The real story of Hollywood--as told by such luminaries as Steven Spielberg, Jane Fonda, Frank Capra, Katharine Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, Harold Lloyd, Jordan Peele, and nearly four hundred others--reveals a fresh history of the American movie industry, from its beginnings to today.
... a hefty book with charm to match ... This is a book for those who still revere Hollywood’s past, and that’s fine by this film historian ... My bookshelves are laden with Hollywood memoirs that run the gamut from indispensable to comic to, frankly, a pack of lies. Even so, I found Hollywood had something fresh, revealing and frequently amusing on nearly every page. The AFI talks, while lively, are focused on actual filmmaking, so there is less gossip than in a typical autobiography, where the publisher knows that’s what sells. Ms. Basinger and Mr. Wasson also make good use of lesser-known but vital figures, like Margaret Booth, MGM’s editor for many years, or Ranald MacDougall, a great screenwriter but one with low name recognition compared with, say, Billy Wilder ... You can feel these folks, in the company of others who love and work in the industry, putting up their feet and getting real ... will surely bring joy to any cinephile, but its organization is a bit of a downer. If ever there were a film book that begged for notes and a source list it’s this one, even if the additions would take the size from heavy to immovable. The front matter includes an alphabetical list of contributors, along with their professions, but none of their credits or even their studio affiliations. Readers moved to curiosity about, say, what films Raoul Walsh directed or what exactly Pandro Berman did in the movie industry will probably spend a lot of time on Wikipedia ... It would be useful to know when someone was speaking—how many years after the events? In certain cases, more time means that an anecdote has become more, shall we say, interesting ... These are the moments—art versus commerce, kindness versus hard-headed realism—in which Hollywood earns its page count.
While underscoring too frequent stereotypical gender expectations (fewer, surprisingly, during the early days), there is little mention of actual sexual harassment. This edited, conversational retrospective contains much on changes in the industry as experienced by those in it, such as the transition to sound, the waning of censorship after the Production Code and McCarthyism, the use of digital technology, and the challenge of immediate reviews through the blogosphere ... Recommended for the large audience of popular culture enthusiasts for whom knowledge of the Hollywood past will enable them better to appreciate occurring and anticipated industry changes.
Don’t break stride for killjoy contemporary questions of race, gender, socioeconomics and unconscious editorial bias in the shaping of historical narrative and maybe it is. At the very least, here is testimony by over 300 industry professionals, some of whom made silent movies and are now dead, others of whom are Steven Spielberg and Jordan Peele. And the result is a fat, showbiz-nerd-satisfying tome with something for every showbiz-nerd taste: on-set stories, technical details, funny anecdotes about actors, the echoes of studio executives kvetching and various people complaining about critics. Hooray for Hollywood! ... With the conversations of more than 3,000 guest speakers to choose from, of course, the organizing structure is key. And in this, Basinger and Wasson have done a snazzy job of folding topics into a timeline that begins in the era of silent movies and calls it a wrap with up-to-the-minute show folk throwing out words like 'digital,' 'social media' and 'globalization' ... we have the provocative or amusing or illustrative words of hundreds of insiders to entertain us. But without the context of time and place, an important piece of scholarship is missing. This is Basinger and Wasson’s and the AFI’s oral history of Hollywood, and it’s a fine one. But remember, as the man said, Nobody knows anything.