Monday, October 10, 2011

Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film


I was recently given the pleasure of experiencing this superb documentary series produced by Thames Television. It recounts the history of the American film industry from its inception to the arrival of sound. What makes this series so special and different from others of its kind is the interviews with the men and women who actually lived through those formative years of filmmaking. People such as Lillian Gish, Byron Haskin, Gloria Swanson and many others are interviewed and give incredible insight into the often tumultuous days of those silent pictures. Also worth note is the use of clips from silent films which have not been publicly seen since or have deteriorated completely. The series is a true gem. Also worthy of mention is the musical score provided by Carl Davis who did much of the music for the Thames restoration projects on silent films. His sweeping main title theme captures all the wonder and glamor of those early, silver screen years. I get goose bumps every time I hear it. The documentaries have had an unfortunate history on home video. They were released on VHS in 1980 and can fetch prices of around $1000. However one short lived DVD release did occur, but only had a shelf life of a month before it was pulled. The reason for this is the complex rights issues behind all the films showcased in the series. Will this amazing and essential series ever get a proper, high definition release? Who knows, but for now, it appears someone has been uploading them onto youtube, so perhaps that can hold us over for now.

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