31 May 2010 | nataloff-1
The First to Crack the Lion's Lair
Anyone who criticizes "Hollywood: The Dream Factory" is naively unaware of the effort it took to get MGM to open its vault to allow filmmakers Irwin Rosten and Nicholas Noxon to make this remarkable compilation documentary. Seasoned by working on the "Hollywood and the Stars" TV series for producer David L. Wolper, Rosten and Noxon brought their expertise to a then-ailing Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. They used the framing device of the MGM auction to flash back to the studio's heyday, offering a concise capsule of the studio's corporate history with a startlingly wry description of its artistic achievements. Having Dick Cavett narrate, and Fred Foy announce, the program begins with a deliciously witty faux trailer that not only sends up every preview ever produced but lets the viewer know that this will be no paean to M, G, or M (in contrast with the bloated, sycophantic 1992 Turner production "MGM: When the Lion Roars").
It's important to remember that, when this film was made, nobody was getting access to studio vaults, especially MGM's, which then had the golden library. Indeed, the success of "Hollywood: The Dream Factory" doubtless gave the studio the idea to go ahead with "That's Entertainment!," made by another Wolper alumnus, Jack Haley, Jr.
"Hollywood: The Dream Factory" is that rare clip documentary with a personality. Picture quality is first-rate, the modern footage is shot by John A. Alonzo ("Chinatown," "Sounder"), and the script maintains a wise balance between nostalgia and pragmatism. It can be found among the special features on the two-disc DVD of "Meet Me in St. Louis," and it also turns up on TCM now and then.