AND … ACTION! Given Scotland’s current sparky interest in film – as evidenced by our country’s recent successful use as a location by both Warner Brothers and Lucasfilm – this tome should be of significant interest to homegrown movie mavens.

It’s a breeze block of a book with a cast of hundreds and features excerpts from interviews taken from the American Film Institute’s archive that stores nearly 10,000 hours of cinematic conversation.

Basinger and Wasson are serious chroniclers and tell the Hollywood story with style and verve using key witnesses. They employ an oral biographical style recalling Jean Stein and George Plimpton’s fantastically entertaining book on Andy Warhol associate Edie Sedgwick.

Roll ’em.

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Right from the off, the authors challenge the more lurid mythos of Hollywood; this is no Kenneth Anger-style tract spiced with saucy innuendo. Hollywood was (and is) about hard graft: as photographer George Folsey puts it – “we all worked our fannies off”.

Director George Cukor (Gone With The Wind, My Fair Lady) notes: “These glamorous people had to get up at six in the morning and work until seven at night.”

Hollywood was indeed an industry: first and foremost folks found a job. People moved west from all over the world. Some escaped the trenches of the First World War – like cinematographer Paul Ivano – others gave up training for new careers in the new town.

Frank (It’s A Wonderful Life) Capra and Howard (Scarface) Hawks were going to become engineers, Edith Head – costume designer and winner of eight Oscars – was a Spanish language teacher before dressing the likes of Grace Kelly and Kim Novak.

Why did Hollywood get the gig? The weather of course… Charlton Heston says that Cecil B DeMille wanted to film a western in Flagstaff, Arizona but it was “pissing down” so they pushed on to the Pacific.

Hollywood was about light and sun and plenty of it. There was camaraderie, there was fun: it was friendly and it wasn’t Babylon. At first… Comedy took off fast. Capra is succinct about the funnymen: “Speed was Lloyd. Innocence was Langdon. Stoicism was Keaton. Wit was Chaplin.”

Mentoring the next generation was common – Buster Keaton to Lucille Ball, Stan Laurel to Jerry Lewis.

We’re told in the early days, a great deal could happen in a matter of weeks. And soon there was ART.

As Lillian Gish says, DW Griffith gave film “the form and grammar it has today”. Then came sound. Jack Warner thought the “sound thing will be dead within two weeks”. Jack was wack.

Capra noted sound drove filmmaking indoors, that way you could hear the actors speak: Garbo Talks!

The collaborative nature of cinema as an art form is stressed again and again. We hear from stuntmen, the script girls, and the writers (loads of ‘em – Anita Loos, Ogden Nash, F Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner) who were, in Billy Wilder’s estimation “underrated and underpaid”.

Then there were the editors – Hitchcock had no time for them – nor producers for that matter like the legendary Irving Thalberg, a doomed figure with the “mind of a buzzsaw”.

Head of Universal aged 22 and dead at 37, Thalberg would be the model for Fitzgerald’s elegiac The Last Tycoon.

We learn the major studios had differing styles. MGM was commercial, extravagant, glammy. 20th Century Fox was fast and factory-like. Paramount was homey, chilled, a bit staid. Universal was looser and into horror. Warners was insane. RKO flew by the seat of its pants.

Not everyone has a good word for outsiders: photographer Hal Mohr is deliciously rude about Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point and how it “broke MGM”. His distaste is flavoured with nostalgia as MGM were making over fifty movies a year at one point: “three Clark Gables, three Jean Harlows, and three Joan Crawfords…”

A recurrent irony in Basinger and Wasson’s telling is that Hollywood movies today are perhaps not as good as those in the past because the US cult of the individual with a disdain for the communal effort has corrupted this most American of art forms.

To paraphrase Sam Goldwyn – you can sum this book up in two words: useful. CUT!