Through concise biographies, explorations of filmographies, and captivating still shots, Jeanine Basinger offers remarkable insight into both the on- and offscreen lives of the cinema's first stars. Basinger shows an incredible knack for getting past the average movie fan's barriers to appreciating silent film actors: the larger-than-life acting style, frequently goofy plots, and general difficulty in finding films of all but a few luminaries like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Deft plot synopses, careful explanations of the skills needed for silent acting, and a genuine affection for the movies she's describing allow Basinger to give the reader a real sense of why these early actors were so beloved--and why they are so deserving of tribute. Mary Pickford, long unfairly maligned for playing saccharine little girls, is revealed to be a shrewd and highly professional performer, involved in every aspect of film production, careful to expand beyond her audience's expectations of her, and possessing deft comic flair. The lives and careers of two silent cowboys, the soulfully stoic William S. Hart and the flamboyant Tom Mix, are also compared and contrasted--oddly enough, to the detriment of neither. The book also covers the great sex symbols like Pola Negri and Rudolph Valentino and takes a welcome dive into the comedies of Mack Sennett. Equally engaging as browsing material or a cover-to-cover read, Silent Stars
gives voice to both the sung and unsung pioneers of film. --Ali Davis
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From Publishers Weekly
Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson, Tom Mix and dozens of others are the "forgotten, misunderstood, and underappreciated" stars whom film historian Basinger (A Woman's View, etc.) profiles in her excellent tribute to the silent film era. No tell-all, this book recreates the excitement the actors provoked while illustrating the nature of their appeal. Colleen Moore's onscreen transformation from maiden to flapper "is the exact story of what happened to the American girl" in the 1920s; tight-lipped William S. Hart provided the "first and truest face in the Old American West on film." Basinger also discerns the strengths lost in historical caricature: Mary Pickford's roles revealed a range far beyond that of "America's Sweetheart"; Marion Davies's successful career belies her legacy as inspiration for the off-key singer Susan Alexander in Citizen Kane. Not surprisingly, a recurrent theme is the ephemerality of fame. Not only do most silent stars' careers (famously, John Gilbert's) end with the talkies, but the near-obscurity of these actors today suggests that, for anyone, it's a mere four generations from footlight to footnote. While Basinger's blend of erudition and reportage often translates into an impersonal style, it is redeemed by her love of the subject and a Margaret Dumont-like lack of irony that allows her to assert, "The astonishing thing about watching Rin-Tin-Tin is that you begin to agree that this dog could act." Learned and wholehearted, the book is classic Basinger fare: effortless history that sets no fires but quickly establishes its necessity. 285 photos. Main selection of Eagle Book Club's Movie and Entertainment Book Club.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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