Tuesday February 01, 2011

Née: “An Empire of Their Own”

I suppose it's appropriate that a documentary about Hollywood moguls such as Sam Goldwyn (née: Goldfish), Adolph Zukor (née; Cukor) and William Fox (née; Vilmos Fried) would come to me with its name changed. It's still annoying.

The doc in question is based on Neal Gabler's excellent book, “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” and has a similar title: “Hollywood: An Empire of Their Own.”

At least that's what it's called on Netflix's Web site, Netflix's envelope sleeve and Netflix's DVD casing. But once you start watching it, the true name of the doc appears: “Hollywoodism: Jews, Movies and the American Dream.” It's from A&E, always a bad sign, and, though Gabler helped write it, the doc merely begins with Gabler's book, then goes further afield, into areas that feel legitimate (Superman: created by two Jewish kids), and illegitimate or downright lies (the positive images of African-Americans promulgated in 1930s Hollywood films).

In the process, the doc loses the personalities of these moguls: the fierce determination of William Fox or Adolph Zukor; the fierce paternalism of Louis B. Mayer. Harry Cohn, a fierce personality, a real SOB in life, actually comes off without personality here.

The thrust of both book and doc is more or less the same. The six major movie studios (MGM, Universal, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. and Columbia) were each created by Jews born within a 500-mile radius in Eastern Europe. Each fled the nightmare of pogroms and each created a dream factory on the west coast of the United States. These dreams were assimilative, patriotic, and family-oriented. At the same time the nightmare they fled is still reflected in their movies; it's just been transported. It can be seen, for example, when sudden violence (from outlaws, bandits, etc.) bears down on a hardworking family trying to scrape a living out of the American west.

“Hollywoodism” is ultimately too sloppy to recommend. Example: The first thing we see is that quintessential Hollywood western scene of sudden violence bearing down on a family, which reflects the violence of pogroms the moguls fled. “These images conceal memories,” the narrator intones. Except these images are from “Once Upon a Time in the West,” an Italian film, not a Hollywood film. It's Sergio Leone. It has nothing to do with the moguls or their memories. In fact, by the time Leone filmed this scene, all but one of the moguls were dead.

Stick with the book.


Louis B. Mayer (MGM), William Fox (20th Century Fox) and Adolph Zukor (Paramount).


Carl Laemmle (Universal), Harry Cohn (Columbia), Jack Warner (Warner Bros.)

Posted at 08:22 AM on Tuesday February 01, 2011 in category Movies  
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