Monday, November 8, 2010

The Brothers Warner (2008) Documentary


The Brothers Warner - documentary
The Brothers Warner - book

This documentary follows the history of the Warner Bros. studio through the lives of the 4 brothers who founded it: Harry, Sam, Albert and Jack. It's written and directed by Cass Warner Sperling, granddaughter of Harry Warner and daughter of writer/producer Milton Sperling, and features interviews (some previously recorded) by various family members and industry people, including Dennis Hopper, who had worked with or were familiar with the brothers. Because this documentary is presented by someone from the Warner family, produced by Warner Sisters Productions and distributed by Warner Bros., there is going to be a little bias about the studio and the brothers. However, I think this documentary is very enlightening and informative and you'll walk away from it with a greater knowledge of film history and the great contributions Warner Bros. made to said history. The documentary is kind of choppy. At certain points it doesn't flow very well, I think mostly during the interviews. However, overall it felt cohesive and structured.

Something I learned about the original Warner Bros. studio that I didn't know before is that they would make socially conscious pictures even at the cost of profit. That's pretty much unheard of these days and it went against the notion of profitability in those days as well. The brothers took risks to provide audiences with movies that would "entertain, educate and enlighten". Their investment in Vitaphone and in the production of The Jazz Singer was mocked even by big studio heads like Irving Thalberg. Their attempt to enlighten the public about Nazi activity with films like Confessions of a Nazi Spy brought them severe criticism and even death threats. They took risks that paid out big. They put their money in many pots rather than all in one pot which saved them during difficult times. Now the documentary didn't say much about Warner Bros. treated their actors. Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Olivia de Havilland were among numerous actors who fought against Warner Bros. However, it did reveal a lot about Jack Warner and how show business and wealth turned his heart to stone over the years. I highly recommend watching this if you are a serious classic movie buff and want to know more about the studio system!

Make sure you stop by the excellent blog Dear Old Hollywood and check out Robby's post "An Evening with Cass Warner."

3 comments:

  1. I definitely want to see this documentary sometime. I've always been fascinated by the history of Warner Brothers, particularly as they were not only pioneers in sound, but also in colour too (Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum were among the first horror movies shot in colour). And, of course, they distributed the best of the classic cartoons, originally through their deal with Leon Schlesinger Productions, and, after they bought Schlesinger out, through their own animated unit.

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  2. Mercurie - Let me know when you see it. Since you are such a pop culture expert, I'm sure you would know everything that they say in the documentary! Have you written about Warner Bros.? I feel like you have.

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  3. Excellent review. And thanks for the shout-out! Best,
    Robby

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