Remarks by Walter Mirisch Town Hall of California Feb. 8, 1977

Article excerpt

The story of the development of the motion picture industry and the history of the Motion Picture Academy are closely intertwined. In order to explain the latter, we must at least sketch in the broad outlines of the former. And so, as we look back over the last threequarters of a century, we see that motion pictures have progressed from flickering images in storefront theaters in New York's immigrant section to an industry of international scope. In 1906, several thousands of people saw those moving images, usually projected on bedsheets. In 1976, nearly one billion admission tickets were sold by almost 16,000 theaters in the United States alone. The number throughout the world is inestimable.

Encompassed within that 70-year period are stories of the rise and fall of multi-million dollar companies, the odysseys of John Does and Mary Roes into internationally renowned stardom, and scientific and technical achievements almost beyond belief.

Throughout that history the motion picture has been loved and feared, idolized and despised. Since their invention, motion pictures have provided entertainment and enjoyment beyond measure and have been a cause for admiration and concern, a target for control, and a devil to be dreaded.

In the early days of motion pictures churchmen inveighed against the license that motion pictures exercised. In 1915 the Supreme Court ruled that the free speech and free press guarantees of our Constitution did not apply to movies. As late as 1955, Sen. Kefauver's Juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee said that "The predominance of brutality in both movies and television is making our nation's youth insensitive to human suffering," and called for self-censorship to avoid government intervention. But it has not been exclusively violence that has been controversial in film. The discussions - often quite heated - over some films' depictions of sex, racism, poverty, war and other controversial themes continues until today. It is no surprise when one contemplates the depth of emotion those moving images have elicited over such a long period of time.

The aim of my remarks today is to venture an explanation of the past 50 years of film-making in terms of its artistic, cultural and economic growth, and to examine picture-making's relationship to the Academy and to the rest of our community.

Hollywood, as someone once pointed out, is not a place, it is a state of mind. But the origins of that image of glitter and gold were quite humble -even mundane.

Film, we are told, was shot in Los Angeles before the turn of the century. The Los Angeles County Art Museum recently screened some footage shot on Spring St. in 1898. It showed a bustling thoroughfare with horse-drawn wagons whose passengers wore sporty outfits protected by sun parasols, and teeming with bicyclists and fearless jaywalkers.

Legend has it, however, that the first commercial films were shot in and around New York, New Jersey, and Chicago. There is some doubt as to whether the first professional picturemaking in the Los Angeles area came about through a desire for a better year-'round climate, or because it was sufficiently removed from bothersome eastern process servers.

In either event, a Colonel William Selig is credited with producing the first commercial film in Los Angeles. Selig came to Los Angeles and purchased a site which had formerly housed a Chinese laundry. On it he erected a crude stage, and a sign which read "Selig's Polyscope West Coast Studio." The first production of "Selig's Studio" was "THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO", a 1000-foot-long film which was released in 1909.

The Blondeau Tavern at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street was soon after bought and converted into a makeshift film studio by the Nestor Company in 1911.

From that point on - and for whatever the reasons - Los Angeles became the Mecca of the movies, and those who wanted to become filmmakers, actors, or almost anything else related to that most fascinating of industries, came to make their pilgrimages. …