Turner Classic Movies started a 7 part series this week, entitled “Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood.” If episode 1 is any indication of the quality of the whole series, then we are all in for one of the great documentary series ever produced about The Old Hollywood.
Episode 1 starts back in the late 19th Century and tracks the very invention of moving pictures, while also showing what a cultural shock and milestone the birth of movies really was. Great photos and examples of early films illuminate what the new art form looked like in its infancy. It’s a long way from those beginnings to Avatar!
We also see the development and explosion of Nickelodeons, the first movie theaters, so named because admission was 5 cents and “odeon” was the Greek word for “theater”. (It will be a shock to many of our kids that the Nickelodeon cable channel is really named after the first movie theaters.) It’s also thrilling and amazing to learn that those first movie theaters, showing films that varied in length from 2 to 5 minutes in the beginning, literally exploded on the American scene. Nickelodeons often showed dozens of different films every day, and were often open from 8 am until midnight.
Episode 1 also introduces us to the moguls who would eventually bring the movie business from its east coast roots to California, thus ushering in the age of studios and the golden years for the film business. It’s fascinating to follow the careers of film giants like Louis B. Mayer, the Warner Brothers, William Fox, and others as they battled no less a giant than Thomas Edison for film patents and a toehold in the new art and business of movies.
I can’t wait to see episode 2 next week.
I note what I consider to be the significance of Turner Classic Movies on the very first page of Bringing Back The Old Hollywood:
We’re in a family room in the year 2023.
A couple in their early fifties are watching one of their favorite films on Turner Classic Movies as their teenage daughter walks in, sits next to them for a moment, and speaks.
“You guys are so cute with your old movies.”
“Thanks, sweetheart,” Mom laughs.
“Can I ask you something?” the daughter responds.
Putting the film on pause, Dad says “Sure. What’s up?”
“It must have been so cool for you guys to have lived during a time when they still actually made new movies every year. What was that like?”
It’s up to us.”
“Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood” is a poignant and brilliant reminder of how important new movies are in the cultural history of the last 100 years. And why we can’t let them fade into oblivion.