I finally saw the last installment of the new documentary Warner Bros.: You Must Remember This. It premiered on PBS as part of its American Masters series the week of September 21, but as usual with PBS, trying to find all 3 parts was like digging for buried treasure. Part of this was compounded by the fact that it turns out parts one and two were 2 hours each, but part 3 was only one hour. It was confusing, to say the least.
The film—which for some bizarre reason coincides with Warners' 85th anniversary (which I guess is the "celluloid" anniversary, thus the need for a documentary)—was written, directed, and produced by film critic Richard Schickel, and narrated by actor/director Clint Eastwood. It includes interviews with numerous stars, both living and deceased, the latter, of course, through the miracle of film.
And while the first 4 hours are pretty much fascinating, the final hour sadly reveals the true purpose of this 5-hour brotherly love-fest: It's a puff piece. Once Alan Horn and Barry Meyer, the current Warner "Brothers" show up, it's all revealed to be one giant blow job. Suddenly George Clooney and Clint Eastwood also have long segments dedicated to their work at the studio (Eastwood's work was also featured in the second installment), and that furthers the feeling that this is just one huge PR endeavor, something seemingly designed to be shown to extremely patient shareholders. Both Horn and Meyer (the studio heads) frequently use words like "brilliant" and "powerful" in sentences that make them seem like they're from another world. (I swear...both movie studio and TV execs have such an off-putting way of speaking, using phrases such as "at the end of the day" and the like, that it makes you think there's some kind of special breeding farm that grows them from scratch somewhere in the San Fernando Valley). They tout the smaller, personal films they're making (most of them--Letters from Iwo Jima, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, all by Eastwood), alongside the big budget "tentpole" franchise films, such as the Harry Potter series.
Another disturbing thing about this film is how it glosses over the beginnings of the studio and the Warner Brothers themselves, with a "Cliff Notes" look at how the studio started. Poised, of course, at the very beginning of the film, it sets the tone--in a bad way--for the rest of it. (More time is given, it seems, to the studio's first real star--and original "tentpole"--Rin Tin Tin.) While Jack Warner remains a player through the film into the mid-60s, the other Brothers are given short shrift. At one point in the final installment, either Horn or Meyer (they're almost interchangeable, at least to the viewers of this film), mentions the important historical fact that he's only the fourth person to be in his office on the Warners' lot, citing the consistency of the management of the studio. He's right, but he fails to acknowledge that Jack Warner held the office for almost 45 years, longer than any other Hollywood studio mogul, and more than half the time the studio has existed.
Ultimately, Schickel has made a film that's as much a paean to Clint Eastwood as it is to the studio. (Eastwood is also an executive producer of the documentary.) Forever linked with the studio for which he created and acted in numerous films, including the Dirty Harry series, Eastwood still has his production company offices on the lot. There's no denying that the Warner Brothers produced a exciting, urban kind of movie in their early days, and went onto an incredible run of classic films. Nor can you deny that the studio hasn't pioneered the big budget franchise type of film, spawning sequel after sequel, starting with Superman in 1978. With The Dark Knight—another dark, urban drama—quickly becoming the second most popular film ever made, Jack Warner must be smiling somewhere, even if most of his contemporaries would swear it would be from Hell.