Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dan Goldberg Produces the Highest Grossing Rated comedy of all time – and then tries it again.




Dan Goldberg’s got the golden touch.  He produced the highest grossing (in both senses) R-rated comedy The Hangover, and has just released his sixth collaboration with director Todd Phillips the sequel “The Hangover Part II.”   His touch is on Old School, Road Trip, School for Scoundrels, and Due Date as well as Howard Stern’s Private Parts, Space Jam, with Michael Jordan, Ivan Reitman’s romantic adventure “Six Days Seven Nights,” starring Harrison Ford, Stripes, Heavy Metal and Meatballs.  Not bad for a kid from small town Ontario, Canada. He and Reitman were contemporaries at Hamilton’s McMaster University where he served as the first Vice-President and second President of the McMaster Film Board.  Reitman and Goldberg still work together under their Northern Lights shingle.  Monsters and Critics spoke with Goldberg in Toronto.



R-rated comedies are huge and biggest of them all is The Hangover.  So does that make you nervous for The Hangover Part 2?



It’s interesting and daunting thing because we didn’t know that the first one made us laugh but didn’t know until we screened and we had no idea it would be embraced.  The studio wanted to do the sequel for business reasons, and wanted a good weekend, but for us, we didn’t want a crappy sequel.  It was daunting.  Todd said ‘It happened again’ it opened the floodgates.  This is going to be our artistic device - it happened again. We are a well-oiled machine and friends and one of the reasons we made the second one because we love working with one another.  The first one was successful; we knew we were starting from a better point character-wise.  For the first one, we’d be on the streets in Vegas laughing our asses off and looking at each other wondering if anyone would like this. Truly we didn’t know. We were making it for ourselves.  



Brad Cooper says it was much more difficult making Hangover Part 2.  How was it on your side?



Working in Bangkok was great.  Bangkok is teeming with people, it was so hot, but they were the nicest people ever, probably their Buddhist culture, truly.  The country embraced us.  But if you want to go to a location, you have to go through fourteen government agencies and it takes months to secure a location.  Sometimes there was a fifteenth agency, if, for example, you wanted to remove a fence or bring things into the country.   It was very hard and nothing was easy, and the people were great but we were doing a comedy and if we were doing a scene and Todd and the actors wanted a change, it informs everything else before and after.  If we wanted to make a change for two days from now, we were locked down.  They had wonderful production services, they were dealing with things no one had ever done in Bangkok.  There was great food, massage places on every street corner, food is cheap and best food I’ve ever had.  It was wonderful.  Making the movie was dirty, gritty, teeming with people.  You can’t move the same way there.

How do you reign in Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong)?

We don’t.  We have to surgically edit him in the movie because he just pops out lines and there was no coverage for his scenes.  He has to do it one time.  He puts himself in Todd’s hands, and he’ll do anything for him, knowing and having confidence that Todd won’t embarrass him.  He serves a platter that’s quite delicious! A lot of the stuff is over the top and so disgusting!!! Chow is a finely- tuned character.  A millimetre left or right and he’d be lost.  Chow’s a bad character and Ken knows this but he also understands the way to get the audience is so go to both sides.  Also you know he’s a medical doctor so on the set in Bangkok, people got sick, so he would actually give good advice.



Where will the boys wake up in the third Hangover?



Well, we have not stopped working for three years, not one day off, so we’re pretty burned out.  Obviously I think we did a good job on The Hanover Part 2 and everyone wants to work again but can we do something as good in a threequel?  That’s daunting.   Where to have them wake up?   My family wants them to wake up in Hamilton!  But I don’t think it’s going to be waking up somewhere to tell the truth.



I’m glad the tattoo matter was settled so the film opens as planned.



The tattoo – of course!  But it’s one thing to say that someone has the rights but to injunct it is just rude.  Warner was always behind us.  Anyway, it’s not injuncted and it’s opening on Thursday.



Your resume features some of the best comedies in recent years.  You can’t call it luck.  How do you do it?



I look for something that makes me smile.  There was no formula at all. We were thinking we should we do a sequel and Todd said "Okay here it is.  The guys wake up in Bangkok!" and a smile comes over your face.  We had a storyline.  Todd gets that kind of stuff, that’s the DNA we're going to.  We had to write it and that’s organic and simple.  In comedy you can't let them see you sweat, be desperate, you have to be confident.  That’s why working with Todd is so great.  He has a vision and knows what he wants.  What I do is try to protect that vision and put bubble around it.



There’s a hilarious story on IMDB about you and Ivan Reitman screening a sex film at McMaster and getting arrested. 

In my college days I didn’t know what I wanted to do producer Lenny Blum and then Ivan Reitman and I did movies in university.  I never meant to.  I fell into some stuff by accident and Ivan was a great mentor.  He had a plan, I didn’t, and I did whatever seemed fun.  I van said I'd like to do a movie about summer camp so Lenny and I wrote it.  Meatballs. We wrote it in six weeks.  Lenny and I fooled around a lot writing things unsuccessfully.  We didn’t know what we wanted, we just created.  Ivan had confidence and we were stupid and yes, that summer, Meatballs was a hit, but that was happenstance.  And suddenly it’s your job.



-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Midnight in Paris

Rating: 5/5



Woody Allen’s latest love letter to Paris has the odd effect of making us fall in love not just with Paris but with Woody, all over again.  The film that opened the Cannes film festival last week is his strongest in recent years (decades) It’s an airy, light, delicious and grand confection whose genius is that it has a solid underlying reality about our connection to one another and being present in our own lives and times.

Sure there are strong elements of a travelogue but isn’t that one of the reasons we love film? Stepping out of the here and now to a better, prettier, and idealised then and there?   Our hero Gil (Owen Wilson) steps out of the here and now of a Paris break and into another world, one he dreamed of, one that inspired him to come to Paris in the first place.  Literally.  We step into the supernatural world with him as he meets the heroes of culture in Paris in those fabled twenties.   Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Toulouse Lautrec, Man Ray, Louis Buñuel, Salvador Dali and more - a parade of cultural events, in the flesh.  It’s a supernatural that is whimsical and saturated with meaning as a dream would be and yet it’s funny.

Wilson creates likeable characters, and his considerable charm works well as Gil, an American in Paris.  He tones down the “ugly American” trope with good nature and a true connection to the city and its past.  He’s knowledgeable about art, literature, pop culture, tolerant of his harpy of a fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and he has a rich imagination.  He has the feeling Paris is going to mean something to him. He is under its spell and by now we are too.

When Gil suggests to his fiancée that they vacate Hollywood and the screenwriting biz and decamp to Paris permanently, her put down tells us she may not be Miss Right. Maybe it’s the street vendor he met in real life or the party girl he met at a 20’s Paris soirée.  But one thing is sure to Gill – the key to his future lies in the City of Light.   

Allen has one of his hottest casts in years – including Oscar winners and series TV stars.  Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates, Carla Bruni, Michael Sheen, Adrien Brody, Law & Order LA’s Corey Stoll, Alison Pill, Thor’s Tom Hiddleston provide a lively and inviting circle that inhabits both the past and the present. 

Allen first tried to shoot Midnight in Paris in 2006 but the prohibitive cost shut him down.  He returned and the result is well, glorious.  Thanks to the credible cast, scripting, music and art direction, you leave the theatre, floating on a gossamer cloud of cinematic pleasure.  The Woodman is back.  Allen is at his mischievous, witty, biting, alluring, madcap best.   And he’s created a story that is absolutely original.

Midnight in Paris is a champagne cocktail dream of a film. It’s unfailingly witty, wise and warm, grown up, literate, mature, satisfying and complete.   Allen may have hit a high in Midnight in Paris not seen since the Annie Hall days.



----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 Naomie Harris Stars in- The First Grader



She was unforgettable onscreen as the seductive and dangerous Witch Queen Tia Dalma in two Pirates of the Caribbean outings and ran with the best of the undercover agents in Michael Mann’s Miami Vice.  But Naomie Harris, one of England’s hardest working actresses, found that a different kind of a role scared her more than those – playing a teacher in a remote Kenyan primary school.  Harris stars as Teacher Jane in The First Grader, the fact based story of an elderly man who decides he wants to go to school and learn to read.  His desire to seek an education at age 84 touches Teacher Jane.  His difficulties during the Mau Mau Uprising against the British forty years earlier made it impossible for him to get an education.  Teacher Jane tries everything in her power to help him, including civil disobedience.  It was a story that made international headlines.  Monsters and Critics spoke with Harris in Toronto.



Had you heard of the story before?  How did you react to the script?



I read it and I was really wowed by it – wowed by it because it’s an amazing story.  We know about the British colonial past, I didn’t know particularly about Kenya but you know that Britain colonized countries and didn’t do it in a genteel way, so I wasn’t that shocked.  What I found amazing was this man transforming his life at 84 years old.  That was incredible.  And Jane actually took a stand in getting this man an education.  That I thought was super inspiring.  It made me question what I would be willing to put myself on the line for in that way, and would I be brave enough to do it.  That someone would stand up and do that…  She risked her marriage, her career, and got death threats.  It was harder hitting than was shown in the movie because you really couldn’t show in the film because you’d get into trouble, because of the politics behind it.  She really did put herself on the line for Maruge and it was incredible.



You’re acting and playing a teacher, but you are also performing in front of actual students.  What was that like?



One of the reasons I wanted to do the film was I had done big budget movies where you’re part of a big machine.  But there were only 9 of us flying out to Kenya from England and we were going to be authentic. We’d choose one school to teach these kids, live amongst the community.  So that really excited me. “You’re going to be introduced as their Teacher and that’s how they are going to think of you (the director said)”.  We had to play everything, they weren’t actors. I got my Kenyan accent sorted, learned some Swahili and tried to pass myself off.  I had to be introduced to the big assembly as Teacher Jane to the kids and I was given a classroom of eighty children ranging in age from 5 – 21 for two weeks.

So it wasn’t acting.  It was teaching. My step dad is a teacher so I was Skyping him every day for lesson plans.  It was the toughest thing I’d ever done; I came away with huge respect for teachers. It is hard, the energy it requires the enthusiasm the commitment, is something else. It a tough with those kids, I expected it to be easy because I have a younger brother and sister. I thought I’d go in and go “Hey!” and it would be fine and they’d like me and I’d like them and it would be great.  Actually it was the opposite because I went in and went “Hey” and they just sat there silently and obediently and there was no  messing around whatsoever, that’s not how teachers behave over there.  Adults and teachers are revered, so it took a long time to get them to be a bit naughty and telling jokes an messing around that’s really was we needed. That how the film survives because of joy of the children and their personalities.  It took ages for that to happen. It was scary.



The school in the film is private.  Is there universal education for children in Kenya?



Yes, there is free primary education.   We just spoke to the Ambassador from Kenya in Washington D.C. where we showed the film.  The Kenyan officials there told us they are now extending it to secondary school, which is great.



Did you meet the real Teacher Jane – did you base your work on her?



The real Jane was in her fifties when it all happened but the director made her younger because he wanted it to appeal to a younger generation and inspire young people who might want to go into professional teaching.  So that’s why he did that which is a brilliant idea. I did meet Jane but quite late in filming.  I met her on day 20 of a 38 day shoot.  I choose to.  I didn’t want to meet her any earlier because I knew that the differences because of the age and other things.   You have to make the character your own and honour the script rather than the real life person otherwise it would become an imitation and I wouldn’t be able to anyway.  I wanted to find out what the script was telling me and meet her later. I did a film called Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll and I met the real character and it was a real hindrance because she had worked out her past and had that real responsibility because I knew her and we were building this relationship through the film and I wanted to play her in a particular light. It’s not fair to do that and its constricting to you in the creative process.  One thing that struck me about Jane is that she was a strong woman.  She stood up against the government but she had compassion as well.  It’s who she is.



Film shows the violence of the British soldiers towards the Kenyans.  How does that go over in England?  Has the movie shown in Kenya?



We’re going over to Kenya next month to show the film.  It will be reedited for the kids because they’ve never seen TV or film before so it would be too much for them to see the flashbacks to the uprising and it will be all about Maruge.  We’re doing an open air screening for the kids and the community which will be amazing.  In England there wasn’t a reaction about the Colonial part. There want a “to do” about that.  The Mau Mau have actually been campaigning outside the British embassy because they want compensation, they never got compensation, they were promised but it never arrived.  In the last month that kind of happened. But that want related to the film.  Generally we’ve had positive reactions, we’ve won seven audience awards, standing ovations, and people love it.

Kenya has been plagued by violence from Colonial times to tribal wars now.  Were you aware of any of that where you were?



Not the Colonial past.  They’ve drawn the line in the sand and moved forward. There isn’t an anti-British feeling at all. There are tribal issues and that’s very prevalent and people do talk about that and that’s they why we wanted to touch upon that in the film.  It is an issue in Kenya and you have to, that’s how you feel, rather than the anti-Colonialism.



Working with the accent that is so distinct and has beats, how do you make organic?



I do it as often as I can.  All the time, not just when I’m acting.  Two weeks before I went to Kenya I’d be with my family having coffee or something and it would drive them mad. “Speak properly!” they’d say.  But there was no way I could do it.  Because when you get in front of a camera you can’t worry about how you sound, that should be the last thing you’re worried about because it definitely affects your performance.



It’s ironic that Pirates of the Caribbean opens the same day as The First Grader.  You made such a sensation as Tia Dalma, the voodoo priestess.  How did you find that amazing character?



The same way I get to all of my characters - with the help of my mum.  Seriously, my mums amazing, she’s a writer and a healer and she really understands characters and she understands me.  She’s the best acting coach I could ever have.  It’s not her profession but I always talk to my mum.  Another thing I do is I sit in a room and talk to myself and pretend I’m being interviewed as if I am the character.  I talk about my history, what I had for breakfast, my family and I create this whole backstory and as I’m talking the characters voice will come and her movements and it will all come from that.  That’s what works for me, everyone is completely different.  I’ve worked with method actors, research.  It was fascinating on Miami Vice with Michael Mann. He wanted us to meet the undercover agents and we trained with them.  He gave me this folder with information about where the character grew up, the music she listened to.  That isn’t my process. You can’t dictate what someone’s process is going to be.  I went with it, and it was great that someone was so passionate about helping me.  I met a woman in the Bronx and I said “That is the accent I want”.  And Michael Mann said “Okay fly her over to Miami put her on the payroll”.   Her job was just to go around with me so I could pick up her accent!

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Bridesmaids

Rating: 4/5



Look out boys, the baddest bridesmaids are in town and they’re nursing a lot of grudges!  It’s payback time in Kristen Wiig’s stunningly funny snapshot of a pre- wedding party gone wild.  It’s almost unbelievable that a film about women as coarse, foul mouthed, potty focused and raucous as this has been made.  It’s about time.  Bridesmaids is straight ahead R-rated comic women’s lib and it’s sublime.

Wiig is phenomenally talented as a writer and comedienne; she’s confident enough as Annie to look awful and behave worse and skilled enough to make the most of each comic opportunity.  Her timing is impeccable and her awkwardly charming movement is unique; she reminds me of Charlie Chaplin. Wiig is a revelation and my new fave comedienne.

Wiig is also smart enough to surround herself with rock solid supporting talent, from Molly and Mike’s Melissa McCarthy – who looks strangely like Ricky Gervais’ twin - as Megan, who suggests a Fight Club themed shower, to co-writer Annie Mumolo’s comic turn as a nervous airline passenger and Matt Lucas and Rebel Wilson as twin roommates. 

Maya Rudolph is Lillian the bride in question, who has asked Annie to organise events around her wedding; they’re lifelong best friends and although Annie’s clearly lacking in skills necessary to do this job, loyalty is the standard.  Lillian takes a leap of faith that comes back to bite her in the rear.

Rose Byrne is Lillian’s new friend Helen and she’s’ seething with jealousy that Annie’s been picked.  She’s a born party planner and she’s’ a tad fixated on Lillian.  Helen’s competitive spirit sparks Annie’s and the two of them begin a dance of spite and one-upmanship that can take them nowhere but down.  It gets really ugly and yet never compromises the films considerable charm.

Annie takes the bridesmaids to a festive lunch at a local Brazilian restaurant, a hole in the wall that’s as colourful as it is dangerous.  Next stop – the bridal shop where the girls reach the natural end of their stomach’s battles with Brazilian mystery chicken.   It’s an ugly scene set against the pristine white of the store, and it’s deliriously funny.   So, Annie fails her first job as wedding planner; she poisons the party.

When Annie’s not being evicted from her apartment or being fired from her jewelry store job for her candor, she’s hooking up with Ted  (John Hamm – uncredited) a cad who tells her she’s number three on his casual sex list and she doesn’t back away!

There are too many set pieces and subplots to describe here.   The film moves at a brisk pace and never drops its comic brilliance for a moment as it weaves together the threads that make it up.  Even though there’s so much to watch and it’s fairly long, attention never wanes. 

Bridesmaids is a superbly executed comedy that tells a lot of truths and doesn’t hide from the treachery of women (and men) when put together in small rooms.  The beauty of it is that it’s so well written that it feels okay and we emerge with hope and a big smile.

Comparisons to The Hangover films are accurate.  Men can run riot and so can women and in the end lessons can be learned and the ties that bind can still be in place.



-------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Matt Baglio, Author of ‘The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist’



Anthony Hopkins stars as a senior Vatican exorcist in The Rite, charged with overseeing the education of a young American seminarian chosen to study the ancient rite of casting out devils.  Hopkins’s character teaches him by example allowing the young man to watch and share the truths and realities of the mysterious practice.  The seminarian is doubtful of the veracity of what he’s seeing and becomes increasingly alarmed when it appears his teacher is losing his grip on reality, even as he loses his own faith.  The film is based in part on American journalist Matt Baglio’s book ‘The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist’.  Monsters and Critics spoke to Baglio from his home in Rome, Italy.



What is demonic possession?



That goes to the heart of my book and the film.  According to the church it’s when an evil spirit takes possession of a person or an object or place.  Houses can be possessed.  People are said to have cursed objects and will have manifestations in the house with windows and doors opening and closing.  It’s thought that an evil spirit possesses a person but it doesn’t.  Technically because it’s a pure spirit it doesn’t live inside the person.  One exorcist told me to imagine a spirit attached so someone by a metaphorical pipe that influences him.  For me, it’s more interesting.  It's not like a puppet, with the devil inside.  There is a different exorcism for a place but priests normally just perform a blessing. Most exorcists will tell you if a house is having phenomenon it’s associated with a person in it.



Have you personally witnessed exorcisms?



Yes, I’ve seen about thirty and for the most part they are quiet.  They tended to be of the milder type.  I was given permission to see them and stronger cases I document in the book those were experience d by Gary Thomas, the Catholic priest in my book and in the film.  He saw some very strong cases.  None I saw were out of control although I did see some fantastic things, like personalities changing, violence, shouting and pushing, and a woman speaking in a guttural voice like a dog, but those are rare.

Most are part crouching shouting and struggling with something.



Can science explain exorcism?



Science can’t explain it.   But what I found in my research was that there is no consensus.  Even within the church some people don’t believe in possession.   Science can explain most of the cases when people go to an exorcist; they aren’t possessed, they have natural problems or they’re suggestible and need to be comforted and calmed down.  There are a few cases I’ve spoken to psychiatrists and doctors who believe in demonic possession 100%.  Many think they’ve encountered the paranormal in their work.  There’s a psychiatrist in New York who thinks he’s seen 200 cases.



Why did the Vatican open a school for exorcists and three days later deny its existence?



The school is to educate priests. But when people talk about the Vatican, they must be careful because there are many different people within, from the secretary of state to the Pope, so it’s very hard to say the Vatican did this or that.  The school was set up by exorcists who saw there wasn’t any training for priests.  A central aspect to the film is how the exorcist was trained.   On the DVD, the real school is featured; this is an aspect of what exorcists today would like to see.  But they’re cagey about it – the hierarchical reason is that it’s because it’s not something they want to emphasise, it’s a minor focus, and it’s about the bad stuff not the good stuff.  They kind of want to keep it hidden away.   But there is a need for the ritual or they wouldn’t have created the school.   Also they are cautious about it; there could be grandstanding and there are those who might use it as a platform for themselves. 



Was there ever an exorcist who became possessed as Anthony Hopkins’ did in the movie?



The movie was adapted from the book and fictionalised; I tried to be as accurate as I could because it’s non-fiction.  It’s not the same structure and one of the aspects was the idea of Anthony Hopkins character having to go through this confrontation. Nothing is theoretically impossible.  There was one exorcist who was possessed, in history so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.  It is  accurate to the theology behind exorcism and it is pleasantly surprising to me and to priests who have seen it, how impressed by the logic behind the journey – the lack of faith and then the challenge presented to an exorcism through this ministry , the constant struggle.  There is a line of thinking that the closer you are to God, the more targeted you are.  Saints have allegedly been attacked by the devil.  And you also have to be cautious about people who took on that mantle just to prove their worthiness as a Christian or a believer when it’s not necessary, people who like to think of themselves as participants.  Jesus was tempted by the devil so if Jesus and a priest, why not everyone?  They are very clear that it would be a mistake to overemphasise the power of these spirits, but we have the power, more power the demon has.  Priests are attacked; every exorcist says they’ve seen it happen.



Are there sanctioned exorcists in most cities?



Most dioceses are supposed to have exorcists but they don’t. There are some in Canada.  There are more in Italy than anywhere, about 350.  In Sicily there are 60.  In America, there aren’t as many as bishops should have so they may appoint them or don’t need them. But I should address the fact that Italy is superstitious and they may simply need priests not exorcists, someone to talk to in a unique situation.   I would say not every city has one Catholic exorcist and secular people do it if they believe they have the gift of casting out demons.



There has been great interest in exorcisms in pop culture lately; lots of possession films.  How would you account for this?



Interest in exorcism ebbs and flows.   In the 70’s the first Exorcist movie spiked interest and after that in America people were going through satanic panic.   Books written in that period screamed on the cover to run for your lives!  I really wanted to stay away from it.  That’s one reason I wanted to make it modern, in the 2000’s.  People have always been fascinated by the unknown.  We can’t say for sure if angels and demons exist.  Physicists tell us new things every day about alternative worlds.  I have read enough and talked to enough people to get sense that some people have had experiences in their own lives that make them feel they were in touch with something beyond the natural world, a visit from a dead relative or a chill, those things go across every culture and religion and the idea that an evil spirit watches us terrifies us.



You’ve take on dangerous subjects - Vatican politics, anti-mafia police, satanic cults and now exorcisms!



I have to say that the subject of exorcism was not one I was dying to write about.  It just sort of happened, I heard about a course on it.  I love looking at topics that people claim to know everything about but they don’t.  I like to go in and entertain and educate people about the reality about their own lives.  I wasn’t satisfied with the books I’d read or the movies I’d seen on the subject of the reality of exorcisms today.



My- wife wasn’t happy about (my researching exorcism) in a kind of funny way.  Most people’s reaction is if “I am I going to be a target?” Priests are like that too and many people had this reaction of “Gee, I don’t want to talk about it or read about and the devil will leave me alone”.  It’s a silly approach and I debunk it in my book, when I began the research I was much more worried and the more I got into it, the more I calmed down.  They realise these things do exist.  It’s about us, our choices and responsibilities and limits on the spirits, it’s less of a horror movie. 



 So you came out of it unscathed?



Yes, I did.  I tried to be as practical as possible and I looked into many things and I didn’t have a bad experience. In fact, it was a positive experience writing the book. It really helped me calm down and get connected to something larger than myself and that’s the same reaction people have for the film and the book.  It’s a dark topic but it’s not a dark message that people take away.



What’s next as a journalist?



Next I’m out of the church and into more politics and that espionage thing!



----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



Moguls & Movie Stars

An Interview with George Feltenstein

By Anne Brodie



The history of Hollywood is as fascinating and unexpected as the movies it creates.  The pioneering studio fathers – or “moguls” – set in motion one of the biggest industries in the world that began as a penny arcade pastime, watching “moving pictures” for a nickel.  The flickers, motion pictures, the movies have entertained fans since 1888 a process that began by refining the disparate elements of filmmaking – production, casting, writing, art, technical and distribution - into a cohesive, far-reaching whole.  Moguls and Movie Stars, a seven part documentary highlighting seven eras of Hollywood history starts with Peepshow Pioneers, runs through Brother can You Spare a Dream to the final installment, Fade Out, Fade In.  It puts the movies into context in American and world history, sociology and anthropology, economics and ultimately, shared emotion, tied together by our universal love of movies.  TCM has put the series in a handsome new boxed set that, frankly, tells all with additional footage and a 40 page booklet.   Monsters and Critics spoke with Warner’s George Feltenstein, Senior Vice President, Theatrical Catalog Marketing, and Warner Home Video about the series and its depiction of the dream factory.



M&C - This set is such a delight to a Hollywood history buffs like me.  I guess the success of TCM tells you the old Hollywood and its people and products are still widely loved.



GF: TCM has established itself as THE television destination for people who love classic movies, and they are known for wonderful original programming ABOUT classic movies. They have produced dozens of original documentaries over the years, and the network has become as well-known for these original programs as they are for the great films that make up their daily programming. They were approached by the producers of this mini-series with the idea of doing a HISTORY of HOLLYWOOD. Amazingly, it had never really been done before….at least to this scope.  In 1979, Kevin Brownlow and David Gill produced an amazing 13-part series for Thames Television called “HOLLYWOOD”, which was an amazing production that covered the history of Hollywood in depth, and brilliantly, but it was only about the SILENT screen. Their series stopped at 1929, so it was, and remains the definitive history of the silent Hollywood era but nothing covering the whole story was ever attempted in this fashion. That is, I believe what attracted the producers who made the show, to bring their idea to TCM, and so a massive project began and finally came to life.



M&C - I’m amazed what you’ve done with the limited behind the scenes footage from that period. How did they producers find the more obscure stuff?



GF: The producers looked everywhere any anywhere for many years.  They were exhaustive in their research, going through every possible source around the world to tell their story. They knew they had to go the extra mile to make the show as captivating as it turned out to be.



M&C - It’s fascinating that the pioneering moguls all came from within 500 km of Warsaw, that’s a fun fact. How did that play a part in their shared careers?

GF: It’s hard to answer that in this kind of space. However film critic Neal Gabler wrote a superb book called “AN EMPIRE OF THEIR OWN” which covers the topic in depth. That was a ground-breaking work that analyzed the historical and socio-economic conditions of the time that brought together the elements which created that specific phenomenon. I think MOGULS & MOVIE STARS did a great job of succinctly shining a light on that story



M&C - The moguls are stars in their own right. They had larger than life characters, presence, power and even personas.  Please comment.



GF: They were all different, and the degree to which they were different is reflected in the films that were made under their aegis. Some left their own indelible fingerprint, while others didn’t. For example, L.B. Mayer’s motto at MGM was “Do it big, do it right, and give it class!”  And MGM films of the 30s and 40s have a sheen to them that is unmistakable. MGM’s B pictures looked like Paramount or Fox’s A pictures.  Mayer insisted that REAL imported furniture be used in historical pictures, not studio re-creations.  He also was a highly moral man, which was reflected in the higher-minded films MGM made.

Then you have Jack Warner, who was more hooked into the ‘everyman’ and the social issues of the day. Warner films had Jack’s own ‘zest for life’ operating at some level.  Harry Cohn and Adolph Zukor were moguls as well, as the documentary illustrates, but their studio’s films are more distinctive for the directors who made them. CAPRA for Harry Cohn at Columbia or Lubitsch for Zukor at Paramount are examples of this. So it isn’t a cut and dry formula across the board but for some it was their evident lifeblood.



M&C - Does anyone have that today?



GF: The industry is so completely different today that you can’t really compare the two, and the documentary addresses that. The end of the Studio system, and the changes that came from that was the death knell to the old ways.



M&C - There aren’t any stars today the way they were.  Why not?



GF: There are many factors, and you can theorize from many angles. I think the primary reason that no longer exists is that the magic and the illusion of what made stars is gone. You didn’t have the weekend film grosses on the evening news in the 1950s, no less the 1930s.  So there is a REALITY to the film industry that has replaced the glamour of ‘old Hollywood’.  The old days saw movie stars as gods and goddesses. They weren’t perceived as ‘real people’. Today, it’s different.



M&C - The segment titles are terrific, Peepshow Pioneers, Brother Can You Spare a Dime? etc … Any ideas about what they’d call the 80, 90s and 2000’s?



GF: An overwhelming question.  I wouldn’t know where to begin.



M&C - Do you think Hollywood has failed us in recent decades?



GF:  Millions of people all over the world still pack into movie theaters every day to be entertained and enlightened by film. People laugh. People cry. Emotions are razed. Minds are made to think. Hollywood has changed, but an industry that continues to be so meaningful to so many people’s daily lives, all over the world, more than ever before has much to be proud of. 



M&C - Why is there such a craving for the old stuff?



GF: If something is well-crafted and well-done, it will live forever.  Those who grew up with great older films want to continue to see them, and new generations love to discover them.



M&C - Christopher Plummer narrates.  Why did you pick him?



GF:  Tom Brown is the great executive in charge of all TCM original productions.  I’m proud to say he is a dear friend, and we have closely collaborated on many very successful co-productions and documentaries. MOGULS, however, was truly a TCM-generated production, and we are pleased to have had a part in helping to bring it to fruition. So that question really goes to Tom or the production company. I can say that I was thrilled when Tom told me that they were going to hire Mr. Plummer. He was the magnificent narrator for our landmark documentary THE MAKING OF A LEGEND: GONE WITH THE WIND, which launched Turner Network Television (TNT in 1988), and he also narrated our BEN-HUR documentary in 1994, so there is a history there with him, and his magnificent voice makes him a truly legendary figure in the entertainment industry.



M&C - And finally just a remark, I love the TCM / Warner collaboration.  Keep it coming!



GF: Thanks! We are!


1 comment: