These are the questions Ethan Mordden answers, with breezy erudition and irrepressible enthusiasm, in this fascinating and wonderfully readable book. Mordden illuminates how the style of each studio was primarily dictated by the personality, philosophy, and attitudes of its presiding mogul - and how all these factors affected the work and careers of individual actors, directors, writers, and technicians, and the success of the studio in general.
©1988 Ethan Mordden; (P)1996 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Written with a flair and clarity that will delight even the casual movie lover, this study is a refreshing and convincing alternative to the auteurist approach to film history." (Publishers Weekly)
"Accessible, well written, humorous and informed. Barrett Whitener is brisk and crisp - as always, a delight to listen to." (AudioFile)
I very much enjoyed the book - but the reader is flat terrible. If someone is going to read a book about the movies, it behooves him to learn to pronounce names properly. It was AWFUL to listen to the mispronunciation of Paul Muni's name - over and over again. And this is just one example in a list of many. There are even words he doesn't pronounce properly, e.g., "acumen" - as if it were chili spice. Painful!
This same reader read another book - Picture a Revolution and had the same problem. Many of the names he mispronounces are quite famous and central to some of the passages. It truly drove me nuts. I will look to see if this reader has any more books and will not order them.
Maybe, because the book is terrific, but maybe not because the performance is terrible.
His ignorance of the subject matter is apparent in his routine mispronunciation of names and titles. Also, his performance is poor. Please get Mordden to read his own books!
I purchased this with the idea that the topic would focus on the on how each studio developed its unique visual style, but much of the time is spent in reviews of specific films. The "style" issue is clouded by the author's rather negative, and sometimes sarcastic comments on most films he critiques.
"Style" is discussed more in the sense of "management style" rather than artistic style.
The art directors, the creators of the visual style, e.g. Cedric Gibbons, Van Nest Polglase, so identified with their studios, were ignored.
We often hear of the major directors and producers who shaped American cinema: Griffith, DeMille, Hawks, Ford, Houston, etc., in the former camp, Selznick, Thalberg, Goldwyn, etc, in the latter--but this is a lively and quite informative look at how the major studios each had a style and production system of their own. It provides discussions of several key films, notes how similar material was differently shaped in competing studios, and you end up with a nice list of "Must See" films from the Golden Age. A great read for those with more than a passing interest in films, especially given the poverty of audiobook titles of similar subject matter.
The author is opinionated (he dismisses Douglas Sirk out of hand and obviously prefers the musical over other genres, the latter more a problem as studios such as Universal and Warner Brothers were primarily known for other genres, the horror and gangster film respectively. Still, this is a good way to get a feeling for how each studio's style emerged and was refined, and the opinions take back seat to the films and personalities that characterize each studio's distinctive output.
I was disappointed by the brevity of the chapter on RKO, and some of the author's insights seem not to come so much from having viewed the films in question, but rather from documentaries about the era (his discussion of the early talkies is, in part, straight from the old HBO series, HOLLYWOOD, END OF AN ERA. These a minor quibbles, and I highly recommend this book as a starting point.
The reader is first rate. He has been attacked elsewhere, but I found him wonderful company during a long automobile trip just ended. Give the sample a listen and decide for yourself.
The title of this review should have read "Informative and opinionated--not that there's anything wrong with that."
Ethan Mordden's THE HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS is an interesting book. Mordden describes the house style for each studio effectively, and he has some surprisingly good insights into some of the movies. Paramount's stock in trade in the 1930s, for example, was its European directors (not just Lubitsch but others) and the theme of "sex as theft" in its films. MGM relied on style rather than distinguished directors; Twentieth Century-Fox was "nineteenth-century Fox" for its folksy rural dramas, etc.
If Mordden doesn't like a movie, though, look out: he'll pick at anything--a minor factual error in a headline in a newspaper montage, for example--to trash it.
The narration is all right except for some mispronunciations, and it's an interesting listen.
The narration was senseless. Barrett sneered every line, as if every punctuation mark exposed a hitherto unknown filthy little secret. The book isn't an expose, it is an argument. It is a truly weird experience, listening to a narrator completely ignore the shape and direction of the discussion which forms the work. And, it is odd to think that an author like this one would have been happy with an approach that absolutely dismisses his material.
The author's conception of the early film industry, given early in the book.
Christopher Lane, or Bernard Mayes.
Even though the book interested me I would never made time to read it. Fortunately I ordered the audio. It was great! It is encyclopedic yet never dry. The narrator was very good and obviously relished the book as much as I did.
The humor and witticisms. There was much I wanted to remember and quote
More Mordden please.
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