In 2012, Paramount and Universal Studios both celebrated their 100-year anniversaries. So it might seem a bit odd, and rather opportunistic, that Warner Bros. decided to celebrate their 90th this year.
The studio’s reasoning is good, though: The decade that the studio missed was the first 10 years of silent films, a period that the Warner brothers – Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack – helped end with Al Jolson’s iconic line, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” from The Jazz Singer.
The phrase transformed Hollywood and sparked the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Warner Bros. and audiences.
What sets Warner Bros. apart today, and further warrants a celebration at 90, is the quality and quantity produced in that time. The Warner Brothers studio, founded by the four brothers in 1923, has grown into a giant, and the proud owner of the largest library of feature films in the world – 6,800 titles. This includes 22 Academy Award-winning best pictures, more than any other studio. Among them are Casablanca, Gone with the Wind (originally MGM) and two of the most decorated films of all time (MGM’s Ben-Hur and The Return of the King, each with 11 wins, are tied with Titanic for the three-way Oscar crown).
Part of the WB celebration this year includes the release of two documentaries. One of them, Tales from the Lot, is being given selective showings around the country. Tales from the Lot doesn’t just celebrate the 90th anniversary of WB’s founding; it’s a tour of the historic studio as well, from the costume shop to the sound stage to the set shop to rooms full of computers and mixing equipment for final production. And it’s overflowing with anecdotes from key players who helped make the studio great.
Among the best moments in the feature-length documentary is the extended period dedicated to Clint Eastwood, whose celebrated career has been associated almost exclusively with WB for decades, and who starred in and directed two of the studio’s four most recent Best Picture winners, Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. Others featured in the film are denoted with the title of “actor” or “director” or VP of some sort. Eastwood’s title: icon.
But two documentaries aren’t enough for the studio. For its 90th WB is releasing seven new DVD collections, including a 100-film DVD and 50-film Blu-ray collection, the two largest ever released, to date, in their respective formats. Along with this they’re releasing an Oscar winning collection, featuring 20 of their library’s best picture winners (Cimarron from 1931 and The Great Ziegfeld from 1936 are not included). With titles like the aforementioned best picture winners, and others like Chariots of Fire, Amadeus, The Best Years of Our Lives and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest the collection is a must-have with plenty of entertainment in nearly every genre.
All that to say, WB’s had an eventful 90 years, and if you don’t give a damn they frankly don’t care – they’re celebrating anyway. One thing is certain: Jolson’s prophetic phrase from The Jazz Singer has certainly come true. And when, in a decade, WB celebrates its 100th, I imagine that phrase will still hold, projecting a future as shiny as the 90th anniversary logo.