DVD review: ‘Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood’
Constructing a comprehensive documentary history of Hollywood – from the larger-than-life moguls who molded the movie industry into a culture-changing force to the film stars who became its glamorous, extravagant public personification – is a daunting, if not impossible, task.
But if any organizations are best equipped to try it, they’re probably Warner Brothers and Turner Classic Movies, which have massive archival film libraries to draw upon and in the case of TCM a long-established history for earnest consideration of motion pictures as a serious as well as commercial art form.
WB and TCM mustered considerable resources in 2010 to produce and broadcast “Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood.” It’s an informative and entertaining seven-part, seven-hour documentary series that doesn’t really come close to being comprehensive but nevertheless offers an engaging ground-up primer on how movies have come to be such a potent force in shaping popular culture.
First, a couple of caveats: This is indeed a “Hollywood history” and doesn’t take into account developments in worldwide cinema, except to briefly acknowledge early breakthroughs by such European pioneers as Georges Melies and the Lumiere brothers. And while it certainly offers up a rich cavalcade of familiar movie stars, the primary focus throughout seems to fall more on the moguls, mainly men, who built the studios and wielded iron-fisted power in determining how and what movies got made and how they were presented to an eager public.
“Moguls & Movie Stars” has been released on three discs, featuring seven episodes that cover highlights in film evolution between 1889 and 1969.
And “highlights” is indeed the operative term. A mere seven hours is barely enough time to skim the surface of Hollywood’s colorful history, with occasional pauses to delve a bit more deeply into certain notable, notorious, high-profile or game-changing developments.
Here’s a capsule look at each chapter:
“Peepshow Pioneers” (1889-1907) – Looks at the technological innovations of Thomas Edison, Auguste and Louis Lumiere and others; at the rough-and-tumble Nickelodeons and the early efforts of founders such as Adolph Zukor, Carl Laemmle, William Fox, Louis B. Mayer, Samuel Goldwyn and the Warner brothers; at early movie making in New York and Fort Lee, N.J. and
the silent-era stars such as Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish. Narrated by Christopher Plummer, this section is necessarily more talky and short on illustrative film clips (with the exception of “A Trip to the Moon” and “The Great Train Robbery” as examples of early “story” movies).
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