In the 1980s, Thames TV in the UK created a documentary series (in the days when major terrestrial stations did these kinds of things) that was hugely successful and award winning.

Created by film historian Kevin Brownlow and producer David Gill, “Hollywood” took thirteen one hour episodes (minus adverts) to tell of the beginnings of cinema in, well, Hollywood.

It was a perfect time for such a series. There was a budget for it, very many of the stars were still alive and many were happy to be interviewed (though some were not, and of course, all are now long dead), there were good (non-computer) techniques for restoring the films and some interest in the subject and the style after the success of “The World At War”.

“Hollywood” had a simple purpose. It wanted to dispel the myths of silent films all being like the Keystone Kops, fast, jerky, poor quality. Instead, clips were presented at the right speed in the best quality.

As was said many times in the series, “silent” films were not silent. There was always music, anything from a person with a piano to a full orchestra. As well as generating a book about the series, an LP was released of the music by Carl Davis. The orchestral music underscored the clips, but also continued through the interviews, adding a seamless quality to the show and a touch of class.

Episodes covered the beginnings of Hollywood, comedians (Chaplin, Keaton etc), stunt men, directors, photographers, war and westerns and much more.

Narrator was film legend James Mason.

Sadly, this series has never been made available on DVD. When asked once about it, Brownlow hinted that there were legal and copyright problems and the chances of it coming out were small. You may be able to find copies of the individual episodes on YouTube, for example here https://youtu.be/8mo3Z8IkLnU, but the quality may not be too good – VHS recordings, I suspect. They are just about watchable, and if you saw the series when it first came out, may be worth a look, if only to see the credits again.

The success of “Hollywood” spawned other short series, one on Chaplin, one on Keaton and more on Harold Lloyd.

And, it invented, or re-invented, Live Cinema.

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