Episode 1 Paul Merton's Birth of Hollywood


Episode 1

Paul Merton pays tribute to Hollywood to mark its 100th anniversary. In this episode, he explores how the early pioneers laid down the blueprint for today's cinema industry.


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Transcript


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Here we go. Good luck, everyone.

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This is Hollywood!

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MUSIC: "Hooray For Hollywood"

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One of the most famous places on the planet - Hollywood,

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one word with a million cinematic associations.

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But if you and I were standing on exactly the same spot 100 years ago,

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we would be looking out on hundreds and thousands of orange groves,

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growing a million oranges.

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And amidst that budding fruit - a small town.

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So how and why did the American film industry

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end up here, in this rural hamlet

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and who were the geniuses, the visionaries, the eccentrics,

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who created this weird alchemy of art and industry?

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This is the epic story of the birth of Hollywood

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and how it set the blue print for today's cinema industry.

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Film began as simple, silent images

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trapped inside a wooden box

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viewed by one person at a time at funfairs.

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Yet within 20 years, film had become both a legitimate art form

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and the dominant entertainment medium of its age.

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Silent films transcended language

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and visual jokes could be appreciated throughout the world.

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Hugely-popular films

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transformed previously anonymous stage actors

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into the most famous people on the planet.

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In just a few short years,

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they became movie stars.

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The DNA of Hollywood was established in two tumultuous decades,

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from 1910 to 1930.

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By the end of the silent era,

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every aspect of movie-making had been conquered.

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The big studios, the big stars,

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documentaries, animation,

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sound, colour, and yes, even 3D.

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An extraordinary spurt of creative growth,

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but the American film industry did not begin here in Hollywood.

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It began here in New York,

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3,000 miles away.

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New York - the physical embodiment of the 20th century.

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Sky scrapers, millions of people, traffic noise.

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But of course, back at the beginning of the 20th century,

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it didn't sound like this.

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It sounded more like this...

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HORSES' HOOVES

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As the film industry took its first faltering steps,

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America was a very different place.

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Industrialisation was changing the country.

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TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS

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Millions of immigrants sailed to this new land of opportunity.

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Ellis Island -

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the newcomers' first experience of America.

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In the first decade of the 20th century,

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approximately ten million immigrants arrived in America,

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many of them escaping poverty or persecution in Europe.

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After sailing 3,000 miles across the ocean

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they were processed here in the main hall on Ellis Island.

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On a busy day, there'd be thousands of people in here,

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their various languages bouncing off each other.

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Scattered amongst the millions pouring in to America,

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were several penniless young men who would one day run the American film industry.

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They would become the movie moguls

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behind the most celebrated film studios in the world.

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But the first big character in our story is Thomas Edison.

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The prolific American-born inventor

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personified the spirit of the age -

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a tireless pursuer of new ideas.

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Thomas Edison's most famous invention, the phonograph,

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was the world's first device for recording and playing back sound.

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He was based here in West Orange, New Jersey,

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in these buildings behind me.

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He headed a creative team of inventors,

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a juggernaut of creative output.

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These buildings now are the Edison Museum.

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Another Edison company invention

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was the Kinetoscope.

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This is the pattern shop

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where the prototype for the Kinetoscope was first developed.

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The Kinetoscope worked rather like

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a "what the butler saw" peepshow machine.

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Viewed by one individual at a time,

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the viewer would have to crank their own handle.

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The Kinetoscope was all the rage in 1893.

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People would watch moving images of strong men, cock fights and exotic dancers.

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For the first time ever, people could witness events they weren't present at.

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Boxing matches were illegal in many states,

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but now you can watch a boxing match any time you liked.

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Just put your eyes to the viewfinder and there it was.

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The Kinetoscope was like a primitive version of YouTube.

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Both inventions exhibited a taste for the brutal, the entertaining

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and the downright daft.

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The Kinetoscope used 35mm film with a line of sprocket holes either side.

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This is still the industry standard today.

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These early films were made inside the world's first purpose-built movie studio.

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And this is the replica of it behind me here.

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The whole thing is mounted on a turntable so it can follow the sun,

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with a hole in the roof allowing the sunshine to flow inside

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to illuminate the action.

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This is inside the replica of the world's first film studio.

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Edison claimed the credit, but the real driving force behind the Kinetoscope,

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in fact he invented it, was one of Edison's employees, William Dickson.

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It was he who produced and directed these early films.

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This is William Dickson playing the violin.

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This experimental film was made before the invention of women.

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William Dickson, the true inventor of the Kinetoscope,

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left the Edison company in 1895 to set up his own studio,

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the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, here in Manhattan,

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and their studio was up on the roof, up there.

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Because the Kinetoscope only allowed one person to view the contents at any one time,

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it was destined to remain a fairground novelty.

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The final step into cinema was taken by the Lumiere brothers in Paris in 1895,

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when they successfully projected images onto a big screen.

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Film, no longer exclusively a solitary experience,

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now had an audience.

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The first classic of the American screen, The Great Train Robbery, wasn't made until 1903.

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This colourful effect was achieved by hand-painting the individual frames.

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The film was produced by the Edison company and directed by Edwin S Porter.

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Edwin Porter was heavily influenced by the European pioneers,

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and particularly the Englishman James Williamson, born in Brighton.

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Here is Williamson's Fire in 1901.

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And here is Edwin S Porter's Life Of An American Fireman, released two years later.

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By the mid-1900s, millions of blue-collar Americans

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were flocking to rudimentary cinemas called nickelodeons.

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These were mostly converted shop fronts -

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cramped, stifling, smelly places filled with enthusiastic audiences

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captivated by the light shining in the dark.

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Not all nickelodeons were in converted shop fronts.

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Other empty buildings were used as well.

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The Sunshine behind me used to be a Dutch Reformed Church.

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The audiences who attended these early nickelodeons were largely immigrants.

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Russian Jews, Germans, Italians, Polish.

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Though they had little grasp of English,

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they were able to enjoy this new visual medium.

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The first nickelodeons opened up in 1905,

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and the audiences tended to get very involved in the on-screen happenings.

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EXCITED MURMURING

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The American film industry grew to meet the demands of the nickelodeon audience.

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I'm in the New Jersey town of Fort Lee, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

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A lot of the very early film companies made their home here in Fort Lee.

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Fort Lee had great scenery and plenty of it.

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The term "cliffhanger" was first coined to describe films made here,

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literally on the edge of a cliff.

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This is The Perils Of Pauline, starring Pearl White.

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These early films, with the same character every week,

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were the forerunner of today's soap operas.

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The films may have had height but they lacked distinction.

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Stage actors looked down on the so-called "flickers",

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and if you were caught working in a film,

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this could be considered detrimental

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to your professional stage reputation.

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No, the prestige lay in legitimate theatre - Shakespeare -

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not in showing mute black-and-white images

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on a dirty bed sheet, designed to entertain lower classes.

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But that attitude would change.

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Enter DW Griffith, an unsuccessful stage actor and playwright

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who found himself in Fort Lee one summer

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looking for acting work in films.

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DW Griffith was born in Kentucky in 1875.

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His father, a casualty of the Civil War, had fought on the side of the South.

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His love of storytelling began as a young boy.

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Griffith would listen, transfixed, as his father told battle stories

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about his experiences in the American Civil War.

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These were highly-partisan accounts,

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but DW worshipped his father Jacob and believed every word.

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As an adult, DW Griffith's love of storytelling

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played a hugely significant part in establishing the American movie as an art form.

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But by 1907, artistic immortality was still eluding DW.

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He thought of himself as a man of the theatre, a man of great destiny.

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Unfortunately, destiny wasn't impressed.

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In that same year, 1907, he became a movie actor,

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working for the Edison company here in Fort Lee,

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making a film called Rescued From The Eagle's Nest.

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Intended as a melodrama, it has many unintentional comic moments.

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Here is DW Griffith attempting to rescue the baby.

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Stand amazed as he fights a battle to the death

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with an eagle that's clearly been dead for some time.

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In 1908, Griffith found acting work

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at the Biograph film company in New York.

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One of the directors didn't turn up one day

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and DW was offered a chance

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to direct his first movie, The Adventures Of Dollie.

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The film, a fast-paced kidnapping melodrama,

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was greeted enthusiastically by audiences.

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The director's job at Biograph in 1908 was really quite simple.

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Because the camera never moved, somebody had to make sure

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that the actors wouldn't suddenly walk out of the frame and disappear entirely from the film.

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Someone had to tell them to walk back into the shot.

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In fact, the most important person on the set was not the director but the cameraman.

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In this case, Billy Bitzer.

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Billy had to hand-crank the camera at a constant rate,

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ensuring the film didn't suddenly speed up or slow down.

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But DW Griffith was a great organiser

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and a great believer in himself,

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which helped him quickly become a prolific director.

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In 1908, he made 60 films.

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If you think that's going some, in 1909 he made over 100,

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most of the films being around 15 minutes long.

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Often, the films were improvised, with very little script worked out in advance.

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Griffith rapidly gained a reputation as a director who was good with actors.

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They trusted him.

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As the films were silent, Griffith could coach his cast through the performances he wanted.

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Here is Mary Pickford in The New York Hat.

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Griffith saw himself as a great artist, a sensitive poet.

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His repertory company were deeply in awe of him.

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A reverential hush would settle on the set

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whenever DW was ready to direct.

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Are you ready, Bitzer?

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Ready, sir.

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Camera...

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and...

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and...

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action.

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You're having a bad dream.

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Think of the hat.

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Now wake up!

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And you're thinking of the hat again.

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You realise it will never be yours.

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Now the minister comes in.

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You're taking the hat out of the box.

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You feel faint.

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You're remembering your mother's last wishes.

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Mixed emotions.

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Mixed emotions.

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Beautiful.

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Although Biograph's studios were in New York,

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DW very rarely used New York exteriors.

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One notable exception was The Musketeers Of Pig Alley.

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The film was praised for its bold framing.

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New York gangsters on screen were pussycats in comparison to the real-life crooks

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who were proving to be a nightmare for many film makers.

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And that was largely down to Thomas Edison.

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This is Edison's office.

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He asserted that the movies were his invention alone.

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For every single foot of film run through a camera or a projector, then you owed Edison money.

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In 1908, he established a cartel, or a "Trust", as he preferred to call it,

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who insisted to exhibitors that only their films could be shown.

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The Biograph film company was one that joined

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and paid Edison for the right to make films.

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The Trust enforced its will by employing thugs or hired goons

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to destroy the camera equipment of companies not belonging to the trust.

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These smaller companies couldn't afford to pay Edison

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and so they decided, many of them, to make the 3,000-mile rail journey

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from New York to Southern California.

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In California, they were beyond the reach of Edison's thugs

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and when they came here,

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they realised the sun shone 300 days of the year,

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land was cheap to rent,

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and there was enough space to stretch out and experiment.

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They sent word back to Fort Lee,

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"We have discovered film-making heaven and it's called Los Angeles."

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In this freer environment, many directors became directors for the very first time.

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Allan Dwan was one of them.

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They got me a little megaphone

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and then they carefully taught me what to say.

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First, you say, "Camera," and the camera starts to turn.

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Then you say, "Action," and when we get through acting,

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you say "cut".

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Now you learn that, "Camera, action, cut."

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So I studied all day and learned it.

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And the director was away on a binge, he was an alcoholic,

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and they were waiting for him to come back and put them to work.

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So I wired the company in Chicago and said,

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"You have no director, I suggest you disband the company."

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And they wired back, "You direct."

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So I told the company, I got them together and I said,

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"Now, either I'm a director, or you're out of work."

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And they said, "You're the best damn director we ever saw."

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DW Griffith was one of the first directors to move to California.

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In January 1910, DW Griffith brought his Biograph actors

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to this hotel here, the Hotel Alexandria in Los Angeles.

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As an employee of one of the Trust companies, he had no need to fear Edison's thugs,

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but he wanted to avoid the short days and weak sunlight of the eastern winter.

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The plan was to make a dozen films

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around these streets here and up in the hills

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and then eventually return east.

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This early Griffith film, called Faithful,

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shows Hollywood as it was 100 years ago.

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Among the performers that DW brought to Hollywood was Mary Pickford.

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Mary Pickford first appeared on stage at the age of eight years old.

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By 1909, at the age of 17, she was looking for a job.

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Like all stage actors at that time, she looked down on the movies.

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This was rather ironic, as stage actors themselves were considered the lowest of the low,

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so it was a bit of a novelty for them to be able to look down on somebody else.

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She'd heard that the Biograph film studio in New Jersey

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were hiring young actresses so she went along.

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She met DW Griffith. She wasn't particularly impressed by him.

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He, on the other hand, was mightily impressed by her.

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He liked her fieriness, her sense of self-esteem,

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her insistence on being called "Miss Pickford",

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and also that she was a proper actress who appeared on the proper stage.

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DW Griffith hired her, moved her to Hollywood

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and together in their first year, they made 42 films.

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From these simple beginnings with Biograph and Griffith,

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Mary would go on to become the most powerful woman Hollywood has ever known.

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Although she was immensely popular,

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cinema audiences didn't know her name.

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She was simply "the Biograph girl".

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Mary was also a tough and shrewd businesswoman.

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Mary Pickford was walking down the street one day

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when she noticed a large crowd gathered outside a cinema.

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She went over.

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She saw they were advertising a film starring "the Biograph girl",

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with huge photographs of her.

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To Mary's mind, this meant that Biograph should be paying her a hell of a lot more money.

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Biograph didn't agree. To them, the actor was the most expendable part of any film.

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Mary Pickford had no intention of either being expendable or anonymous.

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She was tempted away from Biograph by Carl Laemmle's company, Independent Moving Pictures,

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which would later become part of Universal Pictures.

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As well as substantially more money, Pickford was promised

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that her name would be placed above the title of all her films

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and in all cinema advertising.

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During 1911, Mary Pickford appeared in 34 films for Laemmle.

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In The Dream, we vividly witness two acting styles -

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the berserk against Mary's naturalism.

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Carl Laemmle was born into a German Jewish family.

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Following the death of his mother, he emigrated to America when he was 17 years old.

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He was part of a new breed of entrepreneur,

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businessmen who had grasped the huge potential of the movies -

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a business so new, it had no established anti-Semitism.

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It was my father, Joseph, who travelled to America first.

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That was sometime in the 1880s.

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-Then the next one was Carl, Carl Laemmle.

-Mm-hm.

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He was only 17 when he came to America

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and, of course, he did not speak the language and...

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..it was going to be a tough goal,

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because they only had 50 apiece on them,

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and so they were headed for an adventure.

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He bought a theatre, yes, and it... They had the nickelodeon.

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-I think it was five cents, something like that.

-Yes, yes.

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And... he ended up buying another theatre.

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He liked the picture business.

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He liked that, showing films,

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and, of course, he ended up with Universal.

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And I believe there was a zoo. Was there a zoo?

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-Oh, there was a fabulous zoo.

-And what sort of animals?

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It had just about every animal you can imagine.

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One in particular, a camel, that would frequently get loose

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and travel the mile up to the front lot where we lived,

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and there was a huge lawn there that was very tasty for camels

0:28:090:28:16

and he would graze there

0:28:160:28:18

and I would wake up sometimes in the morning and there he would be.

0:28:180:28:25

And so I'd get a little dish of oatmeal and I'd lure him into one of the garages

0:28:250:28:32

and he seemed to be comfortable there with the oatmeal and then I'd come back

0:28:320:28:38

and phone down to the zoo and tell them that I had their camel,

0:28:380:28:44

you know, and to come up and pick him up.

0:28:440:28:46

But it was so much fun. It was wonderful. I loved it.

0:28:460:28:50

Another European immigrant was the Hungarian-born Adolph Zukor.

0:28:530:28:58

He would become head of Paramount Pictures.

0:28:580:29:01

He was 16 years old when he arrived in America.

0:29:010:29:04

He got a job in the fur trade, which taught him that the public

0:29:040:29:07

were happy to pay more for extra quality.

0:29:070:29:11

Adolph Zukor wanted to appeal to the burgeoning middle classes.

0:29:110:29:14

He reasoned they had more money and would be prepared to spend it

0:29:140:29:18

to watch good-quality theatrical productions.

0:29:180:29:22

He bought the film rights to a French movie

0:29:220:29:24

about Queen Elizabeth, starring the celebrated stage actress of a generation, Sarah Bernhardt.

0:29:240:29:29

Sarah Bernhardt's acting technique was formed on stage

0:29:330:29:37

in the latter half of the 19th century.

0:29:370:29:40

Can you spot the moment she discovers there's a dead man in the room?'

0:29:400:29:44

But the film achieved what Adolph Zukor wanted.

0:29:500:29:53

A serious actress in a serious play conveyed instant prestige.

0:29:530:29:59

Attracting a middle class audience to the movies was a key element

0:29:590:30:03

in the development of film as an artistic medium.

0:30:030:30:07

Yet another European immigrant, Charlie Chaplin, was born in London.

0:30:110:30:15

By the age of nine he was appearing on the professional music hall.

0:30:150:30:18

At the age of 24 he was touring America in a stage show

0:30:180:30:22

when he was spotted by Mack Sennett's studios.

0:30:220:30:25

Mack Sennett was Hollywood's biggest comedy producer.

0:30:250:30:28

He ran Keystone Comedies.

0:30:280:30:30

Here is Charlie's first day working inside Sennett's Keystone lot.

0:30:300:30:35

Mack Sennett took one of the more traditional routes into movie-making.

0:30:470:30:51

He'd been a mediocre stage actor before becoming a mediocre film actor.

0:30:510:30:55

If you think that's a bit harsh, have a look.

0:30:560:30:58

Perhaps the worst comic actor in the history of the movies.

0:31:020:31:06

'Let's put that spit back where it belongs.'

0:31:060:31:09

Mack Sennett opened up the Keystone Studios,

0:31:130:31:16

the world's first studios entirely devoted to the making of comedy films.

0:31:160:31:20

It opened here in 1912 - the big white building behind me.

0:31:200:31:23

Soon they were churning out two to three short films a week.

0:31:230:31:28

Mack Sennett was quite open in admitting that he stole most of his ideas

0:31:280:31:32

from the early French Pathe comedies.

0:31:320:31:34

This is a Pathe Comedy featuring hapless policemen falling over.

0:31:390:31:43

And here are Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops.

0:31:450:31:48

Initially, Keystone Comedies were made without a script or much pre-planning.

0:31:570:32:02

When Mack Sennett heard that the lake here in Echo Park was being drained,

0:32:020:32:06

he sent over a cameraman and a cast of comedians to make a film.

0:32:060:32:10

The drawback of this approach is inherently clear in the movie.

0:32:100:32:14

Once the water is drained from the lake, we are left with two stuck boats

0:32:180:32:23

with little prospect of the famous Keystone fast-paced action.

0:32:230:32:27

Psychological motivation was never a strong concern at the Sennett Studios

0:32:270:32:32

and here the actors, for no plausible reason,

0:32:320:32:36

throw themselves off stationery boats and into the glorious mud.

0:32:360:32:39

This bridge is in exactly the same location as the original Echo Park bridge,

0:32:480:32:52

and that bridge featured in a hell of a lot of Keystone comedies.

0:32:520:32:56

Roscoe Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin - they all ran across this bridge...

0:32:560:33:00

and now it's my turn.

0:33:000:33:01

The Keystone philosophy was to always end on a chase,

0:33:190:33:22

and the custard pie fight was also heavily associated with the studio.

0:33:220:33:27

It's one of the things we know about silent comedies -

0:33:270:33:29

they're full of people throwing custard pies at each other.

0:33:290:33:33

Except they're not. Very few Keystone films feature them.

0:33:330:33:36

Occasionally there is the flung pastry here and there but generally speaking,

0:33:360:33:40

the object of choice to be thrown is the simple brick,

0:33:400:33:43

easily found at the side of the road,

0:33:430:33:45

whereas a custard pie fight can only plausibly take place in a bakery.

0:33:450:33:50

In Mabel At The Wheel, Charlie Chaplin in the distance is giving as good as he gets.

0:33:560:34:02

Mabel At The Wheel nearly finished Charlie Chaplin's film career.

0:34:070:34:11

He argued with the star and director, Mabel Normand,

0:34:110:34:14

that he wasn't being given enough time to develop his gags.

0:34:140:34:17

She threw him off the picture.

0:34:170:34:19

After tempers calmed down, it was agreed that Charlie would help Mabel to finish her film,

0:34:190:34:24

providing he was allowed to direct his next.

0:34:240:34:27

This is a pivotal moment in film history.

0:34:270:34:30

One moment Chaplin's career was nearly over,

0:34:300:34:32

the next he's directing his own pictures

0:34:320:34:34

and taking a giant step to becoming the most famous man in the world.

0:34:340:34:38

Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand and Charlie Chaplin

0:34:400:34:42

later starred together in a Keystone comedy,

0:34:420:34:45

just to show there were no hard feelings.

0:34:450:34:47

Mack Sennett created the conditions for comedy to thrive.

0:35:030:35:06

The relaxed relationship between Charlie and his employer is glimpsed here,

0:35:060:35:10

much to Charlie's amusement.

0:35:100:35:12

But at the film's finale, we are in no doubt as to who's boss.

0:35:160:35:20

Chaplin needed to direct his own work.

0:35:250:35:29

In this early Keystone film not directed by Charlie

0:35:290:35:32

the director immediately cuts away from the legs hooked on to the windowsill.

0:35:320:35:37

Under his own direction in The Rounders,

0:35:370:35:40

Charlie allows the hooked legs to properly register.

0:35:400:35:45

Charlie Chaplin's co-star in The Rounders was Roscoe Arbuckle.

0:35:510:35:55

Roscoe worked under the name of Fatty, a name he detested.

0:35:550:35:59

His friends always called him Roscoe.

0:35:590:36:01

Roscoe had been a successful Vaudeville actor when he first met Mack Sennett

0:36:010:36:05

but within a few months of working at Keystone, Roscoe was directing his own films.

0:36:050:36:09

When Charlie came up with the idea of the tramp character,

0:36:090:36:12

he borrowed a pair of Roscoe's outsized trousers for comic effect.

0:36:120:36:16

In The Rounders, the two of them are chased through this park

0:36:160:36:19

before eventually they both fall into the lake.

0:36:190:36:22

Two young comedians on the brink of world fame.

0:36:220:36:26

That same year, 1914, also saw the film

0:37:030:37:06

debut of one of Hollywood's most famous directors, Cecil B DeMille.

0:37:060:37:12

Born in Massachusetts, he'd been an actor and a playwright

0:37:120:37:15

but was still looking for something to do with his life

0:37:150:37:18

when he was approached to direct a film for Adolph Zukor and his partners.

0:37:180:37:23

The film that Cecil directed, The Squaw Man, was over 80 minutes long.

0:37:230:37:29

I'm sitting in Cecil B DeMille's office.

0:37:300:37:33

In 1913 Cecil and producer Jesse Lasky had bought the film rights

0:37:330:37:37

to an old stage hit called The Squaw Man, a western.

0:37:370:37:41

The plan was to film it in Arizona but when they got to Arizona

0:37:410:37:44

they found it was lying under two feet of snow -

0:37:440:37:47

not very good for a Western.

0:37:470:37:49

Who's ever heard of Big Chief Snowplough?

0:37:490:37:51

So Cecil decided to come on to Los Angeles,

0:37:510:37:53

where he heard about a barn that was available for rent here in Hollywood -

0:37:530:37:57

The very barn that I'm sitting in now.

0:37:570:37:59

Cecil rented it, they shot The Squaw Man in about 18 days

0:37:590:38:02

and it went on to become American cinema's first feature length film.

0:38:020:38:07

The Squaw Man demonstrates a bold approach to cinema,

0:38:230:38:27

keen to exploit its possibilities.

0:38:270:38:31

Here we see our hero's inner thoughts.

0:38:320:38:35

The Squaw Man's status as American cinema's first feature length film

0:38:510:38:56

no doubt infuriated DW Griffith, who saw himself as the great pioneer

0:38:560:39:02

and he had ambitions to make his own feature films.

0:39:020:39:05

Griffith was hugely frustrated by Biograph's lack of vision

0:39:060:39:09

and by the sense that others were stealing his thunder.

0:39:090:39:13

'He was inspired by the artistic ambition

0:39:130:39:15

of such Italian epics as Cabiria.

0:39:150:39:18

Imaginative sets and a cast of hundreds

0:39:190:39:22

give Cabiria a massive sense of scale.

0:39:220:39:26

While European directors were making feature films over an hour long,

0:39:390:39:43

Biograph were restricting DW Griffith to one reelers,

0:39:430:39:46

that's approximately 12 minutes of screen time.

0:39:460:39:49

It made sense for them.

0:39:490:39:51

Short films could be made very cheaply in two to three days,

0:39:510:39:54

but also make an enormous profit.

0:39:540:39:56

Griffith decided, if he wanted to make a longer film,

0:40:020:40:05

he'd just have to go ahead without telling Biograph.

0:40:050:40:08

DW Griffith filmed the battle scenes for his first feature,

0:40:160:40:19

Judith of Bethulia,

0:40:190:40:21

here, north of Hollywood in 1913.

0:40:210:40:24

Judith was Griffith's response to the Italian epics he so admired.

0:40:250:40:29

Although he didn't have their budget,

0:40:290:40:31

he tried to match their scale.

0:40:310:40:34

100 years ago, these hills were alive with the sound of extras

0:40:410:40:45

walloping each other across the head with wooden swords.

0:40:450:40:48

DW Griffith must have been in his element,

0:40:480:40:50

walking around this pretend battlefield,

0:40:500:40:52

choreographing hand-to-hand combat.

0:40:520:40:56

Judith of Bethulia is a very difficult film to watch.

0:41:090:41:12

It's combination of excessively wordy title cards, for example:

0:41:120:41:16

"In the eighteenth year of his reign,

0:41:160:41:18

"Nebuchadnezzar, King of the Assyrians,

0:41:180:41:21

"sent forth Prince Holofernes

0:41:210:41:23

"with the army of Assur

0:41:230:41:24

"to lay waste all the countries of the West."

0:41:240:41:27

That, combined with old-fashioned, over-the-top acting,

0:41:270:41:30

makes the film seem ancient and plodding.

0:41:300:41:32

It's easy to believe

0:41:320:41:34

it was filmed before the Old Testament was written,

0:41:340:41:37

making the Bible the book of the film.

0:41:370:41:40

It's also extremely tedious because there's no sense of humour anywhere.

0:41:400:41:44

Any laughs there are, are purely unintentional.

0:41:440:41:47

The beheading scene is so clumsily staged,

0:41:520:41:56

you would be forgiven for missing it altogether.

0:41:560:41:59

The film looks awkward and bogus in comparison to Cabiria,

0:41:590:42:03

which was made the year before.

0:42:030:42:06

The First World War gave Hollywood an enormous advantage.

0:42:220:42:26

The European film industry was severely hit.

0:42:260:42:29

With the competition gone, Hollywood was king.

0:42:290:42:33

And Mary Pickford became its queen.

0:42:330:42:36

Tess of the Storm Country was the feature length film

0:42:380:42:40

that catapulted Mary to world stardom.

0:42:400:42:43

In Tess, we see the feisty side of her screen image.

0:42:440:42:48

As a vivid illustration of how famous film stars had become,

0:43:090:43:13

in 1910, audiences didn't know Mary Pickford's name.

0:43:130:43:18

And here she is, just a few years later,

0:43:180:43:20

appearing in front of thousands of fascinated New Yorkers.

0:43:200:43:26

Mary's old boss, DW Griffith,

0:43:280:43:30

was also kicking up a storm at the box office.

0:43:300:43:33

In 1915, DW Griffith made

0:43:330:43:36

the hugely successful blockbuster, Birth Of A Nation.

0:43:360:43:39

At three hours long, it was his most ambitious film to date.

0:43:390:43:43

History judges it as both a masterpiece

0:43:430:43:45

and arguably the most controversial film ever made.

0:43:450:43:48

The first half of the film

0:43:480:43:50

deals with the tragedy of the American Civil War.

0:43:500:43:54

The Birth of a Nation was told entirely

0:43:560:43:58

from the point of view of the South.

0:43:580:44:00

The stories that Griffith grew up with as a child

0:44:000:44:03

were dramatised on the screen.

0:44:030:44:06

DW Griffith and his cameraman Billy Bitzer

0:44:190:44:21

made good use of the Hollywood hills behind me,

0:44:210:44:24

and would judiciously place smoke bombs

0:44:240:44:26

that made the battle scenes gripping and epic.

0:44:260:44:30

Directorally, the film has great flourishes.

0:45:310:45:33

But it also had long patches of tedium.

0:45:330:45:37

While we're looking at this letter,

0:45:480:45:50

some of you might want to raise a family,

0:45:500:45:52

or go to Canada and back!

0:45:520:45:54

The tedium is difficult to sit through,

0:46:060:46:08

but Griffith offends more than artistic taste.

0:46:080:46:12

At the end of the Civil War,

0:46:120:46:15

black African Americans briefly attained some political power.

0:46:150:46:19

Here, Griffith depicts the black parliament members

0:46:190:46:22

'as racial stereotypes,

0:46:220:46:23

barely civilised in their behaviour.

0:46:230:46:28

Birth Of A Nation was released

0:46:570:46:59

just 50 years after the end of the Civil War.

0:46:590:47:01

Its public screenings were spectacular events,

0:47:010:47:04

accompanied by 35-piece orchestras.

0:47:040:47:07

This is the music the public would have heard:

0:47:090:47:11

Wagner's Ride Of The Valkyries.

0:47:110:47:15

Griffith's heroes are the Ku Klux Klan.

0:47:150:47:19

MUSIC: "Ride of the Valkyries" by Wagner

0:47:190:47:22

William Walker saw the film in 1916.

0:47:530:47:58

And some people were crying.

0:47:580:48:00

You could hear people saying, "Oh, God."

0:48:000:48:04

And some say, "Damn,"

0:48:040:48:06

like you could hear them because of the reaction of the people.

0:48:060:48:10

You had the worst feeling in the world,

0:48:140:48:16

it just felt like you were...

0:48:160:48:19

you were not counted,

0:48:190:48:21

you were just out of existence.

0:48:210:48:24

The Birth Of A Nation is a racist film,

0:48:280:48:30

based on a racist novel, The Clansman.

0:48:300:48:36

But so much of the film's power must be down to Wagner's stirring music.

0:48:360:48:41

Let's take that same music

0:48:410:48:43

and put it over a Mack Sennett comedy.

0:48:430:48:45

STIRRING MUSIC

0:48:450:48:47

MUSIC: "Ride of the Valkyries" by Wagner

0:48:490:48:51

All the tension and suspense of DW Griffith,

0:48:510:48:54

without the inherent racism.

0:48:540:48:56

If there's any one film that demonstrates the power of cinema,

0:50:070:50:11

it's The Birth Of A Nation.

0:50:110:50:12

Griffith's divisive film broke box office records.

0:50:120:50:17

The film was so effective that the Klan,

0:50:190:50:21

which had been dormant for decades,

0:50:210:50:23

was re-established in 1915,

0:50:230:50:26

and not just in the lynch mob happy south.

0:50:260:50:28

Within a few years,

0:50:280:50:29

thousands of Klan members from all over America

0:50:290:50:33

were marching through Washington DC.

0:50:330:50:38

The film's many opponents tried to get it banned,

0:50:380:50:41

with little success.

0:50:410:50:44

DW Griffith, with the extroadinary arrogance

0:50:540:50:56

of a man who is never wrong,

0:50:560:50:58

declared the critics of him and his film, Birth Of A Nation,

0:50:580:51:01

were guilty of intolerance.

0:51:010:51:03

Griffith realised this could be a theme for a new epic,

0:51:030:51:05

intolerance through the ages,

0:51:050:51:07

four parallel stories

0:51:070:51:10

told over the course of three very long hours.

0:51:100:51:14

He was also partly inspired by a visit to San Francisco in 1915

0:51:140:51:18

to see the World Fair.

0:51:180:51:20

He marvelled at the architecture,

0:51:200:51:22

like the magnificent Palace of Fine Arts behind me.

0:51:220:51:25

He hired the same designers and craftsmen

0:51:250:51:27

to build him a massive film set.

0:51:270:51:30

Although impressive in scale,

0:51:580:52:00

as a film, it's a mess.

0:52:000:52:02

Following the four continuous stories is impossible.

0:52:020:52:05

And there are terrible moments of weak plotting.

0:52:050:52:09

A woman looks out the window and sees a street walker.

0:52:090:52:12

So impressed is she, she dreams of becoming

0:52:120:52:15

a streetwalker herself.

0:52:150:52:17

The beheading, which is so badly fumbled in Judith of Bethulia,

0:52:270:52:31

is better represented in Intolerance.

0:52:310:52:33

The effect is more comic than DW might have liked.

0:52:430:52:46

Although there are some genuinely horrific moments.

0:52:460:52:49

DW Griffith was a man who created his own myth,

0:53:000:53:02

claiming to have invented techniques such as the close-up.

0:53:020:53:07

The truth is, he didn't.

0:53:070:53:09

The grammar of cinema had been invented in Europe.

0:53:090:53:12

Griffith was an important American pioneer.

0:53:120:53:15

But, as techniques progressed,

0:53:150:53:17

his style of melodramatic film looked increasingly old-fashioned.

0:53:170:53:22

SIRENS

0:53:260:53:29

A new urban realism was entering the American cinema.

0:53:310:53:34

These new films were shot in real locations

0:53:460:53:48

and featured people that didn't look like film stars.

0:53:480:53:51

Raoul Walsh, a former assistant director to Griffith,

0:53:540:53:58

rivalled and even surpassed him

0:53:580:54:00

with his 1915 New York drama, Regeneration.

0:54:000:54:05

Set amongst the tenements,

0:54:080:54:09

it was a gritty, riveting, realistic portrayal

0:54:090:54:12

of how the poor lived their lives.

0:54:120:54:14

It brought a new freshness to the American screen, a new realism,

0:54:140:54:18

real people, as opposed to the melodramatic heroes and villains

0:54:180:54:22

of Griffith's era.

0:54:220:54:23

Also in 1915,

0:55:020:55:05

Cecil B De Mille directed The Cheat.

0:55:050:55:07

Its atmospheric lighting and depiction of physical violation

0:55:070:55:11

gripped audiences throughout the world.

0:55:110:55:14

1915 was also a pivotal year for Charlie Chaplin.

0:56:000:56:04

In his short film, The Tramp,

0:56:040:56:05

he successfully combined comedy with emotion.

0:56:050:56:09

He was now a fully rounded character audiences cared about.

0:56:090:56:13

Films stars' prestige and power

0:56:280:56:30

reached startling heights at the end of the decade

0:56:300:56:33

when DW Griffith, Charlie Chaplin,

0:56:330:56:36

Mary Pickford and her husband-to-be Douglas Fairbanks

0:56:360:56:39

stunned Hollywood by forming their production company,

0:56:390:56:43

United Artists,

0:56:430:56:44

guaranteeing their creative independence.

0:56:440:56:48

Film actors had gone from earning five dollars a day

0:56:520:56:55

to becoming world famous millionaires.

0:56:550:56:58

In ten years, Hollywood had transformed itself

0:56:590:57:02

from a rustic, back water stuffed with oranges,

0:57:020:57:05

into something much more than a place:

0:57:050:57:08

a state of mind.

0:57:080:57:10

Power, excess,

0:57:100:57:12

fame, wealth, ambition.

0:57:120:57:15

Hollywood.

0:57:150:57:18

Film was now the dominant entertainment medium

0:57:180:57:21

with millions going to the cinema every day.

0:57:210:57:24

Its stars were young, charismatic

0:57:240:57:26

talented and newly wealthy.

0:57:260:57:28

This confident young industry looked towards the 1920s

0:57:280:57:32

with a degree of confidence, and licked its lips.

0:57:320:57:35

After all, what could possibly go wrong?

0:57:350:57:39

In our next episode,

0:57:410:57:43

the decadence of 1920's Hollywood

0:57:430:57:46

threatens the industry with extinction.

0:57:460:57:49

The sun shining behind me used to be a Dutch reformed church.

0:57:560:57:59

Audiences attending these nickleodeons...

0:57:590:58:01

CAR HORN

0:58:010:58:02

..were largely immigrants, Russian Jews,

0:58:020:58:05

Germans, Italians, Spanish...

0:58:050:58:07

People hooting car horns to make sure we have to do another take.

0:58:070:58:10

ITALIAN ACCENT: It's OK, it's all right. I'm here anyway, you know.

0:58:100:58:14

The more acceptable object of throne, desire, choice,

0:58:140:58:18

thing, bang-bang-bang. Pick a word, put it in a sentence,

0:58:180:58:21

rearrange that sentence. I'll start again.

0:58:210:58:23

OK, if I don't get this next time, this is definitely voiceover.

0:58:230:58:26

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:290:58:31

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:310:58:33

To mark Hollywood's 100th anniversary, Paul Merton travels to America in a series that explores how the early pioneers there laid down the blueprint for today's cinema industry.

In the first episode, Hollywood is still a sleepy California backwater of orange groves about to be transformed by film-makers from the East Coast in search of sunny locations and wide open spaces. The film concentrates on the career of DW Griffith, one of Hollywood's most influential and controversial directors during this explosive early period. Within the space of a few short years in the 1910s, he went from making short 'cliffhangers' to three-hour epics as Hollywood cinema became the world's dominant entertainment medium.

At its heart were the beginnings of the star system, which created screen idols like Mary Pickford, who starred in many of Griffith's films. Passionate, playful but above all knowledgeable, Paul Merton retrieves cinema's founding DNA to provide a fitting and unique tribute to Hollywood's movie-making history.


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