The early sound period in Hollywood, when nervous studios made multi-lingo versions of their pics to ensure continued worldwide markets, is one of the most fascinating and least studied moments in film history, which makes Oscar Perez and Mia de Ribot’s “Hollywood Talkies” especially frustrating. If it were just a poetic meditation on the fate of Spanish talent brought to Los Angeles and then abandoned, it might have worked, but the helmers also want it to be a docu, and in this they’re ahistorically selective. Pic will be best viewed at galleries.
Fixed camera shots of Hollywood now — a close-up of a cinema here, a shot of a beach there — are interspersed with photos from the early 1930s, when Hispanophone thesps arrived to make Spanish-language versions of the big releases. Narrator Jeff Espinoza offers snippets of info about a number of minor players who came, appeared in a few mediocre pics, and then left when the multi-language experiment went belly-up. The “Hollywood Talkies” version is that these movies were all bad, the directors assigned couldn’t speak Spanish, and the performers who arrived with such hopes wound up barely working before making disillusioned exits.
To call this a blinkered version of history would be kind. Perez and de Ribot don’t mention the stars who left a mark, such as Lupita Tovar, Conchita Montenegro, Gilbert Roland, Ramon Novarro, Mona Maris, Barry Norton, et al., most of whom had important careers before and after. Silent star Antonio Moreno is made out to be a failure in his native tongue, though he made quite a few Spanish-lingo pics.
The claim that the studios assigned directors who couldn’t speak Spanish is an exaggeration and willfully passes over men like Carlos Borcosque, Eduardo Arozamena, Benito Perojo, Florian Rey and others, helmers who may not have had illustrious Stateside careers but needn’t be written off into nonexistence. It’s especially unfortunate that Perez and de Ribot fail to take into account the fascinating and under-researched Chilean actor-director Adelqui Migliar; nor do they bother to state that French-, German- and Italian-lingo pics were simultaneously being produced.
Instead, the docu offers little more than a list of frustrated performers who whiled their time away at the beach or at parties, picking up paychecks while “suspended in a state of temporary permanence.” Some of the images are attractive but merely suggest mood, rather than make a statement about the lure and transience of the Hollywood dream. An ultra-serious soundscape with occasional piano notes asserts the gravity of the project. Press notes give a running time of 61 minutes.