Thursday, 13 March 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #65: Will The Lion Roar Again?

Okay, now I'm certain that somebody has cut down on the wacky pills they've been putting in the water in Beverly Hills.

Another person has been promoted to head studio production, and like the weirdness at Columbia/Sony, it appears to have been a decision based on merit.

Mary Parent, a former senior executive at Universal, has been named head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

At its peak MGM was synonymous with glamour, sophistication, big movies, and even bigger stars. Founded as a partnership in 1924 between Marcus Loew's theatre chain, Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures (sans co-founder Samuel Goldwyn), and super-producer Louis B. Mayer, it soon became a major player in Hollywood.

Their motto was "Ars Gratia Artis" or "Art for Art's Sake" a lovely, if slightly misleading, motto, a more accurate slogan of theirs was: "More Stars Than In Heaven."

Which was true. MGM had the biggest and most glamorous stable of stars in the business, all under the watchful eye, and stern hand of Louis B. Mayer.

MGM was usually on top of the movie game well into the 1950s until things began to fall apart. It was slow to get into the new market of TV, the 1948 consent decree cost them their theatres, and a power shift from stu
dios to freelance producers, and talent agents cost them control of their stars. It even lost money for the first time in its history due to massive cost overruns with the epic film flop Raintree County.

Things got worse for the company in the 1960s with the company passing through different hands, until it landed with Nevada real-estate/hotel mogul Kirk Kerkorian.

Kerkorian didn't really want to get into the movie business, but he did want the MGM name, and its connotations of glamour and stardom for his hotels. So he started to whittle down the company until almost all t
hat was left was its name and its massive film library.

It even gave up distributing its own films, renting out those duties to United Artists which it later merged with in the early 80s when UA was bankrupted by the failure of the bloated mega-western Heaven's Gate.

For the rest of the 80s and 90s the reconstituted MGM/UA was passed around more than a doobie at a frat party, with Kerkorian popping up several times to re-buy and then re-sell the studio.

Now the studio is owned by a new partnership between cable giant Comcast, and Columbia/Sony Entertainment. The appointment of a new head with a fairly solid record shows a seriousness on the part of MGM/UA's new owners to actually run a film studio as a film studio, and not just a cog in a machine.

I wish Mary Parent and MGM a lot of luck in this new venture.

Anyone who beats the system that's currently sucking the life out of Hollywood deserves some good fortune.

1 comment:

  1. I find it funny MGM adopted that motto since the original came from the English translation of the original French. The English version was the motto of the late 19th century Aesthetic Movement which rebelled against Victorian moralities.