For those who wax nostalgic about the Golden Age of Hollywood, who swoon over the catchlights dazzling in Rita Hayworth’s dark chocolate eyes, who are pushed to the brink of their seat cushions by a stabbing violin score, or who treasure a film’s complete batch of credits before the story gets rolling, you may need to taste that era’s whole truth. Sheltered in the oligopolic thatch of corporate hubris, the Big Five studios were paying themselves twice, fortifying their sweet-spot on the dais of celluloid art with soggy sandbags of nefarious business practices.
When the chips finally fell on the Golden Age, they landed with such a clatter the movie business crumpled into a slump the likes of which we’d never see again; even the modern age of easily-snatchable torrents and duplicitous street vendors pitching bootleg blockbusters hasn’t throttled the industry like this.
For the struggling filmmaker or the tiny fledgling production company, adrift without financial paddle in a sweaty sea of studio bullies, the Golden Age of Hollywood was an ordeal. It took until 1948 for the United States Supreme Court to peel the wings off the sleazy sideshow of backdoor studio arrangements, and they managed to pack the full heft of their punch into one near-unanimous decision.
Piecing together the components of a relatively new art form required some experimentation, allowing a few different business models to walk the industry’s catwalk while the studios toyed with the best way to maximize profits while maintaining the high aesthetic of the art form itself. I’m kidding of course; they wanted to make money, and it was clear from the moment Tommy Edison’s industry stranglehold was quashed by the feds in 1915 that the best way to do that was to keep everything in-house. Read more…
Before Tarantino was planting cameras in car trunks and Scorsese was building coke-sniffing montages around classic Rolling Stones singles, someone had to figure out how to put it all together. And so begins the hunt for the first real cinematic visionary.
As with any topic that expensive schools feel is worthy of a possible major, there is plenty of room for debate, and the list of important names from the earliest days of film is long. But it takes only a minor exercise in whittling to trim down to the real heavyweights, the folks whose signature strokes on the art form still resonate today.
These are the elite few that every film student must commit to memory, for without them, we could never drool over Wes Anderson’s remarkable symmetry or Stanley Kubrick’s one-point perspectives. And without the ability to endlessly proselytize to the Madea-loving masses about the quality alternatives, film students would be lost.
The first director of film happened to be the guy who was inventing the technology. Thomas Edison pointed a camera – actually to give proper credit it was William K.L. Dickson and William Heise who pointed the camera – at an actor. Edison wanted to test his new cylindrical Kinetoscope; he never intended for the films to be viewed publically. But here they are – Monkeyshines #1 and #2, most likely the first films ever to be shot in the US. The base of the mountain; the beginning of the movies. Read more…
If you swim deep enough into the swampy murk of Hollywood’s trench-laden ego, you might come across a tiny pulse of insecurity. To have one’s performance captured on celluloid (or digital film, but that doesn’t sound nearly as romantic as ‘celluloid’) is to have a date with immortality. Humphrey Bogart’s regal swagger lives on in Blu-Ray and DVD more than fifty years after his all-too-mortal lungs offered forth their final breaths.
But just how immortal is Hollywood stardom? Most people under 30 would have no problem picking James Dean or Marilyn Monroe out of a lineup, but how many could discern Lana Turner from Olivia de Havilland, or Van Heflin from Robert Ryan? These were potent stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, but today they only resonate with scholars, trivia geeks, and those dwindling few who still love a great story told in black and white, and feel it’s important to read the credits.
I happily plunk myself in all three of the above pigeon-holes. And as someone whose own so-called artistic immortality is a lock only as long as people yearn to read love letters to bacon, I sympathize with the icons of silver screen past, in particular those who had mastered their craft enough to warrant an on-going legacy. So staple these photos to the underside of your skull and keep them in your hearts – these are the mighty ladies of Hollywood’s earliest years.
It would be hard to find a more important woman in the nascent days of movies than Mary Pickford. She was the first starlet of moving pictures, edged out only slightly by Charlie Chaplin when it came to outright popularity throughout the 1910’s and 20’s. In 1916 she signed a deal with Adolph Zukor (the guy who would later build the mountain known as Paramount Studios) for $500 a week, which is over $10,000 in today’s dollars. Read more…
I respect the fact that a number of Jackie Chan films finish up with a blooper montage featuring a cavalcade of missed maneuvers and on-set accidents. The guy is so well-known for doing his own stunts (and shattering his own person-parts in the process) that every so often it’s announced that he died on set, and people believe it until someone they know does a little fact-checking.
What makes this rumor semi-credible is not only the fact that Jackie Chan likes to do physically absurd things to his body in films, but also the handful of gruesome film accidents on official record. It haunted the front page when Brandon Lee was shot by a gun that was supposed to be loaded with blanks on the set of The Crow. But did you hear about Conway Wickliffe, the cameraman who was killed when the pickup he was shooting from hit a tree during the making of The Dark Knight?
I was surprised by how many of these names have scrolled past us in the credits of forgotten history without getting the attention they deserve. These are folks who either died or gave up a significant chunk of their physical being for a piece of art.
Ormer Locklear was one of those crazy bastards who walked on the wing of his plane while it was in flight in an effort to solicit oohs, ahhs, gasps and faints from airshow and circus crowds. He also translated that skill into a movie career, albeit a brief one. He was in the process of shooting The Skywayman, his second feature film, when things went wrong. Read more…