Archive for Ezra Goodman

Pg. 17, #5

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2020 by dcairns

I have watched the scenario work from the beginning, from the days when the main purpose of the script was to keep some prominent object moving before the eyes of the delighted audience. Naturally at that time any subtlety of motion would be wasted on a plot whose main situation took the form of a ball rolling down the hill with a frenzied mob chasing it. I now feel that scenario work is coming into its own.


“The projector will be rolling, the camera will be panning, the angle of the shots will be changing, and the distance of the shots will be changing, and all these things have their own tempo, so you have to have a tempo, too. If you sit or stand or talk the way you do at home, you look silly on the screen, incoherent. On screen, you have to be purposive. You have to be moving or not moving. One or the other. So a lot of times, in a complicated scene, the best thing to do is stand absolutely still, not moving a muscle. This would look very strange if you did it at the grocery store, but it looks okay on screen because the camera and shots are moving around you.”


Griffith was a tough directorial taskmaster–as just about all the best directors were. He once slapped Mabel Normand hard to make her crying-mad for a scene in The Mender of Nets (1912). After he shot the scene, Griffith put his arms around her and said, “There, darling, that’s what I wanted. I knew you could do it.” Lillian and Dorothy Gish recalled that when they first came to be interviewed by Griffith at the old Biograph studio in New York, he chased them all over the studio with a pistol to get their “emotional” reactions.


Sennett made certain that he was walking in the same direction as Griffith every night after work, and he began to expound some of his own ideas about the techniques of making pictures. Sennett was anxious to discuss his theories on the possibilities of screen comedy, a topic which left Griffith completely unmoved. Griffith failed to see anything funny about comic policemen, regardless of the manner in which Sennett chose to present his thesis or how many times he explained it. The topic bored Griffith then, just as it would bore him after his walking companion became world famous. Nonetheless, he was tolerant of Sennett’s opinions, and as they strolled about the city, the two men discussed motion pictures and the great future in front of them.


“I was interested in the idea of an artist at the end of the road. I wanted to write something about an artist in that predicament. It could have been any kind of artist; a painter, a writer, a concert pianist. But I had access to the biggest rock and roll singer in the world, and I was interested in that world. And there is no art form in which the violent impulse is more implicit than in rock music. And I was very interested in what was happening with Mick at that time, the flirtation with Their Satanic Majesties.”


It wasn’t enough! — Why had I made no mention of the GEEZER? Yes that was the location, enormous swim bath of vegetation, but there’d been this geezer down there, the all-important geezer, and it was from him, presumably, I’d learnt . . . what I’d now utterly forgotten — And the more I tried to recall him — the more it seemed like the act of recollection was driving him into the mists — and Fog.


When I mentioned my anxiety to my good friend Miss Ena M. Eaves, of the British Electrical Development Association, she told me of the work done on oven temperatures by Miss Bee Nilson, lecturer in nutrition at the Northern Polytechnic, and reproduced in her work, The Penguin Cookery Book.


Jeanie MacPherson, quoted in Script Girls, by Lizzie Francke, Robert Mitchum, quoted by Dave Hickey in Mitchum Gets Out of Jail, in the collection O.K. You Mugs, edited by Luc Sante, The Fifty Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood, by Ezra Goodman, Kops and Custards, The Legend of Keystone Films (A Book), by Kalton C. Lahue and Terry Brewer, Performance, by Mick Brown, Donald Cammell speaking, The Bald Trilogy, by Ken Campbell (Vol. 1, Furtive Nudist), Vegetarian Cookery, by Janet Walker.

Seven passages from seven page seventeens from seven books on my nearest shelf.

It was perhaps to be expected that two books on Hollywood history would contain references to Griffith near the start, but it wasn’t planned by me. In his passage, Campbell is trying to recall an urban visionary he met in a dream, which he then too scantily transcribed: I’m happy to be able to help him out by demonstrating that this was doubtless Griffith in oneiric flâneur mode.

The Fifty Year Declin an Fa l o oll wo

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on February 19, 2008 by dcairns



My copy of Ezra Goodman’s marvellous The Fifty Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood, which I bought for about 25p on Amazon and which arrived smelling of cabbage, is disintegrating as I read it.

I feel like Rod Taylor! No, my voice has not assumed the guttural tones of the Antipodean, nor has my nose exploded into a bulging sculpture of gesticulating cartilage, like an arthritic shadow puppet cast in flesh.

I’m thinking of Rod’s struggle with the sum total of human knowledge in George Pal’s moving and intelligent THE TIME MACHINE, where Rod touches many a dusty volume of forgotten lore which hasn’t been read in a thousand years, only for them to flake and powder into vaporous nothingness under the pressure of his hulking Aussie digits.

So I may be the last human to read this particular copy of this particular book, which has a sad finality about it. But not as sad as it’ll be if the creeping decomposition outdistances my reading speed. Better CRACK ON.

The first KINDLE

(Shouldn’t be mean about Rod — he gives a beautifully sensitive performance in TIME MACHINE, not to mention the rest of his enviable career.)

Quote of the day: Wonder Kid?

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2008 by dcairns


From Ezra Goodman’s marvellous The Fifty Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood ~

‘Director King Vidor’s story, in his autobiography, A Tree is a Tree*, about how [M.G.M. executive Irving] Thalberg coolly conducted a story conference during a funeral, is a hair-raising tip-off to the man’s character. The funeral was Mabel Normand’s, and the screen story under discussion was that of  the homicidal Billy the Kid. The busy Thalberg did not have any time to waste. The conference between him and Vidor started in a limousine on the way to the funeral, continued intermittently through the services (“Too many murders,” Thalberg whispered of the movie plot at one point), and was concluded by the time the car reached the studio again. Thalberg bounded up the steps to his office, told Vidor “I’ll call you,” and, as Vidor noted, “the story conference was at an end.”‘

tell me Mabel are you able?

Goodman’s book is full of such insights, drawn from many other sources but also from his long experience as a Hollywood press-man. The lack of respect shown by Thalberg to Normand, a key figure of the silent era (she’s rumoured to have thrown the screen’s first custard pie) is horrifying. On the very next page, Goodman gives us:

‘Thalberg’s successors never enjoyed the esteem he did. It has been said that the imposing M.G.M. executive building, named after Thalberg, is air-conditioned and hermetically sealed “so that the ghost of Irving can’t get in to see what they are doing.”‘

Lovely. And he’s good at demolishing the myth of Thalberg’s genius: ‘For sheer bad taste and bad movie-making, it would not have been easy to beat some of the pictures Thalberg turned out,’ — I’m inclined to agree. Then as now, the pursuit of “quality” in Hollywood is usually an alibi for middlebrow tedium and/or vulgarity. The really interesting work is made by people who are aiming for something more, or less.

*I haven’t got this book and I WANT IT! But I do have A Cast of Killers, by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick, which details Vidor’s retirement project: investigating the 1922 murder of film director William Desmond Taylor, a case which involved numerous Hollywood greats — including Mabel Normand. Film directors don’t like unsolved murder cases, especially when the victim is a film director: it’s what you call a vested interest. Plus they tend not to like inconclusive endings in Hollywood. Anyhow, Vidor, being a storyteller, convinces himself of a massive conspiracy, which may well be true but is just the story you’d expect from him. Fiona and I love the idea of Vidor as detective. He could carry a badge with the M.G.M. lion on it and say things like “Freeze! King Vidor!”

Where were you on the night of February 1st 1922?