The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra (1928)


*. Mr. John Jones (he does have a name before the studio gets hold of him) arrives in Hollywood with a letter of introduction from the Almighty. He “would like to become a motion picture player in Hollywood.”
*. The term “player” had a more innocent meaning back then. Mr. Jones only wants to be an actor. In Altman’s movie a player refers to something else, as does our modern admonition to not hate the player but the game. And yet even in a film from this period there are some of the same negative associations. Poor 9413 may be talentless, but the Star is a vacuous figure who just seems to understand the game better.
*. The Crash and the Depression were still a year away. This was the last good year of the roaring ‘twenties. But the feeling is nevertheless one of gloom. The original title was The Suicide of a Hollywood Extra, and with those bills sliding under the door we get the sense of a man being ground to dust by the system, unable to find employment or self respect.
*. Hollywood was not a town of skyscrapers in the 1920s, but the buildings were symbolic of the commanding heights of the entertainment biz. They also looked good as cut-outs.
*. It has the superficial appearance of a morality play, with 9413 as an Everyman seduced by Vanity Fair before reclaiming his soul. But that’s not how it feels. 9413 is too empty a vessel, with his wide staring eyes and his lips moving like a guppy making baby noises. Do we care what happens to such a creature? And what would be the difference between the vision of heaven here and what’s shooting in the studio hangar next door?
*. Shot by Greg Toland (who would go on to bigger things) and made for under $100. Prints were over half the cost. It’s a mere curiosity, notable for how quickly cynicism and even despair came to Hollywood. What are those twisting cut out shapes in the background? They look like origami scorpion tails.



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