July 2008
Billie Silvey
Most of the products of the early film industry, with
their obvious villains and heroes, can be traced back
to their origins in the Morality Plays of the Middle
Ages.  These early dramas have a central figure who
represents Everyman who is faced with a moral
decision:  Will he pursue virtue or vice?

Early Hollywood was too engrossed with mastering
the craft of movie making and making as much money
as possible to do much self-examining.  However,
decades later, movies began to be made that examined
the morality of the industry itself--mostly not to its
Day of the Locust
Based on Nathaniel West’s book of the same name,
The Day of the Locust tells the story of an idealistic young
set designer, Tod Hackett (played by William Atherton),
who seeks fame and fortune in the Hollywood of the 30s.  
He falls in love with the cruel and manipulative aspiring
actress Faye Greener (played by Karen Black).  Burgess
Meredith won an Oscar for his role as Faye’s drunken
father Harry.

Directed by John Schlesinger, the 1975 movie includes
such memorable scenes as the collapse of a movie set of
the Waterloo battlefield on extras and a riot at a premier.  
It presents a bleak picture of an industry that thrives on
spectacle, cruelty and destruction.
The Cat's Meow
Peter Bogdanovich directed The
Cat’s Meow,
a 2001 drama
inspired by the mysterious
circumstances surrounding the
death of film mogul Thomas H.
Ince.  It stars Edward Hermann
as  publishing magnate William
Randolph Hearst, Kirsten Dunst
as his mistress, silent film star
Marion Davies, and Eddie Izzard
as Charlie Chaplin.

The film depicts the dichotomy of
appearance vs. reality, the
struggle for power and wealth
and the hypocrisy that
characterize the industry.
The Last Tycoon
The Last Tycoon is a 1976 film based
on an unfinished novel by F. Scott
Fitzgerald. It tells the story of Monroe
Stahr, a 30s movie mogul based on
MGM’s Irving Thalberg.  Robert
DeNiro stars in the Elia Kazan movie,
with supporting roles by Jack
Nicholson, Tony Curtis and Robert

DeNiro plays a reclusive studio head
who cares more about the quality of a
film than the money it makes.  
Last Tycoon
treats ambition, love, and
loss through Stahr's and the audience's
vicarious experience at the movies.
Can an industry that thrives on  manipulation and hypocrisy
examine itself seriously and present the results of that
self-examination as modern-day Morality Plays?  Can we learn
from those plays, or are we blinded by  the glamor and power they
portray?  Is the movie industry today's expounder of virtue or its
example of vice?  
History of Screenland
A Walking Tour