Paul Merton's Birth of Hollywood

If you missed it, the first part of Paul Merton's Birth of Hollywood is on iPlayer now. (I caught up with it yesterday.) I wasn't so taken with Mark Gatiss' History of Horror last year because the title was misleading, but the Merton one is more focussed and able to stick to its subject.

Part 1 goes from early films, with the Cinematoscope and its ilk, up to the end of the 1910s. I thought the omission of any mention of the magic lantern in the history of film development was a little surprising. Of course, you can't cram a decade's worth of events into one programme, but the lack of attention to the serials (including no mention whatsoever of Florence Lawrence, the original Biograph Girl - Merton just says that Mary Pickford was known as the Biograph Girl) was a let-down. In fact, very little attention is paid to women in film full-stop; the vamps of the mid teens, including Theda Bara, didn't get a single sentence.

There's an awful lot on DW Griffith, who you can't really ignore, and on Chaplin, possibly to the expense of other Keystone performers. I do think that this is one of those programmes where the legacy of the stars, rather than their impact at the time, is what's justified their inclusion, so for the 1920s I'm willing to bet we'll see Louise Brooks rather than the then-more-popular Colleen Moore, and the jury's out on how much screen time Gloria Swanson, one of the biggest stars of the decade, will get...

Still, my nitpicks aside, Birth of Hollywood is a decent programme, and well worth watching.


  1. I didn't even know this was on. I actually quite liked the history of horror just for the fun visuals, so will probably enjoy this too even if the actual history is a bit wonky x

  2. I managed to catch a bit and found it really interesting - more so than i thought and intend to catch the rest later. x

  3. I liked Paul Merton's program on silent comedy a while back and I have this new show on series record too. Looking forward to the rest of them.
    Really enjoyed the history of Hollywood aspect and was shocked to learn of Thomas Edison's strong-arm tactics.

    Slightly off topic.

    >>>In fact, very little attention is paid to women in film full-stop; the vamps of the mid teens, including Theda Bara, didn't get a single sentence.<<<

    I'll tell you what's worse than ignoring the work of a certain section of people and that's mentioning how a certain section of people were marginalized... and then going on to ignore their work anyway! Which is exactly what happened on BBC4's Remember the Secret Policeman's Ball? They featured Ruby Wax toward the end but for a 90 minute program that's hardly good enough.

  4. Oooh, I'm glad you're enjoying it, Kai. I fell asleep halfway through the second one (curse you, beer!) so will have to watch it again.

    BBC4 programme-makers FTL! I'm tempted to ask if the people behind Rememeber the... were men. However, that was my reaction to the Merton programme, and I have to remind myself that he fails to talk about lots of men too. Douglas Fairbanks was one of the biggest silent stars, but from Merton's programme you could be forgiven for thinking he was merely Mr Mary Pickford.


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