Last Mogul, The: The Life and Times of Lew Wasserman (2005)

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Released 9-Aug-2006

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Main Menu Audio
Biographies-Character
Biographies-Crew
Gallery-Photo
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2005
Running Time 98:30 (Case: 110)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Barry Avrich
Studio
Distributor
Ovation Starring Barry Avrich
Peter Bart
Norman Brokaw
David Brown
Helen Gurley Brown
David Carr
Jimmy Carter
Charles Champlin
George Christy
Kaye Coleman
Janet De Cordova
Al Dorskind
Garth H. Drabinsky
Case ?
RPI $24.95 Music Frank Kitching
Jim McGrath
Alex Shuper


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.75:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The age of the Hollywood mogul is over. While some contemporary figures continue to hold great power in Hollywood, names like De Mille, Goldwyn and Warner are now just trademarks like Coca Cola.

    The Last Mogul- The Life and Times of Lew Wasserman is a documentary film detailing the very long life (1907 to 2002) and career of perhaps the most powerful of them all - Lew Wasserman. If you don't immediately know the name don't be ashamed, for Wasserman was not just the king of Hollywood, he was also one of its most enigmatic characters. Wasserman lived by the credo, developed during his years as a talent agent, that the client or talent is more important than the agent. He preferred to live in the shadows and incredibly never wrote a memoir, never gave a proper interview and never left a written word. He liked things personal, quiet and clinical.

    At the outset the secret nature of Wasserman presents documentary filmmaker Barry Avrich with his greatest problem - how do you get beneath the surface of a man who has deflected all such attempts in the past. In fact, Wasserman hindered the project from beyond the grave with his family convincing Universal Studios not to allow the director access to archive material.

"It is a family policy to turn down all requests regarding my grandfather without exception,"
Casey Wasserman told the New York Post
"We have not or will not participate in any historical portrayal of his life in any form."

    The only solution is to assemble a cast of friends, associates and Hollywood historians to describe his rise to power and his continued grip on that power for almost 50 years until his recent death. If at the end we still don't really know the real Wasserman at least we have had the chance to learn more about this fascinating individual.

    Lew Wasserman was born in Cleveland in 1907, the son of recent Russian immigrants. He grew up in the toughest part of Cleveland and worked his way into the world of nightclubs and casinos, marrying the only love of his life, Edie Beckermann in 1935. In 1936 he was hired by Julius Stein to work for the growing band-booking agency MCA, a company forged in the shadow of some of the more colourful characters from the Chicago underworld. After a stint in New York, Stein made the momentous decision to send the young Wasserman to depression era Hollywood with a fat cheque book and a drive to succeed.

    After negotiating a series of successful deals including buying rival agencies, MCA became the powerhouse in Hollywood and Wasserman had many great stars of the time on his books. Even so, perhaps the most important acquisition was not a major star but a B player with political aspirations, Ronald Reagan. Reagan would later play a crucial part in the MCA success story.

    By 1946 and at the tender age of 33 Wasserman was named president of MCA and was one of the most powerful men in tinsel town.

    At this time MCA was still a talent agency, although it controlled the lion's share of the market. In 1951 this changed forever when Wasserman negotiated the buyout of Universal studios. He, above all others, saw that television could be the saviour and not just the destroyer of the movies. Critics scoffed when he bought the Universal back catalogue for $50 million. Before the ink had dried on the deal he had secured $80 million of broadcast deals.

    As the decades passed Wasserman continued his octopus-like reign over Hollywood, despite 10 Federal Investigations, often centering on Wasserman's connection with mob lawyer Sidney Korshak (apparently the model for Tom Hagen in The Godfather). Wasserman once said that he didn't have power, he had relationships. Never was this more evident than when he gifted Reagan into the role of president of the actor's guild and later made healthy donations to his Presidential campaign. Similarly, he assisted Jack Valenti into the role of president of the MPAA. Both connections were used to great effect when Wasserman needed assistance in getting some benefit for Universal. Over the years Wasserman met every president since Johnson as well as the Queen and the Pope. He ruled until 1989 when a Japanese buyout of Universal saw his pockets lined to the tune of $300 million but his personal role diminished. He died in June 2002 having seen Hollywood through the Golden Age right up until the 90s.

    The documentary is well made and researched. The mob connections as well as his influence with the Teamsters Union is referred to and considered but, ultimately, there is no proof of a real connection. It is a serious work and fans of pure cinema may be confused by a film about a cornerstone of Hollywood that features so few movie extracts. It is a film about the industry and not the product. After all Wasserman admitted that he had no idea how to make movies. Throughout his life he had a finger on the pulse of the movie industry and helped, for better or worse, shape the industry we see today. Typical of this is his attitude towards the film Jaws. When an underling told him that the film had 600 cinemas offering to open the movie Wasserman told him to cancel half so that audiences had to queue up, a decision which helped shape the blockbuster mentality.

    Slightly hampered by its protagonist's reticence, The Last Mogul is nevertheless indispensable for anyone who is interested in Hollywood as a business town rather than a dream factory.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The Last Mogul is a combination of digital video and excerpts from old film and news footage carrying a variety of aspect ratios. It comes to DVD in a 1.75:1 transfer which is close to the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It is 16x9 enhanced.

    The overall look of the film is superb. There are no defects in the source material except for age in some of the really early excerpts. In fact, some of the static images of early Cleveland, Chicago and Hollywood have been doctored in post-production to introduce artefacts for effect into the moving image.

    The numerous talking head excerpts are cleanly photographed and there are no problems with aliasing or compression defects.

    There are no subtitles.

    All in all a very pleasing transfer.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio for The Last Mogul is Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s). This is perfectly adequate for this material. The sound for the interviews is clear and understandable.

    There are no defects whatsoever in the sound transfer.

    The music by Jim McGrath and Frank Kitching is appropriate to the documentary. At the outset there is a strong cloak and dagger feel to it but it flows with the action, picking up jazz and Hollywood musical sounds as the show progresses.

    The lack of surround and subwoofer support is no hindrance to the film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

     The extras on this DVD are slight.

Main Menu Audio

    This features a caricature of Wasserman backed by some music reminiscent of Catch Me If You Can

Biographies-Character

    This is a short text only biography of Wasserman.

Biographies-Crew

    Another short text only biography - this time of director Barry Avrich.

Gallery-Photo

    This consists of 16 photos from the documentary.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Information on the Region 1 DVD is scarce. It is suggested that it may be rendered in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio but this is not confirmed. For the moment, we can declare the Region 4 version as perfectly acceptable.

Summary

    The Last Mogul- The Life and Times of Lew Wasserman is a detailed documentary about a man who was the puppet master in Hollywood for over 50 years. It will intrigue those who are interested in what makes the film industry tick.

    The transfer is perfectly acceptable in terms of sound and vision.

    There are no real extras to speak of although the film probably does not cry out for any.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Friday, August 18, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDOnkyo DV-SP300, using Component output
DisplayNEC PlasmaSync 42" MP4 1024 x 768. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJBL Simply Cinema SCS178 5.1

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