That's Not All, Folks: PBS Tackles The Warner Bros. Story
With The Dark Knight becoming the second-highest-grossing film of all time, and closing in on Titanic’s No. 1 spot, it’s not a bad time to take a look at the 85-year history of the studio that made the film. Written, produced and directed by film critic Richard Schickel and narrated by Clint Eastwood, You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story airs next week over three nights (Tuesday through Thursday at 9 p.m.) as part of PBS’s American Masters series, and it entertainingly runs through the studio’s prominence as a talkie pioneer, a well-oiled purveyor of gangster pics and lurid melodrama, a champion of working-class hopes and fears before leaning right after World War II, a haven for iconoclast visions in the ’70s, and currently a tent-pole factory where art-strivers Eastwood and George Clooney are allowed to — as they categorize it — do one for the studio, then one for themselves.
Focusing more on the films than on Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack — for details on the Warner clan, American Masters has a separate doc called The Brothers Warner airing September 25 — the series has fun revisiting the iconic resonance of Busby Berkeley’s strange, geometric flesh-and-fabric fantasias; Jimmy Cagney’s slashing charm; Humphrey Bogart’s haunted compactness and Stanley Kubrick’s pictorial gravity. But underlying it all is a strong sense that the longevity of the emblem was built on game-changing depictions of physical and emotional violence, from that grapefruit in the face in Public Enemy and Bette Davis unloading that gun in The Letter to Brando’s entire performance in A Streetcar Named Desire, and on through the bloodletting in Bonnie and Clyde and The Wild Bunch, Martin Scorsese’s explosive brutality and Eastwood’s path from gun-toting avenger to clear-eyed chronicler of the abyss that violence opens up.
It’s a shame, though, that the recent stratospheric success of The Dark Knight doesn’t warrant more than a quick mention of its box-office prowess in the final hour. Because after watching Schickel’s history, and considering Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequel — an independent-minded director’s behemoth full of gangsters and social conscience, anchored by a timeless portrayal of exhilarating menace in Heath Ledger, pushing the boundaries of onscreen violence for a PG-13 film, unafraid of depicting sadism and its aftermath — The Dark Knight seems like the ultimate Warner Bros. film.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.
More Film News
- Five Reasons to Enter the Silly, Sad World of Netflix's BoJack Horseman
- The End of the Tour Doesn't Quite Depict a Convincing David Foster Wallace
- You Will Learn Exactly Three New Things From the Chris Farley Documentary
- Jason Segel Had His Book Club Read Infinite Jest Without Telling Them He Was...