AFI DOCS 2014 (Days 3&4)

(My) Tales from the Warner Bros. Lot

Sometimes a film finds its value – or added value – in the memories it stirs. Such is the case with a new documentary commemorating Warner Bros.’ 90th Anniversary. It’s called Tales from the Lot and it’s basically an extended marketing video that traces the evolution of the legendary studio from its humble beginnings to the entertainment behemoth that it is today. It’s not a great film. But it did bring back memories of a time, circa 1995, when I, um, sort of snuck onto the WB lot to snag a pic of myself in front of The Daily Planet. Yes Chief, The Daily Planet. After all, I was a young journalist harboring a crush on SupermanI couldn’t just walk across the façade of Lois & Clark‘s Metropolis without paying homage! Thus my own tale from the Warner Bros. lot:

I was workin’ a short-term freelance gig at NBC in Burbank, just down the road from Warner Bros. and its notably superior commissary (for both food and people-watching). A co-worker and I would nonchalantly make our way across a grassy knoll, hang a right just past the sound stage where George Clooney and his ER buddies were playing basketball, and slip into the Commissary for what was always a very surreal lunch hour. One day, Clint Eastwood walked by and everyone – and I mean everyone, including the entire cast of Murphy Brown at the next table over- took notice. Forks stilled. Jaws dropped. Time stood still. The stars were starstruck. Tales from the Lot touches on that Eastwood mystique and his undeniable iconic status on and off The Lot (invisible chair notwithstanding). It’s also what prompted me to sift through a box of old photographs for a physical reminder of my brief time on the property.

Anyway, the takeaway from my little stroll down Memory Lane is this:

1-    Seize the moment.

2-    Pray for a statute of limitations on trespassing in the state of California. And,

3-    Despite the pervasive craziness and inflated egos, there really is something magical about a movie set and the people on it.

Back to the documentary. Tales from the Lot is most engaging when actors, directors and tour guide/historians are sharing insider anecdotes (Martin Sheen has a great one about his idol James Dean). But the film lacks a narrative thread and begs for less studio-exec talking heads and more photos and actual movie clips. The studio would rather you watch the movies – and there are some great ones – in their entirety, as part of several new boxed sets being released in conjunction with the anniversary. It’s an impressive list of titles. But if you’re a movie buff short on time, you may want to seek out the abbreviated, 60-minute version of the documentary that recently aired on TCM. And if you find yourself in Burbank, take the VIP studio tour. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Or in my case, 492.

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