Engulf and Devour

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As Amazon prepares to buy MGM Studios and announced an effort to put pharmaceutical stores all over the U.S., we are reminded of one of my favorite comedy movies, Silent Movie. Mel Brooks produced this movie as the third in a trilogy of comedies including Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.

The film is produced in the manner of a 20th century silent film with intertitles instead of spoken dialogue; the soundtrack consists almost entirely of accompanying music and sound effects. It is an affectionate parody of slapstick comedies, including those of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. The film satirizes the film industry, presenting the story of a movie producer trying to obtain studio support to make a silent film in the 1970s.

Silent Movie was the story of making movies in Hollywood when corporate America was dominated by conglomerates. These were very large companies which were buying other businesses to continue profit growth rates and perpetuate their popularity in the stock market.

Brooks was spoofing a conglomerate by the name of Gulf and Western, which had purchased Paramount Pictures. The gentleman who was Chairman and CEO of Gulf and Western was Charles Bludhorn. Here is how the history of Gulf and Western is described:

Originally, the company focused on manufacturing and resource extraction. Beginning in 1966, and continuing throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the company purchased a number of entertainment companies, most notably Paramount Pictures in 1966, Desilu Productions in 1967, and a number of record companies including Dot Records (a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures at the time of purchase) and Stax Records. These became the nucleuses of Paramount Television and Paramount Records respectively.

Bludhorn had used the profits from his existing businesses and the popularity of stocks like his to give the appearance of growth, long after the excitement surrounding the original business had passed. In Silent Movie, Brooks called the company Engulf and Devour.

Amazon started out selling books via the internet and eventually attempted to sell just about anything which can be ordered online and delivered, regardless of whether there was a way to deliver it at a profit or not. Amazon and their CEO, Jeff Bezos, caught the imagination of investors and have astounded everyone from us to Charlie Munger, who calls Amazon “a force of nature.”

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