Archive for The Fifty Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood

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?

Quote of the day: The scented volume.

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on January 24, 2008 by dcairns

Lady with Torch

“It’s not a business, it’s a racket.”

~ Harry Cohn, quoted in Ezra Goodman’s The Fifty Year Decline and Fall of Hollywood.

looky looky looky here comes booky

My copy of this just arrived. Looks GREAT! And was very cheap, but — smells funny. You know, just kind of… funny.

Can’t complain. The price was low low low. But still… what IS that smell???

(Opening the book at random in search of other nice lines, I find this, Cecil B. DeMille’s summary of his movie-making philosophy. It sounds tried and true but oddly I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before ~ ‘I will trade you forty gorgeously beautiful Hawaiian sunsets for one good sock on the jaw.’)