02 January 2012

Hollywood Time Machine

I've written a lot about early Hollywood. For some unknown reason the early years of filmmaking in California hold a special appeal for me. I read every book I can find -- especially contemporary accounts, which are very few in number and difficult to find; and watch every documentary I can. Unfortunately, I cannot do the one thing I really want: go back in time and actually watch history being made. How cool would it be to go back to Edendale in the early 1900s and watch the first films being made, to see how filmmaking evolved from the early crazy years to the crazier 1920s then 1930s.

Until time travel is perfected, I have found a method of virtual time travel: watching Hollywood's own films about Hollywood's own early days. I don't mean films today and their sloppy, romanticized attempts to recreate vintage Hollywood; rather, films from the 1920s - 1950s that show what was happening in those earlier days.

To get a taste of what early Hollywood was like I recommend the following:

A young woman wins a magazine contest and becomes a movie star

Local girl makes good in Hollywood

How a waitress becomes a movie star

A fading movie star helps a young woman break into movies and watches as his career disappears and hers blooms

Making silent films, and the advent of sound

Local boy makes good in Hollywood

Not realistic look at Pearl White, who became a star making silent serials

Silent films and the transition to sound

Biography of Lon Chaney, star of many big silent films


A newer film that provides a good idea of working in silent film is: Good Morning Babylon 1987
Two Italian sculptors come to America and work on Griffith's film "Intolerance"

A television film more about the 1950s, but still gives a good idea of how Hollywood worked: What Makes Sammy Run? 1959 
(television movie shown on "Sunday Showcase")
A hyper-realistic view of a young hustler who rises to be a top producer in Hollywood


The best way to learn about early Hollywood is to watch this documentary featuring interviews with many of the people who were there: Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film (13 parts) 1980
by Kevin Brownlow

Other films about Hollywood:

These are more about the inner-workings of Hollywood rather than filmmaking; but they all provide very interesting glimpses behind the scenes:

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