Hollywood: An Oral History by Janine Basinger and Sam Wasson – Dinner with the Stars | Movie books

TThe American Film Institute (AFI) is where Hollywood’s collective memory lives. Anyone who was (or still is) anyone, from Harold Lloyd to Barbra Streisand, had their brains smashed and the results transcribed and deposited in the AFI vaults for safekeeping. Distinguished film historian Janine Basinger and journalist Sam Wasson have been given access to these treasures, from which they have pieced together what they call the “Oral History of Hollywood”. In other words, here are 400 cinema insiders, including directors, makeup artists, and actors, recounting what it was like to make a living.

The result is fantastic in all the ways you might expect and some you might not. The truth, for example, is that many of Hollywood’s first men were World War I veterans (from both sides) who trained in aerial photography and wanted to continue doing something similar on the civilian street. They had also, of course, gone through hell and yearned to build an alternate moral world where good had defeated evil and there was always a loyal and beautiful girl patiently waiting at the end. On why the West Coast was chosen for this new project, Henry Blanc, producer of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, explains: “There was an eternal sun here. The lenses were slow. The movie was slow. Everything was slow, and I needed sun. Sun. Lots of it.” . Later, when the sound came, the fact that Hollywood was “wild” helped immensely. “Sunset Street wasn’t even paved,” recalls one old dealer, minimizing the roar of traffic.

This attitude of making the best of things extended in all directions. There is a section about advent Hayes Code The late 1920s—that strict set of rules designed to purge Hollywood of its primal depravity in the bathtub. Now no one can get naked on screen, kiss with tongues, or stab someone else’s mother. To make matters more complicated, the rules were applied differently in each state, and the result, says Planck, “you never recognized the picture I took from state to state. It was awful.” On the other hand, Billy Wilder fondly remembers Hayes’ code: “There are times I wish we could still have because the fun came out of it…we had to be smart. To say, ‘You son of a bitch,'” you’d have to say, ‘If it was You have a mother, she will bark.”

A word about methodology. The intent of the Basinger and Wasson cut-and-paste process is to create the impression that all of these interviewees are in the same room at the same time, dressed up for each other. So, for example, Wilder and Blanc chew up the fat related to the Hayes symbol over an after-dinner drink at the Romanoff’s. While, in fact, the two men have been interviewed on various occasions without knowing what others might say. Sometimes this subtle braiding and slicing works just the way the writers want it, so that the effect is of a high-profile seminar for Hollywood’s greats and their benefactors. Other times, the outcome is disjointed and resembles a scene in which friends keep juggling each other in a bustling restaurant.

However, the revelations keep appearing. There’s Meryl Streep kvetching on how she likes to get done in four shots as Robert De Niro keeps it going. Michael Ovitz is saddened by the fact that Hi Dolly! It was a huge disaster: “I mean, it cost 25 million dollars. That would be like three or four hundred million dollars today. I mean, it almost sank the company.” Director George Seaton remembers Montgomery Clift, that wretched soul who yearned to be a methodical actor rather than a modern-day idol. While filming The Search, Clift insisted that his Russian acting coach be brought to the set, much to everyone’s dismay. Then there’s Gene Kelly, the guy who put his muscles into modern musical masculinity, admitting he’d love to have Buster Keaton’s boneless body: “I often wish I did. He was a total genius, and there was a lot of dancing inherent in his moves.” They were dancers.”

Inevitably, sometimes a phony conversation can start to sound like a lot of seniors grumbling. Ismael Merchant complains that the CEOs are here today and are leaving tomorrow. Mike Nichols says the only plot they want these days is Cinderella or Rocky. Jack Nicholson sets out to say that the pancakes at the International House of Pancakes on Sunset weren’t what they used to be. Despite this, there are a few positive souls who are determined to look on the bright side among these feelings. Faye Ray, who was waving a hot King Kong paw in 1933, is happy to at least now mirror the studios with air conditioning, which is fun and great protection against that necessary eternal sun.

Hollywood: Oral History Published by Faber & Faber (£25). To support the Guardian and Controller, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

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