PBS' 10-part series, "American Cinema," kicking off Monday,
focuses on the three M's of the movies: the method, the meaning and
Produced by the New York Center for Visual Art, KCET-TV (the
PBS station in Los Angeles) and the BBC, "American Cinema" is not a
typical clip anthology but a serious study of American film making
during the last 100 years. Each hour examines an aspect of American
movies - from the style of film making to the concept of the movie
star to the rise and fall and rise of the studios to specific
genres known as film noir, the Western, the combat film and the
"American Cinema" also features a stellar array of interviews
with leading directors, producers, industry executives, stars, film
historians, screenwriters, editors and cinematographers. To drop a
few names: Robert Altman, James L. Brooks, Clint Eastwood, Michael
Eisner, Peter Falk, Harrison Ford, Samuel Fuller, Charlton Heston,
Jack Lemmon, George Lucas, Joseph Mankiewicz, Sidney Lumet, Sydney
Pollack, Julia Roberts, Gena Rowlands, Martin Scorsese, Steven
Spielberg and Oliver Stone. John Lithgow is the host.
The series is to serve as a fully accredited college course,
which will include a textbook, "American Cinema/American Culture"
by John Belton; a study guide by Edward K. Sikov, and three
additional half-hour programs. A glossy companion book, "American
Cinema - One Hundred Years of Filmmaking," by Jeanine Basinger, was
published last fall by Rizzoli.
Lawrence Pitkethly is the executive producer of "American
Cinema." The Northern Ireland native is a writer, journalist, film
maker and co-founder of the New York Center for Visual History. He
previously conceived and developed "Voices & Visions," the
acclaimed 13-part documentary series on American poetry that aired
on PBS in 1988.
Los Angeles Times staff writer Susan King discussed "American
Cinema" with Pitkethly in a phone call to his house in New York.
Q: "American Cinema" looks at film as an industry, an art form
and a mirror of our culture. How did you arrive at the concept for
A: The general public has a kind of love affair with movies, an
obsession with movies. Not just in Los Angeles, but in every city
in the United States. But there is actually very little on
television for people who want to get a handle on a lot of things
they are talking about. There is very little history. One of the
strongest reasons for doing the series was to make a lot of
information available in a general way.
We are obviously coming up to the centenary of cinema (this
year). So this was really a project looking to 100 years of film
and saying this is a way to celebrate one of America's greatest
cultural achievements, the entertainment success story of all time.
There is a third (reason) that was really behind this thing. I
think we have really reached an interesting moment in our society
for retrieving the history of Hollywood. That is to say, you looked
at old films in revival houses or you looked at old films on TV and
then videocassettes came along. …