In combination, Singin’ in the Rain, Sunset Boulevard, Chaplin, The Last Tycoon, and Silent Movie provide an unparalleled lesson the early days of cinema. Although the releases of the movies themselves interval almost fifty decades, the films’ observations on the trials and triumphs of the invention and perfection of this “seventh art” talk to the power of the medium. After all, who better to speak about Hollywood compared to the movies themselves?
Singin’ in the Rain: Changes
This classic Gene Kelly musical displays the transition from silent films to talkies with hilarity and sensitivity. Focusing on the faux-romance between onscreen fans Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lena LaMont (Jean Hagen) and the conflicting romance that develops between Lockwood and Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), this 1952 film was created recently enough following the debut of audio in movies it provides an invaluable perspective on the issues — technical and private — which accompanied the new technologies. A mis-dubbed scene in which LaMont and Lockwood’s voices become mixed up is particularly memorable.
Sunset Boulevard: The Rise and Fall of Silent Stars
Most individuals can estimate a minumum of one line from this renowned film by Billy Wilder without having seen it“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. De Mille.” The film, however, gives an excellent close-up not just Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, but also of the decline of the silent film era in Hollywood, when faces were substituted by phrases.
Keep a special watch out for the scene with the Waxworks, which includes a special appearance by an elderly Charlie Chaplin, as well as Max, the butler, who is in fact played with a single of Swanson’s former directors, Erich von Stroheim. Of course, the clips of the youthful Desmond’s silent films (which are, in reality, Swanson’s films) aren’t to be missed. A must-see for any film buff!
Chaplin: Portrait of an Actor
This 1992 film features stand-out performances by Robert Downey Jr. In the title function and Anthony Hopkins as the (invented) editor of Chaplin’s autobiography. Tracing the rise and collapse of Charlie Chaplin’s profession, the narrative reveals his childhood in England, his movement Hollywood, along with his most romances. Adapted in a part from Chaplin’s autobiography, the film also gives a very personal picture of exactly what it had been like to be about the cutting border of a youthful industry.
The Last Tycoon: Hollywood as a Business
Based on the famous unfinished novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Love of the Last Tycoon), The Last Tycoon is noteworthy not only as a adaptation but also as the second collaboration between director Elia Kazan and manufacturer Sam Speigel, who’d worked together on the historic On The Waterfront. The film features many familiar faces (Robert De Niro as the hero, Monroe Star, as well as Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum, Jack Nicholson, and Jeanne Moreau) and supposedly shot the inspiration for Stahr from noticed MGM film executive Irving Thalberg, also called “The Boy Wonder.” A beautiful examination of the industry in the 1930s.
Silent Movie: Hollywood as a Punchline
A parody of the silent films that preceded it by nearly forty decades, Mel Brooks’ 1976 Silent Movie contains several celebrities — from Dom DeLuise into Liza Minnelli, Sid Caesar into Paul Newman — with the most memorable character going to mime Marcel Marceau, who ironically has the film’s only spoken line. The funny soundtrack into the film accentuates the slapstick-like gags and the importance of music in ancient cinema. As has frequently been noticed, silent films were not really silent!