Review: “You Must Remember This”


Bette Davis

Bette Davis

PBS’s American Masters series recently showed a three-part documentary about the Warner Bros. studio, “You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story.” At over five hours, the documentary (written, directed, and produced by film critic Richard Schickel) covers the studio’s founding and the emergence of sound film up to its present-day products (and “products” is the correct term). Current commentary is provided by scholars and critics, such as Andrew Sarris and David Thomson; Warner stars, such as Warren Beatty and Clint Eastwood; and my favorite celebrity commentator director Martin Scorsese. Also included are archived interviews with Howard Hawks, Michael Curtiz, Edward G. Robinson, and James Cagney, among others.



Overall, “You Must Remember This” is quite comprehensive and certainly interesting, whether you call a movie a “picture,” a “film,” or a “movie.” It hits the appropriate highlights in Warners history and film history in general, and spotlights important Warners contract stars, such as Cagney, Bette Davis, and Eastwood, even though it probably downplays certain stars’ dissatisfaction with studio restrictions and their subsequent rebellions and suspensions. Listing off the greatest hits of film genres, stars, and eras, as well as their up’s and down’s, can sometimes feel pretty formulaic and slapdash though, like you’re watching an episode of VH-1’s “Behind the Music.”

Still, it’s interesting to watch the connections made through the Warners brand, especially with relation to the gangster genre (even though George Raft was sadly neglected). We can see the changing American culture through the progression of the gangster genre over time in films such as “The Public Enemy,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” and certain films of Scorsese. These films are both reflections and catalysts of their times, filled with threads of unrecognized similarity between each other.

Executive Producer Clint Eastwood provides informative but unobtrusive narration. However, an irritation I had with the documentary was that he seemed to get too much play. About ten of his films were covered over multiple parts. Were the producers doing him a favor for narrating and probably funding some of the project? They made up for this though with a worthy look at Stanley Kubrick, although giving short shrift to how groundbreaking it was that he had so much creative control over all aspects of his Warners films.

I also wasn’t too thrilled with the last hour, which seemed more like an advertisement, devoted to the studio’s recent efforts, such as the Harry Potter and Batman series. The documentary was in fact made in partnership with Warner Bros. Entertainment, which explains this. A studio once renowned for socially conscious genre pictures now takes pride in CGI-laden blockbuster franchises appealing to the widest possible audience. I realize this is indicative of the entire movie “business” now, and I am a fan of the latest Batman movies, so I can only complain but so much.


3 Responses to “Review: “You Must Remember This””

  1. October 29, 2008 at 5:24 am

    I’m not a fan of the cross-promotion that often invades made-for-TV overviews. Is there any mainstream outlet for serious film studies on DVD that could help people like me see with eyes like yours?

    You’ve got a beautiful looking site here.

  2. 2 yourcinematicsurvivalkit
    October 29, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    Thanks, Alex! I’m not sure about DVD offerings. I’ll keep my eyes open though. I always like to watch anything Martin Scorsese comments on, even though he’s usually talking about a specific subject rather than an overview. But he is so clear and knowledgable about people, history, form, etc. and usually is able to personalize it somehow. He shows up in the Warners doc.

    Before leaving for NYU, my supervisor gave me this book, which I found helpful:


    I don’t know if there are any more recent editions, but it talks about different films eras, concepts, genres, important people, national cinemas, etc. in a pretty straightforward and interesting way. Plus, lots of pics!

  3. October 30, 2008 at 3:13 am

    Thanks for the link, Kim. Enjoy the festival!

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