THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Warner Brothers Story (****)

You Must Remember This: The Warner Bothers Story
American Masters, PBS Television
3-part series airing Sept. 23-25, 2008 at 9 PM

Ah, my peeps, mon freres, my namesakes...the Warner Brothers. Alas, no relation to me, regrettably, but I can dream can't I? Anyway, this excellent three-part series debuted Monday night at 9 PM on Maryland Public Television and while I originally was gonna watch G4's repeats of Lost or Andrew Zimmern eating scorpions and chicken balls and other disgusting comestibles on Bizarre Foods, I promised a co-worker I would tape this special for him - and I'm glad I did. It's the latest excellent documentary produced, written and directed by award-winning filmmaker and Time magazine Senior Film critic Richard Schickel. As narrated by Clint Eastwood, it's the centerpiece of Warner Home Video's year-long celebration of the studio's 85th anniversary, which coincides with the reissue of more than 50 titles for DVD release and new special editions of select Warner Brothers classics.

Before the Warner Brothers turned their ardent anti-Fascist fervor of the 30s and 40s to Red-baiting in the 1950s (following a nasty post-war labor union strike at the studio), this studio was the home of the best in Pre-Code permissiveness (viz Baby Face), working-class social realism (I Was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang, The Gold Diggers of 1933), civil rights/social injustice (Black Legion was a direct attack on the Ku Klux Klan, though "foreigners" were substituted as the target of the KKK's ire instead of the too-close-to-home, still-invisible-to-Hollywood African-Americans), and crime/gangster films (Little Caesar, White Heat). They were also the studio that released the first (semi-) "Talkie" with 1927's The Jazz Singer and the first to take on fascism directly with 1939's Confessions of a Nazi Spy. Not to mention they were home to such golden era-classics as The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, Key Largo, To Have and To Hold (hmmmm, all starring Humphrey Bogart, who Jack Warner didn't think was "star" material) etc. So, a pretty good pedigree there, dating back to the Rin Tin Tin era all the way up to the Harry Potter film franchise. Anyway, here's a much better take on the series from TCM's website.
New Documentary is Centerpiece of Warner Home Video's Year-Long Celebration of Studio's 85th Anniversary

On April 24, 1923, four brothers from Youngstown, Ohio (Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack L. Warner) officially incorporated their new motion picture company which to this day continues to entertain the world with great films.

Throughout 2008, Warner Home Video (WHV) will celebrate Warner Bros. (WB) Studios’ 85th anniversary with an initiative that will debut more than 50 new-to-DVD feature films along with its centerpiece, You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story, an illuminating new documentary produced, written and directed by award-winning filmmaker and Time magazine Senior Film critic Richard Schickel. Clint Eastwood narrates.

As part of the partnership with American Masters, You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story will be broadcast nationally as a three-part special in September 2008.

Susan Lacy, the creator and executive producer of American Masters, which is produced by Thirteen/WNET New York, noted "Given our long co-producing relationship with Warner Bros. -- on such projects as George Cukor, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and John Ford/John Wayne - it is thrilling and appropriate that American Masters can bring You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story to PBS."

“PBS’ American Masters is acclaimed for its exceptional documentaries illuminating our collective past, whether through individual achievements, or in this case, through the vision of a film studio,” said John F. Wilson, Sr. Vice President and Chief TV Programming Executive, PBS. “Exploring this impressive body of Warner Bros. films to more fully understand America’s unique place in history will be a wonderful and entertaining journey for our viewers.”

The DVD debuts in September. Simultaneously, a 550-page full-color companion book -- written by Schickel and George Perry, with an introduction by Eastwood -- will be published worldwide. George Perry is the former The Times of London film critic and is the author of many books on film.

In the documentary, Schickel chronicles the history of Warner Bros. in an unprecedented way, using excerpts from hundreds of Warner Bros.’ films to illustrate how many of the studio’s films have served as a mirror of the values, mores and attitudes of the eras in which they were produced.

“This documentary is definitely in Richard’s DNA. His fascination with Warner Bros. goes back to his boyhood in Milwaukee where the only theatre in town was owned by Warner,” said George Feltenstein, Senior Vice President, Theatrical Catalog Marketing, and Warner Home Video. “It’s a groundbreaking work that, rather than dealing with executive intrigue, contract disputes or casting couch adventures, focuses on the studio’s films as a microcosm of America’s cultural and social history. It’s a unique cinematic achievement which has never been attempted on this level ever before - for this or any studio.”

To help celebrate the 85th anniversary year, from the vast WB library among the industry’s most celebrated movies, more than 50 are being restored for their DVD release this year including: All This And Heaven, Too, The Beast With Five Fingers, Black Legion, Brother Orchid, Deception, Flamingo Road, Gold Diggers Of 1937, Inside Daisy Clover, Kid Galahad, Lady Killer, The Mayor Of Hell, Night Nurse, None But The Brave, Pete Kelly’s Blues, San Antonio, Thank Your Lucky Stars, Three On A Match, Virginia City and Watch On The Rhine.

New special editions of Warner Bros. Pictures favorites including Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand Luke, Gypsy, Risky Business, and Splendor in the Grass are also set for the anniversary year celebration. A number of other new-to-DVD special editions and thematic box sets drawn from Warner’s classic MGM and RKO collections will also be part of this anniversary slate.

On August 31, the Hollywood Bowl’s “Big Picture” night will honor the studio’s magnificent movie music legacy with a special Warner Bros. musical concert to be held at the famed 18,000 seat amphitheatre. The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, led by one of Hollywood’s foremost composers, David Newman, will perform music to accompany pivotal and well-known scenes from classic Warner Bros. films.

Clint Eastwood, who has worked with Richard Schickel on a number of projects, will narrate the documentary. The creative force behind many earlier works about Warner’s talented stars and directors, Schickel now takes on the task of telling the studio's entire history, with each sequence underscoring the crucial roles Warner Bros. and its films have played in portraying our society, a role the studio still plays today, some 85 years after its incorporation.

Through the use of rare archival interviews, some of which have not been seen for decades, as well as a great deal of newly photographed material, Schickel celebrates the colorful legacy of Warner Bros. throughout the decades, featuring cleverly assembled film clips from literally hundreds of films. Each of the documentary's hour-long sequences focus on a specific period in the studio's history, from the silent movie days and the development of sound, the depression, WWII, the advent of television, the onset of new technologies, and even the broadening and diversification of media companies in recent years.

Schickel engagingly retraces the legendary insights and demystifies the myths of some of Hollywood’s most magnificent productions such as The Jazz Singer, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Exorcist, All The President’s Men and the Batman and Harry Potter films; and talent from the likes of legends such as Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Newman, James Dean, Doris Day, James Cagney, Joan Crawford, Paul Newman, Warren Beatty, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro, Barbra Streisand and George Clooney. As the films from Warner Bros. studios have served as a roadmap and mirror of our social history, You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story is sure to be viewed as an entertaining and unique roadmap to the colorful history of Hollywood and filmed entertainment.

For more information about Richard Schickel and his work, visit www.richardschickel.com

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