Distilled (un-credited) from Kevin Brownlow's 1968 book "The Parade's Gone By...", this 13-part mini-series follows the rise and fall of the American silent film industry. Each episode focuses on a different aspect of silent film history and production. Several silent film makers - stars, writers, directors, producers, stunt-men and crew - and their family and friends are interviewed. Also included are hundreds of film clips and behind-the-scene photographs, how-did-they-do-that spoilers and lots of trivia.Written by
Steven W. Siferd <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Agnes de Mille:
Whenever they finished a picture, which would be roughly every week... you know, they didn't waste time, they just got ahead and shot it, not always with a scenario... then they'd run it. They'd paste it together and run it. And they asked everybody, all the families, all the children, all the cousins, neighbors sometimes: "Come in, come in! See our picture! We're running it." And then they'd ask everybody what they thought. I cannot believe that it was that simple. But it was. And I think some...
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Shame on the Studios Who Block The Release of This Landmark
**** (out of 4)
---See episode list for reviews of each of the 13 on their own---
The film tells thirteen different stories of the silent era with things kicking off with THE PIONEERS, which features discussion of the earliest film to THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY and then D.W. Griffith's THE BIRTH OF A NATION. Episode two, IN THE BEGINNING, takes things to California where the industry begins to pick up steam before crashing down with the arrest of Fatty Arbuckle, which is documented in SINGLE BEDS AND DOUBLE STANDARDS. This third episode is perhaps the greatest of the set because it really shows what type of hypocrisy was going on in this country and how the studios were clearly only interested in money and they weren't going to stop even if it meant hurting someone. Hollywood GOES TO WAR covers, as the title says, talks about Hollywood and how it showed us in the war. This includes Griffith going to the front lines to get footage for HEARTS OF THE WORLD and how after the war people didn't want to see these types of films until John Gilbert showed up in THE BIG PARADE. One of the greatest things about silents are the amazing stunts and these are covered in HAZARD OF THE GAME, which talks about how these were done and we also get to hear about how many lives were lost.
SWANSON AND VALENTINO, perhaps the weakest in the set, looks at the two stars and how they rose to be the giants they were. THE AUTOCRATS looks at Cecil B. DeMille whose wild demands made him a legend while the craziness of Erich von Stroheim ended his career. COMEDY - A SERIOUS BUSINESS gives small bios of Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd and Langdon with some nice interviews and plenty of great footage. OUT WEST explains why Westerns were one of the most popular genres in the silent era and why the Old West dying sent a flood of real cowboys to Hollywood looking for a way to make a living. THE MAN WITH THE MICROPHONE focuses in on directors and their crazy attitudes and demands. TRICK OF THE LIGHT takes a look at cinematography and how the men behind the camera were often more important than some of the stuff in front of it. STAR TREATMENT goes back the hypocrisy of Hollywood and how Clara Bow's sexuality made her a star only to have the sex in her real life kill her career. We also hear about John Gilbert's rise to fame and the legends around his eventual fall. Finally, END OF AN ERA talks about the many early attempts at sound and the eventual release of THE JAZZ SINGER.
These thirteen episodes pretty much tell you all you'd need to know but I'm going to guess that a majority of those familiar with silent cinema will know many of the scenes here. There is so much wonderful footage here that if you don't know a film then you're going to be doing research trying to figure out what it is and find out how to buy it. If you know the film then seeing the clips are just going to make you want to see it again from start to finish. I think what makes this documentary so important is how wonderfully well-made it is because I really do believe you could show episodes of this to people who don't like silent movies and I think they'd open up a little bit. I'm not sure if the majority of them would become silent film buffs but I think they'd view the films in a different light. I think the third episode about Fatty would show them that Hollywood has always had its scandals and it didn't start with recent celebrities. I think the stunt episode would show people how much more exciting these films were than the CGI, safe films of today. I'm sure even the most jaded person would be outraged at how the career of Clara Bow fell apart simply because of some weird folks with morals that were nothing more than double standards.
Another major plus of watching this are the amazing interviews with the likes of Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Frank Capra, Harold Lloyd, Gloria Swanson, Harvey Parry, Bob Rose, King Vidor, Janet Gaynor, Colleen Moore, Allan Dwan, Karl Brown and countless others. It's a shame that so many other well-known stars turned down the opportunity of being in the picture but we can at least be thankful for who is actually here. A lot of the interviews here are the only ones these folks did so these are quite important for that alone. The amazing thing is that the memories are so crystal clear and you can tell these people are having a great time reliving these early days of Hollywood. You can't help but wonder how many more stories they had and I'm sure several were just bursting to tell them and finally had the chance with this documentary. Again, there's plenty of footage shown from dozens of silent films but sadly many of them are still unreleased to VHS or DVD, which is a real shame. I personally can't understand how studios like Kino and Image can release lesser known silents yet the major guys can't get bigger films released.
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