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  1. #1
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    Studio tributes

    I located a fine score of vhs tapes yesterday, and all of them are histories/tributes to major American film studios:

    Warner Brothers: Here's Looking at You (hosted by Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and other WB luminaries)
    MGM: When the Lion Roars (a three-tape set- 6 hours- hosted by Patrick Stewart)
    Universal: The Universal Story (hosted by Richard Dreyfuss)
    20th Century Fox: The First 50 Years (hosted by James Coburn)

    plus I got a "Memorable Moments of the Oscars" tape. All of them were a buck each. $1!
    I'd never seen any of them, and I'll post something on each right here. It's cinema history through and through.
    These may not ever be on DVD, either. I've never seen them on DVD, I can't say. Maybe someone here knows?

    In any event, stay tuned.
    Last edited by Johann; 02-07-2012 at 02:07 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  2. #2
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    The History of the Warner Brothers studio

    HERE'S LOOKING AT YOU is a fantastic 108-minute look at the mighty background of Warner Brothers, my favorite film studio, next to Rodriguez' Troublemaker.

    Made in 1991 and narrated/hosted by WB stars Clint Eastwood, Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn, Barbra Streisand and director Steven Spielberg, this is one documentary that you don't want to miss if you are a film buff. It contains everything: film clips, screen tests (great ones), bloopers, and behind-the-scenes footage (including on Kubrick's set!)
    Try to track it down. I loved every minute.
    Written, produced & directed by Robert Guenette and the executive producer was David L. Wolper.
    They crafted a fine, fairly concise portrait of the Warner Brothers and their famous studio.
    It opens with a montage of images from the studios' history accompanied by John Williams' memorable SUPERMAN theme.

    I'm gonna truncate the history here, as there is a LOT to consider. I'll just cut to the chase.

    The Warner brothers (Jack, Sam, Harry and Albert) came from a very poor Jewish family. Dad was a trader always on the move, and every cent had to count.
    Born in London Ontario, Canada and raised in Youngstown, Ohio (after a brief move to Baltimore) Jack Warner is a man I admire very very much.
    He reigned longer than any other studio head- for 55 years!
    A rebellious exhibitionist kid, he built a very formidible film studio, one that almost bought MGM, Fox and United Artists!
    He hated fascism, and even though he was a staunch Republican he supported FDR and made movies with a social context that I just love.
    In Pittsburgh he saw how people flocked to a nickelodeon and decided that movies was the business to get into.
    In 1904 the family horse was sold and a watch was pawned to get money to start.
    Jack started by buying a projector and a print of THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY. Box office was so good they decided to make pictures themselves.
    They were able to buy back the family horse and give it to dad for Hannuka. As Streisand said: "Good kids!"
    They settle into Newcastle, Pennsylvania one year later with their own movie theatre. They had no chairs and had to get them from a funeral parlour.
    In the decision to make pictures, they went West to California in 1912, while back in Pennsylvania the others tried to figure out how to distribute them.
    Harry booked films for the Cascade theatre, and Sam was the projectionist.
    Their first hit was made at the right time: MY FOUR YEARS IN GERMANY (1917) a bestselling book, and it gave them enough success to buy a studio and open it on Sunset Boulevard- they were bullish enough to feel they could take on Paramount and MGM studios.
    They knew they needed stars, as Clint Eastwood tells us along with fascinating film clips. They signed John Barrymore, and film production began:
    Beau Brummel, The Sea Beast, Main Street, Don Juan, Rin Tin Tin- "Rinty" as he was known by casts & crews was a giant star (a dog!) and he got 12,000 fan letters a week! AND wa spaid more than John Barrymore!-
    The Limited Mail also became a hit for them.

    "Napoleonic" 22 year old writer Daryl F. Zanuck is brought on board, and he ends up writing HALF of Warners pictures in one year! Talented man! He did it under other names too. He was the heir apparent to Jack Warner, and he became the Head of Production. Back then studio exectutives knew the nuts and bolts of making films- they really knew what they were doing. They made the films, not just green-lighting them. Zanuck argued with the Warner brothers often and spoke of his times there "as the best and worst", ultimately leaving the studio in 1933.

    The Life of Emile Zola with Paul Muni was the first Best Picture Oscar winner for Warner Brothers, in 1937.
    The second one came from a film that NOBODY thought would be a hit: CASABLANCA, an un-produced stage play.
    The editing of this doc may seem a little odd, because they jump around in times in the studios' history- like right after discussing Casablanca they discuss Chariots of Fire, another Best Picture winner (1981).
    Then they talk about My Fair Lady- the studios' most honored film from 1964, winner of 8 Academy Awards.
    The first Oscar that the studio ever received was for their pioneering work in sound for motion pictures in 1929- and we see a fascinating, HISTORIC Bell Labs screen sound test, conducted with a record phonograph playing to a filmed image in synch. Greatness. That is cinema history right there. Worth the price of the tape just for that!

    J-L was impressed enough to go forward with sound pictures.
    Sam started to make short films to show as "teasers" before features. The "Greatest Entertainer of the Time" was Al Jolson, and he was courted.
    THE JAZZ SINGER made history on it's opening in New York City Oct. 6, 1927.
    And eerily, the day before, at age 39, Sam died of a cerebral hemmorhage. The day before talkies "suddenly took on a new dimension".
    The Jazz Singer was quickly followed by The Lights of New York. (in Vitaphonic sound!)

    In 1930 the Warner brothers owned 25% of the movie theatres in America.
    They were sitting on top of the world, and they did it organically, frugally. Tough businessmen who knew how to entertain, who knew what the public needed and wanted.

    The next sequences profiling Busby Berkeley & Ruby Keeler were magical. True movie magic there. Berkely spent 7 years at Warner brothers. The choreography and music and productions- WOW.
    42nd Street, Footlight Parade, Gold Diggers of 1935- Wow. Amazing beauty and elegance.
    Busby was denied an Oscar when he fully deserved it, but he just forged on and died young, a tragedy. What a gifted man- and at such a great time in movie history....
    It was a "Revolution of the Eye", he "altered perceptions", as Streisand pointed out.

    Warners was the only studio at the time without a newsreel.
    They made the best gangster pictures, and they gave non-leading man types like Edward G. Robinson & James Cagney the opportunity to "Be Somebody".
    Clips from Little Caesar and 1931's The Public Enemy drive it home. It was the depression, and these guys were trying to lift themselves out of the gutter and they brought it via the silver screen. Made me want to buy those DVD's. And I will. Cagney is the Greatest Actor ever in my opinion. He's just dynamite to me. Pure dynamite. There is a sequence of clips where he is slapping the shit out of people (men and women alike!) and punching out guys that don't belong in his world. He even knocks out 2 dudes with one shot, while coolly delivering a line:
    TWO FOR ONE. Boo Yah, Jimmy, Boo Yah. We also get a clip of Cagney accepting an AFI Lifetime achievement award and he explains how he got the idea to hitch his pants and snap his fingers- his signature. Yankee Doodle Dandy was made by the great Hungarian Michael Curtiz, and Eastwood lets us know that no director in the studios' history has had the output or excellence of Curtiz. Clips of The Charge of the Light Brigade and others show us how skilled Curtiz was and how adaptable he was as a director, foreigner that he was...the clips from his 1927 NOAH'S ARK were awesome. (it was Warners' answer to MGM's epic Ben-Hur)

    We are told of how Orson Welles slipped away in 1937- BEFORE he made Kane. (nice screen test of him). And of how Clark Gable was shown the door simply because Jack Warner thought his ears were too big. And Lana Turner went to MGM after making only one movie for Warners- "THEY WON'T FORGET"-what a loss that was. Jack wouldn't sign her after her screen test!
    Errol Flynn and Olivia D'Havilland are given their due as well, with fine film clips: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, Gentleman Jim.
    He is described as "Invincible". She is a real screen beauty, a knockout to my eye.

    Bette Davis gets star billing here, as she was "The Fifth Warner Brother", according to Legend. She did 55 films for Warner Brothers.
    Her talent is undeniable. what a firecracker to watch! Dark Victory, Now, Voyager, Jezebel, Cabin in the Cotton- GREAT film clips here.
    And Bogart got his start in a Bette Davis film as a heavy: The Petrified Forest. He was another guy whose looks weren't considered "Leading man". Warner didn't like his lisp or his lip and thought he was just a "wimpy second lead". But he was able to become the foremost male star of the studio by way of John Huston.
    He co-wrote High Sierra, a hit.
    Huston was given the chance to direct The Maltese Falcon, with George Raft. But Raft didn't want to trust his career to a young first-time director so he dropped out.
    Bogart stepped in, and...you know the rest.
    CASABLANCA is the monolithic Warner Brothers film, the quintessential "Jewel in Their Crown" in my opinion.
    "Everybody Comes To Rick's" was an un-produced stage play that was made rather unconventionally. The ending was up in the air, and the way that they decided to end it decided it's Legendary status for all time. If Bergman went off with Bogie, then there is no Legend to it. It was the right decision. A lot of great movies had no ending clearly mapped out:
    Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket- Kubrick actually consulted his ACTORS (!) on how the film should end. Matthew Modine gave him the ending. (FYI)



    Long story short, this doc has a treasure trove of insights and historic footage to illuminate the story of this most famous film studio.
    Find it and enjoy it (over and over).

    These are other titles discussed and profiled:
    Sgt. York, Knute Rockne, To Have and Have Not, Key Largo, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Finian's Rainbow (with a short interview with George Lucas- he was an intern on that movie by Coppola), Mean Streets (Scorsese was an editor at WB), Cool Hand Luke, All The President's Men (with Redford interview- Natalie Wood gave him his break), Bonnie & Clyde and Splendor in the Grass (Warren Beatty also got his start from Natalie Wood).

    One of the best things about this is the profile they give James Dean. All three of his films were for Warner Brothers, and there is an amazing screen test with him and Paul Newman together. (Newman didn't get the part of playing Dean's brother in EAST OF EDEN).
    Elia Kazan is given a brief mention, and we get to see an early screen test of Marlon Brando. GREATNESS.
    Elizabeth Taylor won an Oscar for a WB movie: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
    Judy Garland made A Star is Born with James Mason and Doris Day sang her heart out in Calamity Jane. Jack Warner was aging, and he wanted musicals to mark his last times with the studio: The Music Man and Camelot. Right after Camelot premiered he sold the studio to Seven Arts, a Kinney company, saying "It wasn't fun anymore".

    Irving Lazar states that he was crushed. It was his life, and every day was new year's day at that studio- they cranked out stars and pictures that were just great.
    He had tremendous energy and a tremendous sense of adventure, and those Warner pictures reflected that in spades.
    Marilyn Monroe made only one film for Warners, with Lawrence Olivier.

    Steven Spielberg briefly discusses The Searchers, The Killing Fields, Deliverance, The Nun's Story, Empire of the Sun & The Color Purple.
    Clint Eastwood also gets his due.
    Stanley Kubrick's relationship with Warner Brothers is also highlighted. Excellent on-the-set shots of The Shining and clips from all films he made with the studio to date.
    He is referred to as "THE BEST", and a very wise choice to align themselves with. (The new studio exec team in 1970).
    Woodstock, Goodfellas, The Exorcist, Tim Burton's Batman & Beetlejuice also get honorable mention- all classics in their own right.
    Driving Miss Daisy (another Best Picture winner for the studio) is also given time, along with The Witches of Eastwick.


    It's a great documentary and WELL WORTH WATCHING. Check it out.
    The only important film missing to my mind was John Lennon: IMAGINE, but it's a Wolper production too, so maybe there was a valid reason.
    The Mission isn't mentioned either, a fantastic WB release.
    Last edited by Johann; 02-15-2012 at 12:31 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  3. #3
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    Looney Tunes & the Merrie Melody cartoons that Warners are so famous for are also mentioned, as well as Arthur, National Lampoon's Vacation, Private Benjamin and Lethal Weapon, and other films are in montages but not discussed- the studio has a lot of films in it's vaults.

    As I said, it's well worth checking out.
    Locating it may be hard, as it's over 20 years old, but a real fim buff will find it.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  4. #4
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    I'm wading through the MGM tapes now, and there is a whole lotta movie history there. My respect for Irving G. Thalberg is high, even though he was dead wrong on a few things, like saying that talkies will never replace silent films.

    Louis B. Mayer I have a little respect for, but not much. He is described as a tyrant who wanted to be loved and respected and when Thalberg died suddenly in Sept. 1936 he said "Isn't God good to me?". I'll explain the context of that in a long post soon- that series is 6 hours. It takes that long to tell the whole story of MGM! I've also watched the Universal and 20th Century Fox histories, and they are great too.
    All I'm missing is the ones on Paramount and Columbia!

    Dream factories all, even though all studios have duds and Masterpieces to their credits.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  5. #5
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    OK, I just looked up on Amazon the status of these films, and all are available on DVD, except The Universal Story.
    The MGM is a 2-disc set and it has been edited according to user reviews- Fred Astaire's footage was all removed at the request of his wife.
    The Warner Brothers doc is available as a 1-disc, and so is the 20th Century Fox.
    I noticed that there is also a doc specifically chronicling the 4 Warner brothers released in 2010.

    Reviews for these films on Amazon are accurate, and mostly written by film fans like me. They appreciate this kind of thing.
    Films like these expand and enrich your movie history knowledge in a BIG way.
    I've been making lists (and revising them constantly) about which ones I want to buy.
    Last edited by Johann; 02-10-2012 at 12:29 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  6. #6
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    I'm almost finished my scrutiny of the MGM tapes, and tomorrow I'll post about the first volume, which focuses on the beginning of the studio, it's pre-World War II successes, right through to the sudden death of Irving G. Thalberg in 1936.
    Thalberg was *arguably* the most important man in the history of motion picture production. His legacy is way bigger than the average person realizes.
    Hollywood shut down to honor his sudden passing. EVERY studio shut down in tribute to Thalberg.
    Everybody knew who "The Boy Wonder" was.
    Everybody felt his influence in the whole industry. It's amazing what he accomplished, which was QUALITY CONTROL over motion picture production. He had a real ear for why a movie works or sucks. He improved films that would've been duds- he just had a perspective that no one else had. He wielded an authority at MGM that was quite formidible- even Louis B. Mayer was afraid of Thalberg- Irving was 15 years his junior!
    Last edited by Johann; 02-23-2012 at 02:45 PM.
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

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