Hitchcock at the Nickelodeon
Reading Neal Gabler's book, “An Empire of Their Own,” about the early years of Hollywood, made me curious about Peter Bogdonavich's movie “Nickelodeon,” about the early years of Hollywood. I knew the movie had been panned in '76 but hoped it was one of those that aged well. Nope. Still a mess. Lurches between slapstick and melodrama. Not enough about, you know, nickelodeons. Just one scene in a nickelodeon, in fact, my favorite scene, when our troupe (actors, directors, etc.), realize the power of the movies ... for the actors. For the stars. But there wasn't enough of this: the moment of revelation into what would be.
At the same time, I was startled by the beauty, particularly in profile, of the leading lady, Jane Hitchcock (here with star Ryan O'Neal):
She also wasn't bad. As an actress. “Why haven't I heard of her?” I wondered. “What other movies has she made?” The answer to the second guestion was the answer to the first: none. She was a model who got the part because the studio refused to bankroll Cybill Shepherd, Bogdonavich's girlfriend, in the role, so Shepherd recommended her friend Jane. It's who you know and what your profile looks like. From IMDb.com:
Jane was the only novice in a star-studded cast that included Burt Reynolds and Ryan O'Neal fighting for her character's affections, creating a love triangle in the period film. Although, she gave a charming performance, she received mixed reviews, and the film became a flop. She was disappointed and acted in only one more project, before returning to her modeling career.
The other project was a TV movie starring Esther Rolle (of “Good Times”) and Kene Holliday (of “Carter Country”).
More about “Nickelodeon” from TCM:
In the story, the central characters, who have been toiling away at quickie shorts, go to see D.W. Griffith's landmark feature The Birth of a Nation (1915). Using footage from a special tinted archival print of the film, Bogdanovich and his actors convey the sense of excitement and wonder that accompanied the release of Griffith's film and the momentous change in the art and business of moviemaking that it signaled. After the fictional screening in the movie, the producer Cobb (played by Brian Keith), suddenly realizing the power of the medium, remarks that filmmakers are “giving people little pieces of time that they never forget,” a quote taken from an early Bogdanovich interview with James Stewart.
That's the part of the movie that should've worked but really didn't. Cobb, throughout, has been a blustering businessman, so why give him Jimmy Stewart's line—a line that has the ring of someone working in the industry, and believing in the industry, for decades? Meanwhile, O'Neal's character is too milquetoast and self-pitying to be of interest, while the more racist elements of “Birth” were left out at the Hollywood screening. I know I'm asking for the impossible, but what great mixed feelings we would've had watching our likeable stars getting excited by the KKK rescuing damsels from rapacious actors in blackface? Now that's entertainment.
Despite this, how little things have changed. I looked back 35 years to a movie that looked back 70 years to the birth of the movie industry, and my question was the question on the lips of audiences 100 years ago: Who's that girl?
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