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Hollywood. In the space of 15 years,
it progressed from filming anonymous people
standing in front of a barn,
to huge stars walking through purpose-built sets,
dodging choreographed traffic.
Major studios run by charismatic moguls built their own worlds,
By the mid-1920s the best films were getting better and better.
The greatest talents were working here in Hollywood,
both European and American.
Film stars directors, cameramen.
And then almost overnight, films became awful.
I planted the stuff in Eddie's shop.
-And Dickson will be there at 10 o'clock.
But they must not find Eddie.
What, you mean...?
Take him for a ride.
The silent film grew from simple fairground novelty
into a sophisticated art form.
But at the height of its power, the wheels fell off.
The cinema industry was wrong-footed by the coming of sound.
The introduction of talkies
rushed filming techniques right back to basics.
The visuals became subservient to sound.
In times of revolution, wise heads are needed.
And one of Hollywood's youngest and greatest producers,
Irving Thalberg, who helped perfect the art of silent cinema,
would steer the biggest film studio in the world
through the traumatic change to talkies.
This is his story.
These are the old MGM Studios.
When they were built in the mid-1920s, Metro Goldwyn Mayer
had ambitions to become the biggest beast in the Hollywood jungle.
Long before Leo was a lion,
Hollywood was a small backwater town.
Then, independent film companies started moving here to enjoy
California's sunny filming locations.
In these early days, the industry was dominated by directors
such as DW Griffith and Cecil B DeMille.
They created the cult of the all-powerful director,
but many would be undermined
by their over-reaching ambition and fiery temperaments.
Some of them needed adult supervision.
A new kind of figure needed to step forward.
Hollywood defined the role of the producer,
an important bridge between the money men and the creative talent.
One such individual who was both a good businessman
and an excellent judge of what made a good movie
was Irving Thalberg.
This is the Thalberg Building behind me.
At the top of his form, he produced cinematic masterpieces.
Here is Irving receiving the Best Picture Oscar
for Mutiny On The Bounty in 1936.
It's obvious, but nevertheless true for me to say
that I'm happy that Mutiny On The Bounty won this award.
Although you may not have heard of Thalberg, because he always refused
to put his name on his films,
you've certainly heard of the films he produced.
Irving Thalberg was from the East Coast,
and grew up in the turn of the century tenements of New York.
The Thalberg family had emigrated from Germany.
Irving Thalberg was born to Henrietta Thalberg
in Brooklyn, New York in 1899.
His father William imported lace.
Irving was born with a congenital heart defect.
Doctors told his mother
that he was unlikely to live past his 30th birthday.
Henrietta spent the first seven years of Irving's life
giving him sponge baths,
rubdowns and enforced rest periods.
Irving's health improved,
although he was never what you would call robust.
In his teens, he developed rheumatic fever
and became bedridden for a year.
Irving sharpened his opinions and storytelling
by reading classical literature, autobiographies and plays.
Thalberg gained his introduction to the film industry
as an 18-year-old boy,
when he met the owner of Universal Studios, Carl Laemmle,
on a family holiday.
Laemmle was a self-made man.
Born in Germany, he emigrated to the United States as a young man,
as did a surprising number of the early film moguls.
He hired Thalberg, whose evident talent
quickly led the studio boss to make him his secretary.
In 1919, Carl Laemmle took one of his regular train trips
from New York to Los Angeles.
On this occasion he was accompanied by his new 19-year-old secretary.
After five days they arrived here at the Universal Studios.
Thalberg impressed the boss of Universal
with his knowledge and enthusiasm for the movie making business.
I spoke to Laemmle's niece, Carla, an actress at the Universal Studio,
about what impressed her uncle so much about Thalberg.
What was it about him that made him special?
Well, he seemed to be very aware
of everything going on,
and he seemed to be on top of things,
and just managed things.
He was very, very gifted, and so young. So young.
He was astute, that was all.
He just had it.
Universal's output of low budget westerns,
melodrama, and short comedies, needed shaking up.
Irving Thalberg arrived at a troubled studio.
Carl Laemmle had a tendency to employ his relatives
in key positions, whether they could do the job or not.
This caused a great deal of resentment and anger
amongst the Universal management.
Carl Laemmle then really threw the cat amongst the pigeons,
when he appointed Irving Thalberg as the new head of production.
This was a complete surprise to everyone,
including Irving Thalberg.
Thalberg's first big problem
was dealing with the massive ego
of one of cinema's great maverick directors,
Erich Von Stroheim.
Von Stroheim, like so many other players in our story,
was a European immigrant, who arrived in America
seeking his fortune.
At the Ellis Island Immigration Centre,
all the records of these arrivals can be viewed online.
COMPUTER VOICE: 'First, type the passenger's name.'
Let's see if we can track Erich down.
There's his name there, Stroheim, but Erich Oswald.
There's no Von at that point. So Erich Oswald Stroheim.
He kept quite about the Oswald, I think!
And it says here about his distinguishing feature,
he's 5'5", but he's got a cut on the forehead.
Born in Austria, arrived November 25, 1909.
That's definitely our man.
Erich got himself a job assisting the renowned director, DW Griffith.
Erich was an expert on uniforms and was employed as a military advisor.
By the time America entered the First World War in 1917,
Erich had risen through the ranks to become a noted character actor.
He was advertised as "The man you love to hate."
Audiences were horrified by his sadistic roles.
Here he is in The Heart of Humanity,
a gruesome World War I propaganda film.
Von Stroheim craved power.
If he hadn't made it in Hollywood
he would undoubtedly have become a dictator of a small European country.
But he settled for the next best thing,
being a film director.
He took an idea to Carl Laemmle for a film to he wanted to direct.
Nothing was going to stand in Erich's way.
They spoke through the night.
Carl agreed that Eric would write and direct the film for nothing
and be paid 200 a week to star in it.
The film was made for 42,000 and made a profit of a million.
Blind Husbands was a stunning directorial debut.
Audiences were shocked by the erotic charge
of Von Stroheim's performance.
In the film's climax,
terrified by a stuffed vulture, he falls off a mountain.
I believe you did a screen test once for Eric Von Stroheim.
-Is that correct?
-Oh, I did.
Can you tell me about him? Was he a severe man or a humorous man?
Not very much humour.
This is supposed to be war, death, hell, destruction!
He was such a talented man,
but he wanted everything to be actually perfect and genuine.
I mean, something that you don't need,
something like ruffles on the underpants,
and my uncle thought that was going too far, you know?
You don't need to do that in a movie.
And he would have, if people in the background
were drinking champagne,
he'd be giving them genuine champagne, vintage.
Well, I didn't hear that but it's most likely that was true.
For his next film, Foolish Wives, Von Stroheim created
a full sized reconstruction of the Plaza in Monte Carlo
on the Universal back lot.
Von Stroheim demanded complete control to write, direct and star.
Here he is up to his old tricks again.
Irving Thalberg grew concerned.
Erich was a brilliant director but his budget was out of control.
Thalberg demanded that Erich stopped filming
or he would be fired.
Erich replied that if he was fired as director,
Universal would also lose the star of its film.
Thalberg backed down.
Foolish Wives premiered a few months later.
It made more money than Blind Husbands but,
as Thalberg pointed out,
most of that profit was eaten up by Von Stroheim's
outlandish production costs.
Von Stroheim's image was ripe for parody. Here's Ben Turpin.
In Von Stroheim's film Merry Go Round,
the vintage champagne flows with no thought of cost.
Thalberg summoned Stroheim into his office.
Erich said, "You can't throw Von Stroheim off a Von Stroheim picture."
But Irving replied, "You're not starring in this film."
He sacked the director.
This was a pivotal moment in Hollywood history.
Von Stroheim was a huge star and a big name director.
Von Stroheim believed the film was his,
but Thalberg said no, the producer was king.
Merry Go Round was completed by a Universal staff director,
exactly as instructed.
The triumph of the producer led to a debate about art versus commerce.
If the artist pays no attention to the budget,
then the money men have to step in.
Equally, if the money men
don't have the creative flair of Irving Thalberg,
they make artistic decisions
which often end up ruining the film.
One solution was for the film star to become his own producer.
Here Douglas Fairbanks signs the agreement
that created United Artists in 1919,
together with Charlie Chaplin, DW Griffith and Mary Pickford.
Douglas Fairbanks had a vivid imagination
which he transferred to the screen.
Here he risks indigestion by indulging in a midnight feast.
This is the food in his stomach.
Later, bad dreams predictably arrive.
This is the only film ever made
where the hero is pursued across open countryside by his own dinner.
But then it starts to get weird.
Filming the impossible was a daily occurrence in silent cinema.
Comedy became increasingly more surreal.
Distorting reality was a speciality of the actor Lon Chaney.
He could radically change his appearance to a frightening degree.
In The Penalty he plays a double amputee.
His legs, which are painfully strapped up behind him,
are hidden by his long coat.
Irving Thalberg greatly admired Lon Chaney's dedication
and believed he would be perfect casting in the title role
of one of Irving's favourite novels.
Chaney's elaborate make-up
and his physical transformation into the Hunchback was astonishing.
Here, out of costume, Lon Chaney demonstrates his climbing prowess.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame made a fortune,
which Carl Laemmle, as Universal's boss,
refused to share with Thalberg, who remained on a fixed salary.
The boy wonder was not happy.
It was clearly time to move on,
there were no shortage of offers for Hollywood's wonder boy.
In early 1923, Irving Thalberg
became the head of production at Louis B Mayer's studio.
Within a year, Mayer had been bought out
by Marcus Loew, who owned the cinema chain.
He merged three companies - Metro, Goldwyn and Mayer.
Louis B Mayer became the chairman
and Irving Thalberg became the head of production at MGM.
The Hollywood mogul Sam Goldwyn
was not part of Metro Goldwyn Mayor.
But he was a close friend of Irving Thalberg, who he admired greatly.
He admired his education and how he'd used it,
that he, er...
he said he had one advantage
that my father never really had,
or anybody had to that extent,
but he'd say, "Irving doesn't just make pictures, he remakes them."
That might mean bringing a new writer in and rewriting it,
changing directors, changing cast,
but if he had a story that he believed in fundamentally
he stuck with that story and then he'd look for the best way
to keep doing it and doing it
and that was one of the reasons why the films were successful
and why they were able to develop so many stars,
because the roles were good,
and if they weren't good he kept reshooting.
Thalberg set about building MGM's fortunes.
He chose stories that he believed would make great movies.
He allocated writers, stars, directors,
to films that suited their talents.
Everything needed to make a film was to be found
within the walls of MGM.
To ensure top quality, MGM employed only the best directors, actors,
writers, cameramen, technicians, designers and makeup artists.
They all worked under exclusive contract to MGM
and were available to work on any film the studio deemed suitable.
In his heyday it was a bit like going into Alcatraz.
It was so boarded up, you know,
and I remember the entrance on Washington Boulevard
- not the one going into the Thalberg building
because that's the executive offices of course,
and the gate is right there where you drive in -
but you know, I was nobody so we had to go in through a kind of turnstile,
which was very heavy metal, believe me,
it was like getting into jail, and you had to get an OK
to push the thing, and they released a lock on it
and you went around this thing and you got in.
And we were shown to the casting director's office
which was a small office not far from the entrance,
and my mother and I met the casting director,
and at that time he looked at me and he said,
"Mmm, how old are you?"
and I told him I was 17.
I was taken to the character wardrobe first time out,
and here you had a character wardrobe with all of the costumes
that had ever been worn in an MGM movie, they were all there.
Can you imagine walking into that?
And the woman who was in charge of it, a white-haired lady,
was smoking away, and she showed me a lot of the dresses.
She said, "Now, Jean Harlow wore that",
in such and such.
They had some incredible bits and pieces there
in that wardrobe.
So they had a massive wardrobe department,
I was reading the other day, that it even had its own foundry so they could...
Yeah, they could make anything,
but they usually got the Italians to make the boots and shoes.
They did the tailoring.
They did have a tailoring department
but it was all Italian tailors, I remember that.
That was an era of a certain naivete, I think, too,
where people wanted to be
kind of carried out of the humdrum experience of their own lives,
and fooled into thinking that there
was something better out there and they could find it in the cinema.
The greatest talents in cinema were drawn to MGM.
Eric Von Stroheim amongst them.
Here he is on the MGM back lot in 1925 standing next to Stephen Fry.
25-year-old Irving Thalberg found himself
in charge of the richest, newest, biggest film studios in the world.
He'd inherited one problem from Goldwyn films and that was
a production that was currently filming in San Francisco.
Its director was Erich Von Stroheim.
The old adversaries met once again,
this time there would be a decisive knockout.
Greed, the greatest film you'll never see.
A film about humankind's lust for gold.
The building behind me
features in one of the most notorious films ever made.
I'm on the corner of Hayes and Laguna Street
here in San Francisco.
Eric Von Stroheim shot interiors
for his extraordinary epic, Greed, in this very building.
Here, Erich films from inside a genuine interior
through the window to the genuine street below.
This was a revolutionary shot in its day.
Greed was the latest product of Von Stroheim's passionate vision.
He spent seven months filming in San Francisco and Death Valley.
The finale of Greed takes place in Death Valley.
Temperatures at the time had reached 142 degrees Fahrenheit,
it was so hot the paint was peeling and curling off the cars.
The two actors were exhorted by Erich Von Stroheim
to fight to the death.
"Fight, fight," he said.
"Hate each other as much as you hate me."
The character on the left is guilty of murder,
the character on the right has tracked him down
and is about to arrest him.
But the tables are turned
and our murderer appears to gain the upper hand, but then...
Erich Von Stroheim finished filming in October 1923.
He'd spent over half a million dollars.
He spent the next few months feverishly editing the picture.
Its first public screening was in January 1924
to an invited audience of about ten people.
His film was eight hours long, completely uncommercial.
He reduced it by half to four hours,
and claimed that he couldn't cut another foot to save his soul.
So Thalberg simply took the film off him,
it was edited down to two hours
and released in December 1924.
Once again, Irving Thalberg
had demonstrated exactly who was the boss.
Thalberg had a clever technique for honing his films
for maximum appeal to cinema audiences.
When previewing a film, he would sit in the back of the cinema
making notes of the audience's reaction.
Irving Thalberg would not release a film
until it was shown to test audiences.
Films were edited or re-edited according to public reaction.
Re-shooting sequences was so common
that MGM became known as re-take valley.
Irving Thalberg believed that no film should be released
until it was as good as it could possibly be.
His motto was "Films aren't made, they are re-made."
Another inherited project in trouble that year
was Ben Hur, which went on to become
the most expensive film of the entire silent era.
Goldwyn studios had begun production in Italy,
but within two months had spent the entire production budget
of 1.25 million.
Because the sets had already been built there in Italy, Louis B Mayer
and Irving Thalberg decided to continue filming.
But they got rid of three key personnel -
the writer, the star and the director.
Thalberg still wasn't happy
with the footage that was being sent back.
With costs escalating to 3 million,
Thalberg knew that if Ben Hur was a flop,
it would destroy MGM Studios.
He especially found the climax of the chariot race unexciting.
Thalberg decided to bring the entire production
back to Hollywood,
where he restaged the chariot scene at a cost of 300,000.
The chariot race was covered by 42 cameras,
the most ever used by Hollywood before or since.
Working around the clock,
Irving Thalberg personally supervised the editing of Ben Hur.
This was an important picture,
it needed to be ready for a Christmas release
and the very future of MGM as a studio depended on its success.
The strain was enormous.
Irving had a heart attack.
Whilst recuperating and bed-ridden he continued to edit the picture.
All this hard work paid off.
Ben Hur was a massive box office hit,
although Irving was too ill to attend the premiere.
Thalberg understood Hollywood better than anyone.
He knew that a studio's greatest assets were its stars
and he took great delight in creating new ones.
When he heard that a relatively unknown actor called John Gilbert
was receiving sackfuls of fan mail,
Thalberg astutely cast him as a handsome Prince in The Merry Widow,
transforming him into the newest, biggest star in town.
Thalberg would repeat the success with Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford,
Greta Garbo, and many others.
Within a few years, MGM claimed to have more stars than heaven itself.
Thalberg's productions packed cinemas throughout the country.
By 1926, Wall Street had invested
over 2 billion into the American film industry,
the majority of which went into building new cinemas.
And with good reason because, at this time,
60 million Americans went to the movies every week.
Irving was a young man at the very top of his profession.
He created new stars that the public adored.
Everything he touched turned to gold, the future seemed assured.
But the future doesn't always do what you want it to.
Behind me are the original Warner Brothers studios.
At the beginning of 1927 they were not a particularly big concern,
but by the end of that year
they had revolutionised the motion picture industry and had struck fear
into the heart of every other filmmaker in Hollywood.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: 'In the projection of the motion picture
'and the reproduction of the sound,
'the sound record in the form of a large disc
'is rotated on a turn table.
'This turntable is geared directly
'to the motion picture projecting machine,
'and is driven by a common constant speed electric motor.'
Two formats had been invented in the early 1920s
to synchronise sound and pictures.
One used discs, the other created a visual soundtrack on the film.
Warner Brothers were in a strong position to exploit
this new technology
as they had invested in the dramatic 1920s
expansion of radio in America.
For the first time Americans could tune in
to music and speech broadcasts in their own home.
Warner Brothers, realising the publicity value of this new medium,
installed their own radio station here at the studio.
Radio KFWB was run by Sam Warner.
Sam used the station to publicise his studio's films
and sometimes included a feature
where listeners could hear the sounds of films being made.
Sam wondered why radio listeners
could hear his actors but cinema goers couldn't.
He knew that the technology existed.
Everybody quiet, please.
After months of badgering and dozens of tests,
he persuaded his brothers to let him experiment further.
This is the first time that I have ever
addressed a large number of people without being scared half to death.
Quite a few people have asked me
if I would not explain how this system of talking movies works.
I will endeavour to explain in as few words as possible.
Most of you probably have never seen a piece of moving picture film.
Here is a piece of the standard film.
I will hold it against my white shirt front
and I believe you can see the outline of the picture.
Maybe you can make out the pictures.
Now right along here is where we photograph the sound on the film,
right next to the main picture.
I'm going to play a piece on the mouth organ.
PLAYS 'ROCK-A-BYE BABY'
The tinny sound and squeaky voices
of the first sound films were wonderfully parodied
by Charlie Chaplin, in his film City Lights.
He also wrote the music.
CRUDE HORN TOOTS MIMICKING SPEECH RHYTHMS
Silent films spoke a visual language understood
by millions all over the world, and these films were always
accompanied by live musicians,
but silent films were about to become obsolete.
Warner Brothers had kick-started the manic rush into talking movies.
They had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
If Warner Brothers could make sound films commercially acceptable,
they would have a head start on all the major studios.
But having to record sound
took filmmaking right back to its very early days.
A camera that didn't move, filming popular novelty acts.
These films were test films, never released to the public.
# He is making eyes at me
# He is awful nice to me
# Oh, Ma!
# He's almost breaking my heart
# I'm beside him
# Mercy, let his conscience guide him!
QUACK! # He wants to marry me
# And be my honeybee
# When he left he shakes your shoulder
# He's kissing me! #
Silent movies didn't become talkies overnight - for a while silent films
were produced with a recorded musical soundtrack replacing the job of live musicians.
One such film, Don Juan, produced by Warner Brothers in 1926, starred John Barrymore.
This film, with its lavish musical soundtrack, meant that audiences
even in the smallest cinema would have an orchestral accompaniment.
Barrymore played the eponymous hero.
The perfectly-synchronised music thrillingly accompanied the action.
It became an overnight sensation.
The premier of Don Juan was accompanied by a programme
of Vitaphone shorts with synchronised songs.
# When the rangers come to town They saddle up or saddle down
# They're in their heyday Because it's pay-day... #
And a message from Will H Hays,
the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Directors Association,
with references that might surprise you...
Today the screen presents pictures that walk and talk and act and sing.
There is colour to give them vividness and life.
There is widescreen projection just out of the laboratory to bring you the spectacles
of nature and art in their true majesty.
There is the promise, too, of three-dimension projection to give lifelike perspective.
The writing was on the wall for Thalberg and his vast operation at MGM.
None of the studios, cameras and cutting rooms were equipped to handle sound.
But of course Thalberg hadn't seen anything yet!
On 6th October 1927, The Jazz Singer was premiered.
It was a sound film in that it had recorded musical accompaniment, but also featured its star
Al Jolson singing a couple of songs and adlibbing a few words of dialogue.
It was these moments that caught the audience's ears.
'Wait a minute, wait a minute,'
you ain't heard nothing yet.
Wait a minute, I tell you! You ain't heard nothing.
You want to hear Toot, Toot, Tootsie?
All right, hold on, hold on.
Listen, play Toot, Toot, Tootsie - three chorus, you understand?
And the third chorus, I whistle.
Now give it to 'em hard and heavy - go right ahead.
# Toot, toot, tootsie, goodbye
# Toot, toot, tootsie, don't cry... #
The Jazz Singer was a huge box office sensation.
Warner Brothers made so much money, they were able to buy one of the big three film companies at the time,
First National, and move into their vast studios here in Burbank.
It would take nearly three years to convert all the studios and cinemas in America for sound.
When sound came in, when The Jazz Singer was released and became the huge box office smash that it did,
what was your father's attitude to it, because most people it seemed, intelligent film makers of the day,
thought that talkies were just a passing novelty...?
My father and mother and, er, Mr Thalberg and his wife, Norma,
all went to the premier of The Jazz Singer together.
And my father just sat and watched this, and that old survival instinct
-was there and he knew this was what was coming.
Yeah. And he walked out, and my father just couldn't say anything
and Thalberg didn't say anything, and...
"Irving, isn't this terrific?"
He says, "It's just a passing fancy."
And my father was stunned by that, he couldn't believe that,
and he often told me that story.
But what Thalberg was really concerned is that
they were a factory, a mass-produced factory, and an invention had come along that had made
-35 pictures that they had sitting on the shelf for release obsolete.
So they had to go back and redo it, and he didn't want this thing.
Silent film may have seemed obsolete but it didn't go quietly.
One of the best films of the entire silent era was released among its dying embers - Sunrise.
Directed in Hollywood by the noted German director FW Murnau,
Sunrise featured his trademark moving camera.
Here it is used to stunning effect, as Murnau mimics the core nature
of cinema - a journey through the dark that takes us into spectacular visions.
Irving Thalberg, like so many other wise heads at the time,
dismissed the talking picture as a passing novelty.
It's easy to see why he thought this.
By the mid-1920s, the finest films of the silent era were being made,
not just big box office hits, but also prestigious experimental films.
One such movie was The Crowd, produced by Irving Thalberg and directed by King Vidor in 1928.
This was not a star vehicle - in fact its subject matter was literally a face in the crowd.
I told Thalberg, this may not pack the theatres as much as we hope.
I said, "We can't tell, but it may not."
And he says, "Well, I think MGM
"are making enough pictures, enough money,
"they can afford an experimental film every once in a while.
"It'll do something for the studio
"and it'll do something for the whole industry."
So that was a pretty good attitude for a top production executive.
Irving Thalberg's creative commitment manifested itself in other ways as well.
The studio didn't know, they were lost,
what sort of...how to end this picture happily.
So we made actually seven endings and tried it out, seven previews
with the various endings,
and finally I came up with the ending where he's lost again
in the crowd, and the camera moves back, back, back.
King Vidor was just one of the prominent American directors
heavily influenced by Murnau's moving camera.
Hollywood was still under the influence of the stationary camera, shooting into a set.
And they used to say, long shot, medium shot, close-up.
And they'd just move straight into the set - that was the way a lot of
fellas were working and had been working and continued to develop.
Just camera stop, move up to a closer shot, move closer, without panoraming the actors
through the set, without following them, without moving up
with them, moving the camera up.
And I remember producers saying,
"Don't keep moving the camera all over, I don't like it, I get dizzy."
I planted the stuff in Eddie's shop.
There was no chance of getting dizzy with the static camerawork of the early talkies.
But they must not find Eddie...
Here you may be wondering why the actor in the background is
completely masked by the actor in front of him.
It's because the actor in front of him is trying to make sure the telephone,
which is in fact a microphone, can hear every word he says.
What, you mean...?
An amazing coincidence running into you accidentally like that.
Especially as we had parted for ever three months ago.
You know it wasn't a coincidence.
Here, the microphone has been skilfully hidden in the set.
But why didn't you telephone if you wanted to see me?
I was afraid you might be in.
And the film-making ability has also been skilfully hidden...
Clare, did he kiss you?
And did you kiss him?
Oh, stop it, stop it - this man means nothing to me.
Go ahead and ask your questions,
but, oh, Jim, you've got to believe me.
Cameras were now encased in huge boxes to muffle their sound,
so it wouldn't be picked up by the static microphones hanging above the static actors.
And suddenly a voice test could make or break a Hollywood star.
A few of the silent film stars, such as Greta Garbo,
John Barrymore and Joan Crawford, survived the transition to sound, but the majority didn't.
John Gilbert was one high-profile victim.
It was an image of the great lover, the intensive lover.
You couldn't put this image he had established into words - it becomes funny.
Your eyes told me so, your heart told me so, your lips told me so.
The people were waiting - what was he saying all the time in the silent films?
And then they hear these words and they laugh!
I love you. I've told you that 100 times this week - I love you.
And I've told you not to tell me that again.
Others were hampered in less obvious ways.
Douglas Fairbanks had created the action-hero film, a cinema genre still thriving today.
His first hero was Zorro, a caped crusader - Batman with a fag on.
Silent film allowed the luxury of superhuman action - a sword fight could be speeded up.
Here is Douglas in Robin Hood...
Audiences were stunned by the sheer scale of the production.
In the Black Pirate, Fairbanks brought a new dimension
to the screen - Technicolor.
Critics compared scenes in this film to paintings by the old masters.
But visuals were no longer enough - sound had arrived.
In Fairbanks' first sound film, with his wife Mary Pickford, he was more or less rooted to the spot.
Let him that moved thee hither, remove thee hence!
Oh, ho, ho, ho! Oh, come, Kate, come!
You must not look so sour!
It is my fashion when I see a crab.
Why? Here's no crab!
Come, Kate, come, sit down...
Fairbanks is deprived of exuberant
movement, but he still manages to inject some into this scene.
Oh, come, come, you wasp!
-You are too angry.
-If I be waspish, then beware my sting!
Eric Von Stroheim embraced sound in a way you would never guess.
# And my best gal said, sho-lo!
# Hee-hee-hee! Woah-ho-ho, I'm laughing... #
After a year and a bit, sound films improved dramatically.
Filmmakers rediscovered cinema and were no longer a slave to the microphone.
Comedic performances were enhanced by well-written dialogue.
I was reading a book the other day...
Reading a book?
Yes, it's all about civilisation or something.
Do you know that the guy said that machinery is going to take the place of every profession?
Oh, my dear!
That's something you need never worry about.
MGM'S first talking film was the all-singing, all-tap-dancing
extravaganza Broadway Melody, which in 1929
set the style for future MGM musicals.
Another talkie that year was The Hollywood Review of 1929.
Irving Thalberg produced a picture which featured almost every one of
MGM's stars in either a singing or talking role - the notable female exception being Greta Garbo.
Garbo's first sound film for Thalberg wasn't released until 1930.
Public curiosity was at fever pitch.
What would the Swedish goddess sound like?
Give me a whisky - ginger ale on the side.
Irving Thalberg continued to exhibit his acumen at MGM by signing the Marx Brothers in the mid-1930s.
He produced their biggest every picture - A Night At The Opera.
As Irving described to Groucho, women didn't particularly like
uncontrolled horseplay - they liked a little romance thrown into the mix.
I love you.
Difficult to believe when I find you dining with another woman.
Do you know why I sat with her?
Because she reminded me of you.
-Of course! That's why I'm sitting here with you - because you remind me of you!
Your eyes, your throat, your lips - everything about you reminds me of you.
Except you. How do you account for that?
She figures that one out, she's good.
Thalberg had the Marx Brothers road-test the film's comedy routines in front of live theatre audiences.
This allowed them to time their filmed scenes for the cinema crowd.
Thalberg was keen to work in this way again on a new Marx Brothers film.
But he ran out of time.
Irving Thalberg didn't see the next Marx Brothers film, A Day At The Races.
He died in 1936 at the age of 37,
not after all from a weakened heart, but from pneumonia.
His wife, the film star Norma Shearer, and his mother, Henrietta, were at his bedside.
MGM employed the factory system to make their films, although Irving always found time
and room for the personal, artistic movie - films that didn't insult the intelligence of the audience.
He believed in the power of the story and also making films as good as he possibly could.
But for now,
the young man in a hurry,
he's reached the finish line.
Thalberg's dedicated pursuit of excellence
created a special kind of legacy. The best of his films
are as enjoyable now as when they were made.
And his insight, skill and dedication made MGM the gold standard for the industry,
not merely in Hollywood but throughout the world.
Amidst the studio system Thalberg stood for individuality, for the higher aspirations of filmmaking.
Irving Thalberg always believed cinema could be art.
And the past 100 years have demonstrated that.
Cinema is now well into its second century.
When it began in 1895, moving photographs on a large screen were considered a sensational novelty.
But now the moving picture is everywhere.
Compact devices which access the internet
give us a vast visual library that we can carry around in our pocket.
But the ubiquity of the moving photograph does not mean the end of cinema.
As human beings we like to sit in audiences,
having the communal spirit,
being entranced by the story, laughing at the same gags.
As long as cinema entertains, then we will be entertained by cinema.
# Toot, toot, tootsie, goodbye
# Toot, toot, tootsie, don't cry
# The choo-choo train that takes me away from you
# No words can tell how sad it makes me
# Kiss me, Tootsie, and then
# Do it over again
# Watch for the mail I'll never fail
# If you don't get a letter then you'll know I'm in jail
# Toot, toot, tootsie, don't cry
# Toot, toot, tootsie, goodbye! #
Do you know there are various composers that fit various parts of the country?
-HE SAYS NAMES IN LOCAL ACCENTS:
-For example Liverpool is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Cardiff is, Johann Sebastian Bach.
Birmingham is Rimsky Korsakov.
The Irish is Beethoven.
And to move to the philosophers, for Newcastle, Schopenhauer!
And I don't mean how long you've got to do your shopping.
# Goodbye, Tootsie, goodbye! #
Paul Merton traces the rise of the studios through the story of MGM - the biggest dream factory of them all, which boasted of 'more stars than the heavens'. Metro Goldwyn Mayer's studio system was perfected by its young producer Irving Thalberg, the boy genius of Hollywood's silent era. The programme shows how he challenged the power previously wielded by the director of a film, taking on a much more creative role as the producer. This involved dealing with some of the most notorious egos in movie-making, such as that of flamboyant director Erich Von Stroheim. It was famously said of Thalberg that he didn't just make movies - he 're-made' them. He may have turned MGM into what Paul Merton calls 're-take valley' but Thalberg never put his name on any of his films, even the original Ben Hur or Mutiny on the Bounty - which may explain why you might never have heard of this remarkable man who did more than anyone to steer 1930s Hollywood from the silent to the sound era.