Tonight, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) begins a seven week documentary series about the history of Hollywood. Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood is an engrossing, wonderfully made series that will delight not only movie buffs, but also those interested in how the film business began, how it has evolved, and how it has circled back to its roots in recent years. Spanning from the invention of the first moving pictures to the counter culture films of the 1960s, Moguls & Movie also serves as a history of America, looking at how moviemakers responded to such major events as the Great Depression, World War II and the Civil Rights movement.
2 ½ years in the making, director Jon Wilkman’s intention for this series was to give a history of Hollywood power: Who had it, how they got it, and how they lost it. The filmmaker wanted to highlight the incredible characters that created the movie industry, the moguls and the big stars. He also wanted to show how these bigger than life personalities interacted, explore how stars came to be and how/why their experiences /careers gave us the movies we know.
Wilkman’s film gives the audience an appreciation for the deep history of Hollywood, looking at the innovations that these pioneers created. 3D, sound, widescreen, they all date back to the founding men and women who created the language of film that is still used today in film. In the early hours of the documentary, beginning with tonight’s “Peepshow Pioneers” and continuing next week with “The Birth of Hollywood,” it is amazing to discover that these innovators were young, many just in the 20’s, and they were running around and making it up. There were no rules on how movies were supposed to be made or distributed.
The men who became moguls, with names like the Warner Brothers or Louis B. Mayer, were mostly immigrants who came to this because they believed in the American dream that anything was possible. As they worked hard at their goals, they saw an opportunity to achieve their dream by buying Nickelodeons and then moving into making their own movies.
We’ve all seen the glamour docs, ones that show us our favorite movies and favorite stars, Wilkman takes a real historical approach exploring how and why things happened and showing how the development of the studio system was a very American approach to filmmaking, that is, mixing business with art.
Christopher Plummer lends his authoritative, yet pleasurable voice as the narrator of the series. As he leads us through rarely seen film footage and photographs and clips from memorable American movies, we also hear from some of the most knowledgeable film historians to offer insight. Additionally, major Hollywood figures, including Sidney Lumet, Richard Zanuck, Samuel Goldwyn Jr., Peter Bogdanovich, Gore Vidal, Robert Osborne and Molly Haskell, provide their own perspective on the history of Hollywood.
However, it’s not just the academics who receive face time. Wilkman also filmed interviews with sons, daughters, nephews, nieces and grandchildren of the moguls- direct linage to the larger than life characters in the documentary series. They offer first and second hand experiences that historians could not.
As the series winds down in its last couple episodes, we see that things have come full circle in the motion picture industry. With all of the new media that is readily available and with the ease in which people can go out and make and distribute movies, the power players are once again scrambling to control the technology so that they can then capitalize on it and make as much money as possible. In addition, the studios are trying to find ways to get people back into movie theaters using spectacle and gimmicks.
In conjunction to the television series, TCM has put up an interactive website that ties in to the documentary. Following each Monday’s episode of TCM will present a collection of films from the era covered. Each Wednesday, TCM will present a special encore of that week’s episode followed by a panel discussion with Robert Osborne, Jon Wilkman and film experts featured in the series. Each Wednesday night schedule also includes additional films about or made during the era covered in that week’s episode.
Here is a schedule (all episodes premiere at 8 PM ET):
Nov. 1- “Peepshow Pioneers,” covering the years 1889-1910.
Nov. 8- “The Birth of Hollywood,” covering the years 1907-1920.
Nov. 15- “The Dream Merchants,” covering the years 1920-1928.
Nov. 22- “Brother, Can You Spare A Dream,” covering the years 1928-1941.
Nov. 29- “Warriors and Peacemakers,” covering the years 1940-1950.
Dec. 6- “Attack of the Small Screens,” covering the years 1950-1960.
Dec. 13- “Fade Out, Fade In,” covering the years 1960-1970.