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Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film – 11/13 – Trick of the Light


The excellent 1980 documentary series from Kevin Brownlow and David Gill for Thames Television, narrated by James Mason with much rare footage and many great interviews, including some of the only ever interviews with key players from the time.


Hollywood (also known as Hollywood: A Celebration of the American Silent Film) is a 1980 documentary series produced by Thames Television which explored the establishment and development of the Hollywood studios and their impact on 1920s culture

The series consists of thirteen fifty-minute episodes, with each episode dealing with a specific aspect of Hollywood history. The actor James Mason, an enthusiast of the period, supplied the narration while a lilting score was contributed by Carl Davis

Technical quality was an important aspect of the production. Silent films had often been screened on television from poor-quality copies running at an inaccurate speed, usually accompanied by honky tonky piano music. Hollywood used silent film clips sourced from the best available material, shown at their original running speed and with an orchestral score, giving viewers a chance to see what they originally looked and sounded like. For instance, the first episode features a clip of Life of an American Fireman, produced in 1903 with the aforementioned stereotypical poor quality print and music and then compares that with a clip of The Fire Brigade, produced in over two decades later in 1926, in a high quality print run at the proper speed with full orchestral accompaniment.

The producers filmed the recollections of many of the period’s surviving participants, and illustrated their interviews with scenes from their various films, as well as production still photographs, and historical photographs of the Los Angeles environs. Some of these interviews are notable for being among the only filmed interviews given by their subjects.

Among the notable people who contributed interviews were:

Actors – Mary AstorEleanor BoardmanLouise BrooksOlive CareyIron Eyes CodyJackie CooganDolores CostelloViola DanaDouglas Fairbanks, Jr.Janet GaynorLeatrice JoyLillian GishBessie LoveBen LyonMarion MackTim McCoyColleen MooreCharles ‘Buddy’ RogersGloria SwansonBlanche SweetJohn Wayne, and Lois Wilson.

Directors – Dorothy ArznerClarence BrownKarl BrownFrank CapraGeorge CukorAllan DwanByron HaskinHenry HathawayHenry KingLewis MilestoneHal RoachAlbert S. RogellKing Vidor, and William Wyler.

Also interviewed were choreographer Agnes de Mille, writer Anita Loos, writer Adela Rogers St. Johns, press agent/writer Cedric Belfrage, organist Gaylord Carter, cinematographers George J. FolseyLee Garmes and Paul Ivano, writer Jesse L. Lasky, Jr., special effects artist A. Arnold GillespieLord Mountbatten, agent Paul Kohner, producer/writer Samuel Marx, editors William Hornbeck and Grant Whytock, property man “Lefty” Hough, stuntmen Bob RoseYakima Canutt, Paul Malvern, and Harvey Parry, Rudolph Valentino’s brother, Alberto Valentino and English set designer Laurence Irving..

“Trick of the Light” – Skilled cameramen had the ability to turn an actress into a screen goddess, and were valuable assets to studios and stars. With the aid of art directors, they achieved some of the most amazing and dangerous sequences captured on film, pioneering photography effects used through the remainder of the 20th century. Interviews include William Wyler and Lillian Gish.

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