Carole Lombard, shown first in a lobby card for her first role as a female lead in Fox's 1925 "Marriage In Transit" and then as a supporting player in the 1928 Pathe feature "Show Folks," was at best a peripheral figure in silent cinema. Even if the automobile accident that put her career on hold for more than a year had never happened, she hadn't yet gained the experience and acting gifts that made her a significant star in the '30s. A pretty face, yes, but there were plenty of ingenues in the industry in the middle and late 1920s.
We're saying this because the topic of today's entry is about a documentary lasting nearly 13 hours where I'm almost certain Lombard's name is not mentioned once. But it's worth watching for so many reasons, not the least of which is to understand how Jane Alice Peters became a movie fan and discover what the business was like when she finally got the chance to partake of it.
We are referring to Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's acclaimed 1980 British series, "Hollywood."
While rights issues have prevented "Hollywood" from securing a DVD release (it is available on VHS, for the few who still use that format), there is good news for those who want to view it. While parts of the series have been on YouTube for quite some time, in recent days all 13 segments have been put up (or have a link to where it can be seen). It's an invaluable resource for silent film fans, and it's required viewing for anyone with an interest in film history
We're going to provide links to all 13 episodes, illustrated with the cover of that volume's VHS box. (Thanks to the site http://prettycleverfilms.com for providing access.)
* “The Pioneers” – The evolution of film from penny arcade curiosity to art form, from what was considered the first plot driven film," The Great Train Robbery," through to "The Birth of a Nation," films showing the power of the medium. Early Technicolor footage, along with other color technologies, are also featured. Interviews include Lillian Gish, Jackie Coogan and King Vidor. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e91G9aDyS_s&feature=youtu.be
* “In the Beginning” – Hollywood is transformed from a peaceful village with dusty streets and lemon groves to the birthplace of the industry in California. Silent film transcends international boundaries to become a worldwide phenomenon. Interviews include Henry King, Agnes de Mille and Lillian Gish. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPW1Gu_cRRU&feature=youtu.be
* “Single Beds and Double Standards” – Fast success in Hollywood brings a cavalier party lifestyle, which led to shocking scandals such as Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle’s trial and subsequent acquittal for manslaughter. To tone down the image of Hollywood and curtail films with footage unsuitable to all audiences, Will H. Hays is appointed and introduces Hollywood’s self regulated Production Code, which would be enforced well into the 1960s, while filmmakers still found creative ways to present ‘adult’ situations. Interviews include King Vidor and Gloria Swanson. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wc346ihvScI&feature=youtu.be
* "Hollywood Goes To War” – The outbreak of World War I provides Hollywood with a successful source for plots and profits. Peacetime curtails the release of war movies, until the release of King Vidor’s" The Big Parade" in 1925. "Wings" (1927) earns the first Academy Award for Best Picture. As movies transition to sound, Universal releases Lewis Milestone’s "All Quiet on the Western Front," showing the German side of the conflict, becoming a powerful statement of war by the generation that fought it. Interviews include Douglas Fairbanks Jr., King Vidor and Lillian Gish. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2oYM0cLKNY&feature=youtu.be
* “Hazard of the Game” – Silent films are often remembered for slapstick gags and dangerous stunts. Stuntmen took anonymous credit for very little pay and could not reveal their involvement. Stuntmen Yakima Canutt, Harvey Parry, Bob Rose and Paul Malvern tell hair-raising and humorous stories, and reveal the secrets behind many famous stunts. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lr9kgXZverY&feature=youtu.be
* “Swanson and Valentino” – Two of the great romantic legends of the silent screen are profiled. Rudolph Valentino’s on-screen persona is remarkably different from his real personal life, as recounted by his brother, Albert, and Gloria Swanson recalls her meteoric rise – and fall – with remarkable candor. (Note that this was issued many years before the only film they made together, 1922's "Beyond The Rocks," was rediscovered.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGbspdG8SEE&feature=youtu.be
* “The Autocrats” – Two of Hollywood’s greatest directors, Cecil B. DeMille and Erich von Stroheim. One worked with the Hollywood system, the other against it. DeMille’s pictures, lavish in detail and cost, made his studio a fortune, while Von Stroheim’s similar ways, albeit to excess in footage and expense, resulted in films that were often either excessively cut by the studios or never released, leading to his being fired on several occasions. Interviews include Agnes DeMille, Gloria Swanson and Henry King. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kPw3W_x8k8&feature=youtu.be
* “Comedy – A Serious Business” – Hollywood learned very early how to make people laugh. Comedy was king, and battling for the throne were stars like Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon and Charlie Chaplin. In a purely visual medium, their comedy was a work of genius. Interviews include Hal Roach Sr., Jackie Coogan, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UX06_406egk&feature=youtu.be
* “Out West” – The "Old West" was still in existence in the silent days. Old cowboys and outlaws re-lived their youth, and got paid for doing it, by working in films. The "western craze" really begins with stars like William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Tom Mix. Interviews include Yakima Canutt, Colonel Tim McCoy, Harvey Parry and John Wayne. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8CDU148enA0&feature=youtu.be
* “The Man With the Megaphone” – Silent film directors were flamboyant pioneers, making up their technique as they went along. Filming "indoor" sets on open outdoor lots and combating the elements, communicating with actors in spite of overwhelming distraction and deafening noise, directors (male and female) fashion great films out of chaos and confusion. Interviews include Bessie Love, Janet Gaynor and King Vidor. (Note that for some reason, YouTube still will not allow this episode to be put up. However, a visit to the following link, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTyvNQwWMLQ&feature=youtu.be, will provide instructions on how to view the episode.)
* “Trick of the Light” – Skilled cameramen had the ability to turn an actress into a screen goddess, and were valuable assets to studios and stars. With the aid of art directors, they achieved some of the most amazing and dangerous sequences captured on film, pioneering photography effects used through the remainder of the 20th century. Interviews include William Wyler, Lillian Gish and Colleen Moore, who explains at the outset that for an actress, a cameraman was more important than the director. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT5DK2Yawfo&feature=youtu.be
* “Star Treatment” – Producers discovered the effect of "star power" on their box office bottom line. Creating Hollywood stars becomes its own industry, resulting in the Hollywood Star System, from which came Clara Bow, Lillian Gish, and John Gilbert, successor to Rudolph Valentino as "The Great Lover." But as easily as they made them, studios could break them. Interviews include Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Louise Brooks and King Vidor. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOQN5vNVYvo&feature=youtu.be
* “End of an Era” – Silent films had universal appeal, simply by replacing intertitles and dialogue cards for the foreign markets. Sound film was experimented with in many forms since the 1890s, but did not become commercially successful until The Jazz Singer in 1927. Hollywood movie making was transformed and ultimately shattered, taking the careers of many silent film stars, directors and producers with it, victims of the emerging technology. Interviews include Lillian Gish, Mary Astor, Janet Gaynor, George Cukor and Frank Capra Sr. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-MhhuP5EpI&feature=youtu.be
Wonderful stuff -- and while we wish this groundbreaking production was available on DVD, at least it's here for public viewing. It transports you to those halcyon days, as if you were just up Sunset Boulevard from the Warner Brothers studio, shown at left in 1925.