Tag: Hollywood history

The Bel-Air Circuit

 

“The Bel-Air Circuit” was once among the most inside-y of showbiz insider terms. Technically, it exists in no Hollywood rule book, but it’s one of the most important invisible, little known social networks of the film industry. For a century, the Bel Air Circuit (with or without the dash) has referred informally to envied members of the Los Angeles-based film industry so elite that they have professional projection facilities in their own homes, tiny but fully equipped 35mm movie theaters, to screen their own films as well as those of competitors. This was once incredibly rare.

Even today, these charming, oversized 1920s-to-’50s houses, these fake English manors and Versailles chateaus, keep coming up on the real estate market. They are worth far more because four discreet projection view ports cut high into the living room wall are silent testimony of the long-ago presence of glamour: Barbara Stanwyck, Irving Thalberg, Humphrey Bogart, or Ava Gardner.

It’s hard for us to imagine a time, less than 50 years ago, when no matter who you were, you basically couldn’t have a movie of your choice each night, to see in your home at a time of your choosing. You flat out couldn’t buy a copy of a feature film no matter how much money you offered. Even wealthy people in America’s other great cities and industries—Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, you name it, even haughty New York—didn’t have that privilege. By contrast, in Hollywood, once you were “in”—part of the so-called Bel Air circuit, you just placed a phone call, and a studio delivery man would bring you whatever current film you wanted for home viewing, no charge. This was elite privilege at its most rarefied.

Hollywood Directors in the Golden Era: 3 Autobiographies

 

I picked Raoul Walsh’s “Each Man in His Time” (1974) off the shelves. I very seldom look at it; it’s one of the least re-read of my film books, scoring maybe one and a half re-reads in forty-five years. Walsh, born in 1887, worked as a young man for D.W. Griffith and his career as a director was already fifteen years on when sound came in. Amazingly, his work would span all the way from “Birth of a Nation” to the end of the Fifties. Walsh credibly manages to equate the end of his directing career with the end of classic Hollywood altogether, and ties in the deaths of Humphrey Bogart (1957), Errol Flynn (1959), Clark Gable and Gary Cooper (1961) as being the last of the major stars of the classic period.

Like many autobiographies, we can guess that some of these detailed memories were written years before Walsh turned 87, and I have no doubt that some or even a lot of it is exaggerated. But this is one of those books where you have to say “If even a third of this is true…” as Raoul Walsh stands on the set of “Intolerance”, rides with Pancho Villa, directs Fox’s first sound film, discovers John Wayne, has an affair with Pola Negri and about, oh, 500 other women, goes to the racetrack with Winston Churchill, becomes a regular guest at San Simeon, and takes Jimmy Cagney to the “Top of the world, Ma!” Quite a life.

It’s Raining at the Movies

 

Somewhere, there’s got to be a meteorlogically minded film fanatic (in the British Isles would be my first guess) who has probably compiled a list of every major rain scene in the movies. Well, this post is not that list. No Baby, the Rain Must Fall. No Rains of Ranchipur. Next time, Blade Runner. Back off, Back to the Future Part II.

These notes are only a few impressionistic sketches of rain and a few of its cinematic uses, to darken the deeper notes of drama or even, once in a while, to express the simple joy of splashing in puddles. That’s why Singin’ in the Rain (1952) begins this post, although the one scene everyone remembers is less remembered for its singing, but its dancing, joyously embracing the rain as a romance begins.