After the success of CNN’s continuing miniseries chronicling the decades — beginning with The Sixties in 2014 — all the way up to The 2000s last year, it seemed natural to do a follow-up on the movies of those years. And thus we have the new six-part limited series, The Movies. Each weekly installment is two hours and focuses, like the previous series, on a particular decade from the Golden Age onward, opening with the 80’s this Sunday July 7 and continuing every Sunday through August 11. There is no rhyme or reason to the order of the shows. The producers tell me they did it chronologically, but CNN made the decision on how it would be aired initially.
Coming from Executive Producers Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman and Mark Herzog, the same team that brought you The Decades, it is another ambitious project for the cable network and described as one that “explores American cinema through the decades and the cultural, societal and political shifts that framed its evolution. Combining archival footage and interviews with leading actors, directors, producers, critics and historians, the series showcases the most pivotal moments in film that have stirred the imagination and influenced our culture.”
Having previewed The 80’s I can tell you it is a mind-blowing trip to see all these films put together in one place in order to tell the story of our lives through the eyes of cinema. Among the interview subjects are luminaries like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, Paul Thomas Anderson, Rob Reiner, Julia Roberts, Robert De Niro, Ridley Scott, Julianne Moore, Billy Crystal, Sharon Stone, Hanks of course, and on and on. Numerous critics and historians appear, including myself, as I filmed several sessions for the ambitious series last summer. There is no narrator, and when I hopped on the phone to speak with Goetzman and Herzog about the show they explained how they came upon this structure.
“The big fear is the omissions, you know? We have to build a plot of how we think this goes, we have the chronology of movies, we have the brilliant people who talk to us about movies and we build it out of that in the clips. There’s no narrator, there’s nobody to bridge things, and everything has to pretty much come from the interviews and the clips we have,” said Goetzman. “And again, the other big consideration is the time we have to cover a decade in the movie business. It’s absurd that conceit. So we do the best we can and hope, you know, somebody else jumps off of this or maybe we do the part two or whatever, but everybody is not in this, and all the movies that should be aren’t in this, but we think we form a pretty good outline of what those decades are.”
Goetzman says they got just about every actor and filmmaker they wanted, even managing to snag Redford and Scorsese shortly before the deadline to lock the show. Among those also included is the late John Singleton who came in to talk about the 90’s, the decade he burst on to the scene with Boyz ‘N The Hood.
“We kept all his bites in there, and felt very proud that he was part of it. He had contributed to us in the nineties, he gave a great interview, and he wanted to come back for the movies, and talk as a cinephile. That guy knows a lot of movies. I mean, when he sets up Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back it’s so good,” said Herzog. “We’ve got a lot of great directors in here, and what we found out is that most directors like Singleton are really historians of film, and they know film, they know the impact of films, they study it, and so it was like talking to historians, all of them.”
Of course doing a huge project like this doesn’t come cheap, considering it is basically wall to wall clips from the entire history of movies.
“Yeah. It cost a fortune, and some is fair use, depending on how you guys talk about it, and some isn’t, but within it, it’s an insane undertaking because the licensing is a very tricky business in this type of thing, and you know, you set out thinking, hey, this is going to be great, right? And then you realize you have approvals, you know, beyond belief with estates in a lot of the situations, too. So it’s a difficult thing to navigate, but we feel like we did it, we did the best we could, and somebody else should do the next history of the movies,” Goetzman laughed while noting they were still grinding away as the airdate approaches.
Their great hope is that the series doesn’t just bring in those who are nostalgic about the movies of their lives, but people who may not have any recollection of these films being talked about, in many cases by the very filmmakers and stars who made them come alive.
” I think if you weren’t born and watched movies of the sixties and the seventies we certainly hope young people will see this and be curious about that movie that their parents told them about. If they hadn’t seen Three Days Of The Condor, but you see this and go, ‘I got to check that out’. That’s definitely what I’ve heard from some of the younger people who’ve watched this,” said Herzog mentioning just one of the gems on display here.
But for Goetzman the goal is simple: “You know, in the end, buddy, we just hope this reminds people of their love of cinema. That’s really what I think the takeaway at best can be, is that when these directors and stars talk about why they love seeing movies, movies in a movie theater, and just the general term of cinema, I just think it’s the best we can do.”
Here are the airdates and episode descriptions for The Movies (all times are Sunday, 9-11 p.m. ET/PT):
July 7: The Eighties
The episode explores the crowd-pleasing titles of the 80s such as The Empire Strikes Back, E.T. and The Breakfast Club.
July 14: The Nineties
The episode explores movie stars of the 90s like Julia Roberts and Will Smith and beloved films such as Jurassic Park, Titanic and Pulp Fiction.
July 21: The 2000s to Today
The episode explores popular films of the 2000s such as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and Moulin Rouge.
July 28: The Seventies
The episode explores the films of the ’70s that pushed the medium of movie-making such as The Godfather, The Exorcist and Jaws.
August 4: The Sixties
The episode explores the popular films of the ’60s such as West Side Story, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate.
August 11: The Golden Age
The episode explores the most iconic films from the 1930s through the 1950s such as King Kong, Casablanca and A Star Is Born.