A valentine to both the movies and the town with which they’ve become synonymous, “Forever Hollywood” is a pleasing and at times moving evocation of the glamour, hopefulness and exuberance that have propelled both the cinema and the city of Hollywood. While glossing over the physical deterioration of the place and making no reference to its current boisterous comeback, writer-director Todd McCarthy and co-director-editor Arnold Glassman have woven together pieces of feature films, home movies, newsreel footage and contemporary interviews to create a dazzling tapestry that vividly expresses the energy of Hollywood’s filmic roots.
Pic is partially funded by the City of Los Angeles and the Community Redevelopment Agency, which helped finance the American Cinematheque, where “Forever Hollywood” will play exclusively as a daily attraction for out-of-towners and local buffs. McCarthy, Variety’s chief film critic, has a solid take on the development of the film industry and the little town that suddenly got big and famous along with the pictures. In the first half of this image- and idea-packed 57-minute opus, McCarthy and Glassman, who collaborated on key cinematography docu “Visions of Light,” focus on a dizzying celebration of the stars and the factories where dreams rolled out like Fords off an assembly line.
Behind-the-scenes footage of impossibly handsome Gary Cooper, otherworldly Marlene Dietrich, boyishly buoyant Mickey Rooney et al., is accompanied by insightful interviews with veteran film figures such as directors Andre de Toth and Vincent Sherman and “Titanic” co-star Gloria Stuart. Stuart’s reminiscing about stumbling upon the shooting of a fairy-tale picture in Topanga Canyon, while footage of the original silent film rolls, is perhaps the documentary’s single most stunning moment.
The shots of Hollywood from its origins into the ’50s are indispensable, but strangely, when the town begins to fray at the edges after WWII, the docu also seems to veer from its sense of purpose. With governmental financial support and a mandate to cover the city’s history as well as the panorama of Hollywood filmmaking in under an hour, it couldn’t have been easy to choose where to pause and where to cut and run.
The problem is perhaps exacerbated by McCarthy’s unflagging enthusiasm for explaining how the movies grew up, even at the expense of showing how the town ran down. Given that the American Cinematheque and its renovation of the Egyptian Theatre are key components of the city’s revival, and only yards from the new headquarters for the Oscars, one hopes there will be a coda or materials provided with the screenings to alert tourists to their position at ground zero for Hollywood 2000.
And instead of zooming in on the low-budget, not to mention low-rent, filmmaking that continued in Hollywood in the ’70s and ’80s (e.g., the Roger Corman factory and other indies), McCarthy takes the highbrow road and shows how New York-derived film artists such as Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese kept the film-art fires burning brightly. Oddly, for a docu that sports interview footage with Quentin Tarantino, there’s no footage of contemporary L.A. as seen through his lens or that of Paul Thomas Anderson, both of whom are mining these local mean streets for inspiration.
There’s also little indication that recorded music, radio and television also spread the myth of Hollywood the place, but given the time constraints and the expertise and passion brought to explaining the “big bang” of celluloid and sunshine, it’s a minor problem. For newcomers eager to be baptized in the waters of the local religion, “Forever” is a blessing.
Pic uses David Raksin’s music for “The Bad and the Beautiful” as its main theme. Sharon Stone’s narration gives the docu a comfortable, insider feel, and Nancy Schreiber’s lensing of the interviews with stars including Clint Eastwood, Shirley MacLaine, Warren Beatty, Michael Douglas, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford is intimate and colorful. The insights provided help welcome the uninitiated into the movie folks’ hometown fold.