06.15.11 | Jay Steinberg
Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood, the thorough and thoroughly enjoyable documentary series aired by Turner Classic Movies this past fall, is now available for the keeping in a DVD boxed-set from Warner Home Video. In seven discrete, hour-long chapters that track the film industry’s development from the late 19th century’s moving-image breakthroughs until the hippie-era last gasps of Old Hollywood, Moguls & Movie Stars offers an exhaustive overview, courtesy of copious amounts of archival footage and perspectives from critics, scholars, performers, filmmakers and survivors of the studio chiefs involved
While effectively tracking the timeline of the American motion picture business, the miniseries’ creators also ably place it in context with other factors that shaped U.S. society as the 20th century dawned—the industrial revolution that delivered the technologies, and the immigration wave that brought many of the future Tinseltown tycoons to these shores.
If you’re steeped in the whos and whens of Hollywood history, there isn’t a whole lot that’s revelatory; still, the series hits all the major and minor points in the film industry’s evolution with concision, and movie addicts won’t be sorry having vested themselves in the ride.
The opening chapter, Peepshow Pioneers (1889-1907), tackles the genesis of the moving picture phenomenon from the Muybridge experiments through the efforts of Edison to the projection breakthroughs of the Lumieres, and how their efforts swiftly led to a commercial entertainment cheap to its working-class consumers yet lucrative to those with the foresight and drive to provide venues.
The follow-up, The Birth of Hollywood (1907-1920) contemplates how the production center for the flickers that a now-insatiable public demanded shifted seaboards for the warmth and sunlight of Southern California, how the language of cinema storytelling would start to be shaped by Griffith, DeMille and Chaplin, and the developing phenomenon of the star as exemplified by Mary Pickford, William S. Hart and Tom Mix.
The third installment, The Dream Merchants (1920-1928), follows the influx West of those entrepreneurs—the Warners, Mayer, Zukor, Laemmle, Fox—who opted to take their profits as exhibitors and invest in the creation of the goods, how the production companies that would become the industry’s major powers arose from their labors, and the interconnected rise of the opulent movie theater across the U.S. landscape.
Brother, Can You Spare a Dream (1929-1941) focuses on the industry’s measures to cope with two concurrent and significant challenges; the advent of synchronized sound and the need to adapt, and the global depression which brought many studios to face the prospect of collapse.
The emergence of the talkie era’s first wave of new stars—Cagney, Hepburn, Shirley Temple, the Marx Brothers and more—is addressed as well.
Warriors and Peacemakers (1941-1950) reflects on World War II’s impact on the industry, as many key actors and directors were pressed into the service themselves, and how the structure of the system as it existed for a generation began to fissure with the U.S. Supreme Court stripping the studios of theater ownership.
The Attack of the Small Screen (1951-1960) takes on the issues and trends faced by Hollywood in the Eisenhower Era, including the emergence of television and the bids to compete via large-screen formats and 3-D; the waning influence of the original moguls; the impact of McCarthy and the blacklist; and the emergence of a star generation (Brando, Clift, Dean, Monroe) steeped in stage-influenced performance technique and sexual charge.
Finally, Fade In, Fade Out (1961-1969) chronicles the years when the last vestiges of the old structure faded away, as the majors were slowly sold off to new corporate parents, the power vested in stars, directors, and their representation, the Hays Code became obsolescent, and foreign filmmakers held an unprecedented fascination for American audiences.
In terms of supplements on the set’s three discs, each episode is accompanied by a ten-minute panel sitdown involving series producer/writer Jon Wilkman, TCM host Robert Osborne and various of the talking heads who participated in the installments.
The set is packaged in a Digibook that includes forty informative pages of additional background. All in all, it makes a keeper for those who enjoyed the series upon its broadcast, and a strong recommend for any film fans that have yet to experience it.