Here is an extraordinary find. It’s a forty minute silent doc (no music either–just ghostly silence) detailing the inner workings of the MGM studio lot in 1925. We see images of the lot in its silent heyday, with tours of the exterior, views of the interior stages, lots of groupings of the people involved in the filmmaking process and even a view of a band that plays ‘mood music’ behind scenes being filmed (they can be seen at 34:00). Some of the people on view include Howard Hawks (8:09), who is barely thirty years old and is identified as a ‘writer’. The directors group includes a wonderfully glum Josef Von Sternberg (11:00) and we see Tod Browning directing a film called ‘The Mystic’ (at 31:25). Edmund Goulding also makes an appearance (32:00) directing Conrad Nagel in something called ‘Sun Up’. Goulding is seen talking with the actors, stepping back as two cameras crank away furiously and then casually looking behind him at the crew shooting the doc, more interested in them apparently than in the scene he’s shooting. Every other department–costumes, dance, sets, even accounting–are given their fare amount of time and one truly gets the sense of what a thoroughly functional and self-sustaining unit a studio truly was. One senses the pride and enthusiasm of the participants as well–to be part of this machine and be paid for it (and live in the southern California of 1925) was to have safely beaten the system.
Why was this film made? Perhaps as a kind of demonstration reel for the exhibitors who came to the MGM convention every year–the exhibitors knew little about the process of making the films they were selling and possibly this was a way to juice them up and show them the pride and energy that went into the manufacturing of their product. It’s too long for it to have been meant to be theatrically exhibited so I have no other real explanation for its existence. Nevertheless, as a piece of cinema history it’s an invaluable and astonishing archeaological find and I’m currently searching for the right music to play behind it for my second viewing later today.