The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra is a 1928 American silent experimental short film co-written and co-directed by Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapić. Considered a landmark of American avant-garde cinema, it tells the story of a man (Jules Raucourt) who comes to Hollywood with dreams of becoming a star, only to fail and become dehumanized, with studio executives reducing him to the role of extra and writing the number “9413” on his forehead.
The film’s visual style includes abrupt cuts, rapid camera movement, extensive superimposition, dim lighting, and shapes and forms in twisted and disoriented angles. Filmed with a budget of only $97 ($1,353 in today’s dollars), it includes a combination of close-ups of live actors and long shots of miniature sets, which were made from such items as cardboard, paper cubes, tin cans, cigar boxes, and toy trains. With no access to Hollywood studios or equipment, most of the filming took place in the filmmakers’ residences, with walls painted black for use as a background.
The story was inspired by Florey’s own experiences in Hollywood, as well as the George Gershwin composition Rhapsody in Blue. It was one of the first films shot by Gregg Toland, who later received acclaim for his work on such films as The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and Citizen Kane (1941). The film serves as a satire of the social conditions, dominant practices, and ideologies of Hollywood, as well as the film industry’s perceived mistreatment of actors. Douglas Fairbanks assisted with the development of the film, and Charlie Chaplin and Joseph M. Schenck helped promote it.
Unlike most experimental films, it received a wide public exhibition, released by FBO Pictures Corporation into more than 700 theaters in North America and Europe. The film was well received by critics, both in its time period and in modern day; film historian Brian Taves said “more than any other American film, it initiated the avant-garde in this country”. The entirety of the film has not survived. It has been selected for preservation by the National Film Registry, and Florey co-wrote and directed a remake, Hollywood Boulevard (1936).
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