Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture, is an illuminating celebration by Peter Kobel and the Library of Congress. With a foreword by passionate film preservationist Martin Scorsese, and an introduction by noted film historian Kevin Brownlow, this lavish book also boasts more than 400 images some never before seen in print. Writing with accessible scholarship, Kobel explores historic milestones (the French get credit for first projecting films publicly, but Americans turned the new art form into a business), technical triumphs, the great films and their filmmakers and the dawn of the star system. The big names are here Garbo, Pickford, Valentino as well as some you may not know/remember, including child star Baby Peggy and even Rin-Tin-Tin. (At the height of his fame, the Dog Wonder of the Screen received 10,000 fan letters a week.) Kobel also reveals how the various genres took shape (for instance, earliest depictions of American Indians showed them to be tragic heroes) and looks at often bypassed arenas, such as animation, the so-called race movies and even (who knew?) silent experimental films. An impressive work, the book has been published in tandem with a traveling film series of restored silent titles. Pass the popcorn, please.
FIGHTING THE SYSTEM
Ever wonder why certain folks became great stars, while others, equally talented, slipped through the shiny Hollywood cracks? In The Star Machine, film historian Jeanine Basinger examines the glory days of the studio system, from the 1930s to the beginning of the '50s. Through anecdotes and insight she depicts the creation and manipulation of stars including Errol Flynn, Lana Turner, Deanna Durbin, Loretta Young, Norma Shearer and Tyrone Power. Like trained ponies, they were expected to do as they were told and to keep prancing. Some balked; some misbehaved. Basinger looks at the consequences, and goes on to compare then and now, by deconstructing contemporary stars who've sought to take control of their own destinies.
CLAWS AND KITTEN
When it came to fighting control, and railing against authority, few bested Bette Davis. There have already been a number of Davis bios and she wrote several books of her own but Ed Sikov manages to bring fresh insight to Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis. The author of works on filmmaker Billy Wilder and actor Peter Sellers, Sikov is unapologetic about Davis' take-no-prisoners personality, matter-of-factly relating that she may have been a borderline personality. But, he reminds us, she was also a force of nature, a blazing talent [who] defined and sustained stardom for over half a century. She worked like a dog. Sikov goes behind the scenes, focusing on Davis' work, to probe her psyche. From her earliest roles to her lasting screen depictions (Jezebel, All About Eve and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? among them), he goes on to underscore her perseverance during darker days. A perpetual single mother (since all four marriages crashed), she once took out an industry trade ad that read, Situation Wanted, Women. She wasn't kidding: Davis went on to do episodic TV, talk shows and appeared on the lecture circuit. And though her latter years were marked by indignities, including health woes and a cruel tell-all by her daughter, Davis hung in there. Even after a debilitating stroke, and while battling breast cancer, she managed to complete three-and-a-half more films. Though Davis was not always likeable, there was no denying the legend.
Legendary sex goddess Marilyn Monroe has spawned a virtual cottage publishing industry, with the latest title coinciding with a merchandising line including fashions that celebrates icons of the Fox studio. Thus, Marilyn Monroe: Platinum Fox, is all about the movies not her tangled personal life, scandals, death theories, etc. Written by Cindy De La Hoz (author of the recent Lucy at the Movies: The Complete Films of Lucille Ball) this is a gorgeous coffee-table book that couldn't have happened without access to the Fox archives. Serving to underscore Monroe's unsurpassed incandescence are reproductions of rare photos, lobby cards and posters including one from the film Niagara, which breathlessly promised a raging torrent of emotion that even nature can't control. Hey, it was the '50s and Marilyn was a big reason the decade was so fabulous.
ON THE SMALL SCREEN
Fans of the long-running Bravo series Inside the Actors Studio will be especially taken with Inside Inside, a memoir by the show's effusive host (and executive producer and writer), James Lipton. Founder and dean of New York's Actors Studio Drama School, Lipton infuses his own colorful industry background and unfettered passion for the craft with anecdotes and interview highlights of performers as disparate as Tom Cruise, Hugh Grant, Paul Newman, Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore and countless others.
So well known that he's become the subject of lampoons Will Ferrell's is especially dead-on Lipton has a can-do spirit that gives an inspirational lift to this look at his life's journey. A former student of Stella Adler, he also trained for a career in ballet and once contemplated working in the circus. He's been a radio actor, and he worked in TV (he played Dr. Dick Grant in that CBS chestnut, The Guiding Light, and produced Bob Hope specials). He made movies, wrote hit Broadway shows even a novel. And, he had the savvy to put together a televised program that entices big names to reveal (nearly) all to an auditorium filled with acting students. Briefly, Lipton cites Harrison Ford's thoughts about celebrity vs. private life, the personal woes of Billy Bob Thornton, and details Melanie Griffith's appearance as she struggled with rehab, and Michael J. Fox's as he fought the tremors of Parkinson's. And he remarks on the one that got away: despite all best efforts, he never got that interview with Marlon Brando.