NEW YORK.- Hollywood on the Hudson: Filmmaking in New York, 1920-1939, a month-long exhibition that showcases New York Citys seminal yet rarely recognized role in the establishment of the modern American film industry between the two world wars, is presented at The Museum of Modern Art, from through October 19, 2008. More than 25 feature films and many shorts, including early sound filmsmusicals, comedies, animated films, and documentariesoffer a survey of filmmaking in New York during the hegemony of Hollywood, from D. W. Griffiths return from the West Coast in 1919 to the Worlds Fair of 1939. Screenings include pioneering sound films shot at the Paramount Studios in Astoria, Queens, and performances by Broadway luminaries such as Louise Brooks, Marion Davies, the Marx Brothers, Gloria Swanson, and Rudolph Valentino.
Hollywood on the Hudson is co-organized by Laurence Kardish, Senior Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art; and Richard Koszarski, on whose book, Hollywood on the Hudson: Film and Television in New York from Griffith to Sarnoff (Rutgers University Press, 2008), the exhibition is based.
The exhibition recalls a point during which an industry built on centralized authority began to listen, for the first time, to a range of independent voices in cinema, each with their own ideas about what the movies could say and do.
Prior to the 1920s, the Hollywood studio system was geared toward creating a standardized product and sought to appeal to all ages and classes, whereas New York cinema was technically innovative and culturally specific, and played to niche audiences, from art houses to ethnic enclaves. The collapse of Hollywoods economic and industrial model in the post-World War I era soon forced American filmmakers to rethink the way they made films and sold them to audiences. Finding they could no longer depend on a system that required long term contracts and studio backlots with elaborate standing sets, they began to adopt the methods being used by writers, directors, and actors in New York.
New York makes its indelible mark in such films as While New York Sleeps (1920), which was shot at the new Fox studio on West 55th Street and made extraordinary use of the citys locations; D.W. Griffiths The Struggle (1931), an independent production shot at the old Edison studio in the Bronx and in the surrounding neighborhood; and Monsieur Beaucaire (1924), a romantic costume drama that uses its Astoria, Queens, location as an artful riposte to the frivolities that Rudolph Valentino and his wife, Natacha Rambova, felt had been forced on him in Hollywood.
In Paradise in Harlem (1939), Joseph Seidens fable about a black vaudevillian who dreams of bringing Shakespeare to the Harlem stage, and Murder in Harlem (1935), Oscar Micheauxs transportation of the notorious Leo Frank case to Harlem, New York is featured as an indispensable element of the films themselves. Yet New Yorks studios and soundstages were also used at this time to portray other locales as well, including Hollywood in such films as Mark Sandrichs The Talk of Hollywood (1929), which was made at the Gramercy Studio on Twentyfourth Street.
Hollywood on the Hudson also calls attention to the diversity of filmmaking from the New York studios to independent filmmakers and producers who made Yiddish films, race films, Spanish films, and Italian films, not only for exporting but also for the citys many immigrant communities. Carlos Gardel, creator of the genre of tango vocal movies, made four Spanishlanguage musicals in Astoria for Paramount release, including El Tango en Broadway (1934). Cuore demigrante (1932), directed by Harold Godsoe, in which a family confronts the consequences of their immigration to America, was produced in Fort Lee, NJ, for Italian-American audiences, while Tevye (1939), directed by Maurice Schwartz, is a bittersweet Yiddish tale in which the lessons of the past are projected onto an uncertain present.