-office receipts and forcing down expenses. The recession took a noticeable toll on the number of companies operating as well, with several mini-majors collapsing within a year's time, including Dino de Laurentiis' Entertainment Group and Vestron Pictures (previously backing BLUE VELVET and DIRTY DANCING respectively). The consolidation of majors under Japanese and U.S. conglomerates was also one way of countering losses without so much Hollywood “Creative” Accounting involved.

 

With declining box-office, smaller-but-better was the new motto. Independent releases picked up by the mini-majors (Miramax, New Line, Goldwyn and others) were the new wave of the future and, one by one, each of the big companies would launch their own version of United Artists (that company, as MGM-UA, resorting these days to ROCKY V) to compete. Production increased with lower budgets, resulting in 1991 seeing the largest number of feature releases since the early seventies New Hollywood boom... but only a select few with huge sets and special effects that Spielberg and Lucas had made mainstream a decade before.

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Awww... thanks. *blush*

 

For the next year installment, you (or I) can focus more on the movies themselves, although there was still some amusing drama on the corporate side too, with the surprise departures of Jon Peters from Sony and Barry Diller from Fox. The entire decade is nothing but a shuffling of executive chairs and companies changing hands. It is miraculous anything got made.

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  • 7 months later...

I will try to finish the nineties here. Have patience with me folks. Will try keeping these down to one post with ten paragraphs. Obviously I will make some goofs here and they can use corrections. Also miss a lot of important stuff on account of keeping these short and to the point. Will try two a week.

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A Year In Hollywood 1991

 

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The Sundance Film Festival in late January rolled out its usual batch of “indy” releases, some memorable and some not. Among these was DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST, a simple tale of three generations of Saint Helena Island residents set in a time period 89 years in the past. It was shot on the shoe-string cost of 800 thousand in the summer just before Hurricane Hugo hit South Carolina.

 

This seemingly insignificant little pic gained later importance when it was included in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry for being the first widely released narrative feature in the United States directed by an African American woman, Julie Dash. Granted, she and a few others had previously worked on theatrical short subjects, documentaries and TV shows before this time, but a major theatrical feature was still a big deal. The key question was: why did it take so long? Oscar Micheaux had to provide his own financing (literally door to door as his own fund raiser) for his first feature film THE HOMESTEADER back in 1918. It took another 50 years, months after the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination, for a major studio, Warner Brothers-Seven Arts, to back Gordon Parks with THE LEARNING TREE. During the decades in-between, Caucasian directors handled all-black casts whenever Hollywood was in the mood to make another HALLELUJAH! or THE GREEN PASTURES. Finally... finally... Julie Dash got her chance.

 

Also started in 1989, but a much larger hit at the box-office, was Orion Pictures' SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, directed by Jonathan Demme and a bit groundbreaking in its day, not just for the horrors involved and Anthony Hopkins' most memorable performance, but also featuring Jodie Foster in a FBI role traditionally reserved to males on screen. Jodie herself would later become a producer and director who was as active behind the camera as in front. During the year-end Oscar race, a surprisingly higher than usual number of titles competing either had women actively involved behind the cameras or featured in top roles: THELMA & LOUISE, THE PRINCE OF TIDES, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES and RAMBLING ROSE, with Annette Bening getting prominent billing in Warren Beatty's BUGSY even if her upcoming marriage to him likely helped her cause. Also reflecting the changing times, the cartoon star Belle in the latest Disney cartoon feature (and the first to get nominated for Best Picture), BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, was not your typical “please save me” princess of fairy tales past. Belle favored the knowledge in books over Gaston the “he” man and was judging the Beast on her own terms.

 

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Male dominance had finally been broken... at least for the time being. Julia Roberts was again running neck 'n' neck with Arnold Schwarzenegger of James Cameron's TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY for the top spot on Quigley's box-office year-end list. Talent was now being judged over gender. Producer Lorne Michaels hired Penelope Sheeris to direct Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in WAYNES'S WORLD not only for her past experience with SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE but also her feel for the new grunge pop culture satirized (as a documentary film-maker, she captured the punk scene in her DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION series). The most bankable female director at this time was former TV star Penny Marshall. Yet only now did she get the green-light to shoot a female-centric comedy A LEAGUE OF HER OWN, provided that supporting actor Tom Hanks (star of Marshall's earlier BIG) would still get equal billing alongside Geena Davis, Madonna and Rosie O'Donnell.

 

Dawn Steel may have once swayed power over Columbia, but the modern Sony conglomerate was currently male dominated... and hardly stable. Frank Price left and Mark Canton replaced him in one set of revolving executive chairs, while the great bro-mance of Peter Guber and Jon Peters at the top ended rather abruptly when Guber decided to fire Peters. In fairness, Guber might have had the better head for business, thanks to previous experience working with Columbia in the seventies. Yet his time would also be fleeting. On the plus side, the two had assisted in making TERMINATOR 2, CITY SLICKERS and BOYZ N THE HOOD all hits, while A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, HOWARD'S END, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT and A FEW GOOD MEN all went into production by the end of the year.

 

In contrast to other years, 1991 saw fewer sequels to past hits, perhaps due to the studio majors themselves getting tired of making them. Not that they were ignoring them entirely, since the biggest hit of the year was one and Time-Warner still needed to keep its DC comic franchise going, putting Tim Burton's BATMAN RETURNS into production along with a third LETHAL WEAPON. However TERMINATOR 2 was a considerably different film than its predecessor and this may have accounted for it being the only sequel making Variety's top ten of the year, an indication that movie-goers as well were desperate for something new rather than old and rehashed. One aspect that stood out was this film's revolutionary visual effects, both made with model work and computer graphics (particularly “motion capture”, a sort of a cgi variation of animation's old rotoscope technique). It earned Oscars for Dennis Muren, Gene Warren Jr., Robert Skotak and Stan Winston, the last would soon be grabbed by both Burton and Steven Spielberg for their effects work. After getting HOOK (featuring Julia Roberts as Tinker Bell) into theaters, Spielberg needed Winston to assist him on an upcoming adaptation of Michael Crichton's best-selling JURASSIC PARK.

 

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Having a fresher approach seemed fitting for the Hollywood majors struggling to differentiate themselves. The top six film companies all shared roughly a 13-15 % take of the market: 20th Century Fox (only one part of Rupert Murdoch's media empire), Time-Warner, Sony (Columbia/Tri-Star), MCA/Universal, Disney and Paramount (with Stanley Jaffe and Brandon Tartikoff now in charge) were pretty much lined up with little variation. MGM-UA and Orion Pictures were further down the totem poll, with New-Line Cinema, Miramax, Cannon and Goldwyn climbing up the ranks and Carolco Pictures contributing mightily as co-producer of TERMINATOR 2. (Carolco's spectacular rise would be doomed to an equally spectacular fall by mid-decade, however.) More features were released this year since the seventies, but a higher percentage than usual were made, not by the major companies, but by almost but not quite major companies.

 

Despite two back-to-back Best Picture Oscar wins, Orion Pictures was suffering financially and there was an unsuccessful attempt in December to team up with the very profitable, if less profiled, New Line Cinema. Later in the decade, New Line itself would become a property of Ted Turner, then Time-Warner, but right now it and its artsy subsidiary Fine-Line were enjoying the same muscle power that Orion and the United Artists half of MGM-UA used to have as “go-to” companies for established director/producers seeking more freedom to do-their-own-thing on a bigger budget than was normally standardized at the Sundance festivals. Initially the Fine-Line logo focused on Australian imports like PROOF, one of young Russell Crowe's key break-out roles. Then came Gus Van Sant's MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, an unexpected hit at the Venice Film Festival with River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in very different roles than their fan base had been used to. These were not the kinds of films that a Hollywood major generally wished to support, especially the latter since it featured street hustlers with gay sensibilities and plenty of Shakesperean tragedy to boot.

 

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Although New-Line and Fine-Line did make crowd pleasing, if modestly budgeted, sequels to past hits like TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, HOUSE PARTY and BEASTMASTER, they still supported some very curious offerings, including an unusual pair that started filming in the summer of 1991. GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS was James Foley's adaptation of a popular David Mamet's play with Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkan, Ed Harris, Jonathan Pryce, Bruce Altman and not yet famous Kevin Spacey, all working more for acting experience than high pay checks. A veteran of the business who hadn't enjoyed a hit in years, Robert Altman subtly decided to bite the hand that once fed him with THE PLAYER, also featuring a cast of familiars and not-so-familiars: Tim Robbins, Cynthia Stevenson, Peter Gallagher, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Lyle Lovett, Dean Stockwell, Sydney Pollack, Whoopi Goldberg along with cameos by at least 65 famous celebrities including the box office queen Julia Roberts herself.

 

In Altman's film, Hollywood was a corrupt business focused more on making money rather than “art”. However his portrait wasn't entirely accurate. As long as a you were persuasive enough, you could still succeed in making what you wanted. After finishing his work on Altman's film, Tim Robbins was allowed to both direct and star in BOB ROBERTS that autumn, with Miramax Films and Working Title taking turns with support and Paramount handling distribution. This political satire was hardly the type to please the current Republican administration in power and, like a growing number of mainstream productions that included Warner Bros. backing of Oliver Stone's polarizing JFK, would provoke the status quo more often than not. There was a new display of ruggedness that a long established and traditionally cautious industry had not shown in a decade. The key challenge, however, was to be as equally rugged within the industry as well as on screen... and this means giving equal opportunities for all.

 

Sadly, there was no repeat success for Julie Dash after DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST.

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Interesting text for 1991. 

 

I wonder if some of the successes by women in film was linked to successes by women in the music industry. Performers like Madonna and Janet Jackson were outselling their male counterparts during this time in the pop/rock genre. In the country music field, Reba McEntire was outselling her peers and drawing big crowds at concerts. She was also finding roles on screen-- just like Madonna and Janet did.

 

One thing worth mentioning about SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is that it kind of turned the industry upside down. It was released by Orion without much fanfare in February. It became a sleeper hit and stayed in theaters a long time. Then had its home video release later in the year. Usually best picture nominees and especially best picture winners are released at the tail end of their respective years. SILENCE was already one year old when it took home the Oscar. Plus having it win in the lead actor categories as well as for the year's best director underscored the fact that a huge commercial hit could be seen as a huge critical and artistic success.

 

Penny Marshall is probably the most commercially successful female director in the 90s. And she was no doubt helped by her brother Garry, who also had several big hits during the decade (he directed Julia Roberts & Richard Gere together twice).

 

Speaking of Julia Roberts, a huge deal was made at the end of 1991 when HOOK was released that she was exhausted and temporarily retiring from the movies. She had a string of hits during 1989, 1990 and 1991, and I think she felt overexposed and overhyped. Plus she had a broken engagement with Keifer Sutherland, then fell in love with Lyle Lovett (a unique pairing) and wanted to scale back her workload. Not counting her cameo in THE PLAYER, she took two years off and didn't return to screens until December 1993 with THE PELICAN BRIEF. There was speculation that she had been gone too long and might not be the box office queen anymore, which simply did not prove to be true. 

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You hit a couple things I will hit later in posts. There will be the brief rise of Whitney Houston, who would also be directed by Penny Marshall. Unfortunately her career wound up much like Diana Ross in the seventies, more successful in music than acting despite much praise for the latter.

 

Looking back, the 1990s was a great decade for fixing what had been "wrong" for so many past decades. Sadly there has been a decline in female influence in the decades since, as far as high paying entertainment positions. In the '80s you just had Eddie Murphy, but the '90s gave you Will Smith and many others rising to the top and breaking racial barriers. This really was a great decade of diversification unlike any previous. You had an interesting change in how the LGBT was portrayed and some may criticize my upcoming posts for being too "gay", but this was a fascinating history itself. There is a definite progress from overly self-conscious short subjects like POOL DAYS to the first mainstream breakout with PHILADELPHIA (a change from Demme's earlier SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), then Ellen de Generes' "coming out" party on TV to AMERICAN BEAUTY being the most "gay friendly" of Best Pictures.

 

Julia Roberts will get a lot attention later in the decade playing herself (essentially) in NOTTING HILL, which I decided to discuss in the year it was shot rather than released. For me, 1998 was certainly the year when so many celebrities found themselves under constant scrutiny (like her character who is constantly worried) thanks to all of the hullabaloo concerning the president and Monica Lewinsky spilling over onto actors and actresses of the era (many of whom could maintain at least some privacy in earlier years).

 

MonicaGate, in particular, was well promoted by Rupert Murdoch with all his new Fox connections and it is fair to say that he personally influenced the media more this decade than anybody since L.B. Mayer or William S. Paley. He is one of a trio, the other two being Kirk Kerkorian and Sherry Lansing, who somehow keep popping up regularly in these silly posts. Kerkorian could not get rid of MGM-UA despite trying twice, yet he somehow kept it afloat as that other "isn't it dead yet?" company. Lansing was the one woman whom all the male executives listened to since she made lucrative deals between Paramount and other companies to help economize the industry, sort of like the house wife taking care of the bills because her husband is spending too much time on the golf course. She was a key figure in getting her studio Paramount to reduce production risks by co-producing  BRAVEHEART, TITANIC and other famous titles with other studios like Fox. That was the biggest trend of the decade: the separate companies combining forces with more regularity than they did before (even though Warner and Fox co-made THE TOWERING INFERNO decades before).

 

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A Year In Hollywood 1992

 

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Robert Altman's THE PLAYER, finally released in April, portrayed an industry full of executives so paranoid about their jobs that they are willing to do practically anything against their fellow man... and woman... and writers in particular. It was also a very truthful film that showed how Tim Robbins' character is forced to turn down thousands of requests because a studio can only practically accept thirty in a calendar year. Hollywood always had more pouring into its industry than it could possibly employ.

 

In terms of what appeared on screen, the Hollywood establishment wasn't terribly cautious at this time. The major studios were gambling almost as much as they had back in the Pre-Code era with provocative subject matter and an experimental “try anything to see what sticks” mentality. As long as politics and politicians were handled as delicately as the rattlesnakes in THE PLAYER and personal lives didn't impact production (like Woody Allen's tabloid attention with HUSBANDS AND WIVES), other taboos were given more latitude. For example, sex was OK as long as you stuck to male/female couplings and female nudity like Sharon Stone “exposed” in BASIC INSTINCT. After testing the waters the previous year with Oliver Stone's JFK, the executives at Warner Brothers were hardly timid backing Spike Lee's MALCOLM X while the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles were dominating the news. Granted, this was just your standard biopic starring Denzel Washington (agreeing to be directed by Norman Jewison as he did in two other films in his career until public outcry forced the studio to accept a black director for a change and Lee was more passionate about the subject than anybody else) and ultimately was no more agitating than GANDHI, but it really doesn't take much to stoke the flames.

 

Violence caused less concern with the authorities in power, so all of the blood splattered in the Sundance Festival smash hit that January, RESERVOIR DOGS, was greeted with more fanfare than disgust. It established Quentin Tarantino as the latest enfant terrible testing public taste, although it wasn't greeted with nearly the same concern as Arthur Penn's BONNIE & CLYDE twenty five years earlier. In turn, Gene Hackman, who had his head bloodied with bullets in B&C, was again sporting the gun in Clint Eastwood's valentine to the spaghetti westerns that made him famous, UNFORGIVEN, also co-starring Eastwood alongside Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris. As one of just three westerns to receive the Best Picture prize, it was mainstream enough to merely get slapped an R by the MPAA like RESERVOIR DOGS. What was needed to push an NC-17 was male nudity and sexual aggression like BAD LIETENANT with Harvey Keitel.

 

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Not all gun play. Films like UNFORGIVEN made painterly use of Panavision before it went out of style.

 

RESERVOIR DOGS did run into a lot of trouble with British censors and wasn't available in their own home video market for a while. However British film-makers themselves were not prudish about some things. Gay-centric subjects were still fairly rare this side of the Atlantic and something as angry as Gregg Araki's THE LIVING END (the first release from Bingham Ray and Jeff Lipsky's trendy October Films) would never get past the film festival market into suburban multi-plexes. However British importer Palace Pictures was most surprised by the enormous ticket sales for Neil Jordan's thriller THE CRYING GAME despite its “gotcha” surprise involving Jaye Davidson and Stephen Rea mid-way through. For much of Middle America, this marked their first experience with a sympathetic transgender on screen, not one out to murder others in cold blood like in PSYCHO or FREEBIE AND THE BEAN. The UK industry was getting quite fluid regarding “orientations” during this interesting post-Peter Greenway period: Kenneth Branagh's PETER'S FRIENDS was a straightforward ensemble comedy, but with a rare sympathetic character being HIV-positive; Sally Potter's ORLANDO featured a Queen Elizabeth I played by, of all people, Quentin Crisp and Terence Davies' A LONG DAY CLOSES was different than other coming-of-age boy dramas in showing some anti-gay bullying.

 

A few more traditional Brit pics gained more substantial backing than usual from the Hollywood establishment, particularly by Sony. Roland Jaffé's well promoted CITY OF JOY was an unfortunate flop despite featuring GHOST star Patrick Swayze in the cast, but it was compensated by the earlier released HOWARD'S END, arguably the finest of all the James Ivory and Ishmail Merchant productions. This took on E.M. Forster's classic novel with a high stellar cast involving Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter and Samuel West, the last playing an impoverished clerk who fathers a baby destined to inherit a house battled over by a selfishly rich family. Costume pictures like this Edwardian piece never lost their popularity, but hadn't been enjoying quite as much success until now. HOWARD'S END made $26 million over a $8 million budget. Realizing they had a good product to milk, Sony's Columbia division again decided to back another Merchant-Ivory-Hopkins-Thompson collaboration set later in the 20th century (1930s-50s). THE REMAINS OF THE DAY started filming in September and was even given well-in-advanced sneak previews to help promote it with a re-released HOWARD returning to theaters late in the year for Oscar consideration.

 

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Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire, England where THE REMAINS OF THE DAY would start filming

 

Despite its modern setting, THE PLAYER featured golden age movie posters as “characters” along with the humans. Peter Gallagher's Larry asks “When was the last time you bought a ticket to see a movie?” and Tim Robbin's Griffin responds with Vittorio De Sica's 1948 release THE BICYCLE THIEVES. A new generation of film fanatics was both more educated about old movie titles than their predecessors and about how those movies were made. Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy and Stuart Samuels took on the cinematographers rather than directors and stars in a popular documentary making its rounds called VISIONS OF LIGHT. Ted Turner had not yet started his own network devoted exclusively to older movies, but his TNT network backed an ambitious look at the behind-the-scenes workings of L. B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg at the MGM studio in WHEN THE LION ROARED. Anachronisms weren't taken as seriously in the past as now, partly due to fewer books, fewer in-depth documentaries on TV and, of course, no internet (which was still in its infant years at this stage). The Merchant-Ivory imports succeeded, in part, due to their very close attention to period details often overlooked in other historical efforts, although moviegoers were less demanding of films that weren't about films and film-makers (like Richard Attenborough's CHAPLIN) since it was much easier to detect where one made too many “liberties” with historical truth.

 

Perfection was not only important with historical fare. The “new and improved” animated features coming out of Disney's mouse factory annually were always a big event, particularly those with the directorial team of John Musker and Ron Clements and musicians Alan Menken, Tim Rice and Howard Ashman. (The latter passed away the previous year, but his influence was still felt.) Like BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, this year's ALADDIN would enjoy a second life “live” on Broadway in later decades. It also had to be re-edited after sneak previews when some viewers took offense to a verse in “Arabian Nights”, such was the new sensitivity of the times. Usually only Disney succeeded all that well with cartoon epics unless somebody like Bill Kroyer for 20th Century Fox could match the Disney “look” as closely as possible with FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST. Unfortunately audiences tended to be less responsive to highly individualistic experiments like Bill Plympton's THE TUNE, although any Japanese anime (always fussy in the detail-work) was accepted with open arms. Two DRAGON BALL Z features from Toei did well both theatrically and on VHS.

 

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Lansing as new boss and holding a gun in RIO LOBO 22 years before

 

One day after Bill Clinton defeated George Bush in the presidential election, representing a shift in power in the federal government, another shift was felt in the entertainment industry when Sherry Lansing got promoted as Paramount's chief CEO. Her influence would be strongly felt with that studio and others through the rest of the decade with a stronger emphasis on keeping most films on a budget, but with the occasional well-calculated risk that usually involved multi-company participation (as we will see in upcoming chapters). Like many women in the business, she had to struggle longer than the boys to get to this post, initially serving as a script writer at MGM after limited success as an actress before, at age 35, becoming the first female president at 20th Century Fox in January 1980 (and because there was still skepticism, the New York Times headline read “former model named head”). It was only after several years as a co-producer with Stanley Jaffe that she was able to win the full trust of the mountain of stars.

 

Perhaps due to increasing female influence and perhaps due to demographics (a baby boom since the mid-1980s was starting to have its effect), the nineties saw an explosion in “family oriented” theatrical fare, greater than even today and certainly greater than in the seventies and eighties. Fox made more money with a HOME ALONE sequel than MY COUSIN VINNY, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE KILLER or LAST OF THE MOHICANS. After Disney took over the Jim Henson assets, they were a bit hesitant with the market until THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL did better than expected. All of this prompted Time-Warner to quickly set up its own Warner Bros. Family Movies subsidiary to put DENNIS THE MENACE and FREE WILLY into production.

 

Television production remained the backbone of the industry, more so than theatrical entertainment, and this often impacted all of the movers and shakers in the executive chairs. In fact, the great Barry “Killer” Diller left the Fox empire of Rupert Murdoch in April to purchase a stake in QVC, a bigger prize to him than even Fox TV. He later would attempt to purchase (unsuccessfully) rival Paramount due to its vast TV interests as well. (Joe Roth left Fox shortly after Diller, being replaced by Peter Chermin, but he stayed mostly in movies.)

 

MCA/Universal (under control of Matsushita) was essentially a TV company rather than a movie company, reaping its fortunes with LAW & ORDER, NORTHERN EXPOSURE, COLUMBO, FIEVEL'S AMERICAN TAILS and COACH rather than DEATH BECOMES HER and SCENT OF A WOMAN. Yet when deciding on just the right something-something for theatrical screens, it could still give more special attention than usual, provided the name in the director's chair was an important one. Steven Spielberg spent the bulk of the year alternating between Hawaii's Kaua'i and the Burbank studios of Universal and Warner, the latter having the adequate Stage 16 to house Stan Winston's animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex. This project, in addition to a biopic on Oskar Schindler that started immediately after, would make 1993 one of the big years of the decade.

 

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You will have to forgive me, TopBilled, for not splitting this. Yeeah, I might with another, but I have confidence that these dedicated readers will either decide “Nope! Too much too read” or “ooooh-kay... maybe there is something comical here to amuse me”.

 

Again, I was struggling to find good shots of Madame Lansing from 1992 other than her SCHOOL TIES one, but this interview from, I think, 2009 fits nicely with all of these posts. (A few months ago, she published a new book that must be an interesting read. LiveTalksLA has a longer YouTube interview from this May where she discusses how her complicated relationship with her mother influenced her.)

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kM8w3mlXq5c

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