Cannes 2023: Warner, vices and virtues

May 25, 2023 by No Comments

No one is a prophet in his own country. The boss of Warner was better received at the Cannes Film Festival than at Boston University where he was invited this week. “Pay your screenwriters!” », students shouted at him on Monday, May 22, supporting the scriptwriters’ strike started in early May to demand an improvement in their remuneration.

Two days later, the same David Zaslav came to present, to Cannes applause, a documentary series on the history of Warner, on the occasion of its 100th anniversary. Produced and distributed by the studio, this four-hour fresco signed by Leslie Iwerks is not just an advertising leaflet to the glory of the Warner brothers, sons of Polish Jewish immigrants.

The visionary flair of these self-made men is obviously rented there. They had to jostle for a place in Hollywood. They almost threw in the towel and owe their financial salvation to a dog, rintintinthen to their stroke of genius: The Jazz Singer (1926), the first talking feature in the history of the 7th art.

Social and political fiber

A film whose documentary questions the polemical dimension, the hero is chased away by his father, a synagogue cantor, because he sings in bars, wearing black makeup. A practice, the blackface, considered racist today. The documentary manages to put this work, which is more subtle than it seems, into context, by giving voice to many historians, actors and directors.

Martin Scorsese, in particular, reiterates the social and political fiber of a studio that produced films that did not always caress their time in the direction of the hair: harsh film noir, during the “great depression” (The Public Enemy, in 1931); anti-Nazi firefights in the isolationist America of World War II (Confessions of a Nazi Spy, 1939); then subversive works with exacerbated violence (Bonnie and Clyde1967, Clockwork Orange1971).

Warner, whose watchword is “to combine good citizenship and good films”, however, denied himself during the post-war anti-communist “witch hunt”. Jack Warner does not hesitate to come and denounce former collaborators on Senator McCarthy’s commission. As he will not hesitate to betray his own brothers to take sole control of the company in 1956.

The fight of artists, like Bette Davis or Olivia de Havilland, to free themselves from the leonine contracts imposed by the studio, is also told with a wealth of detail that surprises in the current context. We bet that the last episodes of this documentary saga will return to the current crisis…


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