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The Star Machine Paperback – January 6, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Startling. . . . An enormous new book of star lore . . . Basinger nestles with almost delicious comfort into the intimate procedures of star manufacture.”
The New Yorker

“Luxurious, often delicious. . . . Ms. Basinger tells her story with her customary verve and sass-she's the Rosalind Russell of film historians.”
The New York Observer

“Entertaining and informative. . . . [Basinger], whose enthusiasm for movies is reflected on every page, has a deft way of encapsulating the kernel of an actor's attraction.”
Chicago Sun-Times

“Engaging. . . . Smart, deeply researched but also chatty and fast-flowing. . . . Basinger's study of the studios' relentless spin control makes an instructive prism through which to view long skeins of Hollywood film history.”
Los Angeles Times

About the Author

Jeanine Basinger is the chair of film studies at Wesleyan University and the curator of the cinema archives there. She has written nine other books on film, including A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930–1960; Silent Stars, winner of the William K. Everson Award for Film History; The World War II Combat Film: Anatomy of a Genre; and American Cinema: 100 Years of Filmmaking, the companion book for a ten-part PBS series. She lives with her husband in Middletown, Connecticut.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307388751
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307388759
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,232,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Judith Frith on March 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book because it billed itself as a a look at how "the studios worked to manufacture star actors and actresses" and the description said it would "become an invaluable part of the film canon."

Wrong, and wrong again. It is a collection of biographies, based on information that appears to come from other books and fan magazines, plus a liberal serving of the author's own opinions. She seems to have had no access to unpublished information. The biographies are mostly long lists of the films in which the stars appear, punctuated with commentary from the author's viewings of these films, but very little insider knowledge of how the human beings who became those stars were "remade" by the studio or "made" themselves. Here's an example in her section on Loretta Young:

"She studied every aspect of filmmaking, asking serious questions about lighting and camera angles, making herself the master of her own makeup and costuming."

That's very general information I probably could have found on Wikipedia or in any biography of Young. How, exactly, did she influence her makeup and costuming - could we have some examples? Aren't there any details available about how she worked with the lighting and camera crews to get a certain effect? I wanted the author to show, not tell, how Young used her demands to manage her performance or the film as a whole, and how the studio reacted.

Another irritant is that Basinger has a huge crush on matinee idol Tyrone Power, who died in 1958, and in addition to a long section about his career, she compares everyone else to him. A few sample quotes (there were many more): "Robert Taylor, Metro's most beautiful hero (was) their answer to Fox's Tyrone Power.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Christina Lockstein on January 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger tells the story of how Hollywood movie studios produced stars from the 1930s through the 1950s by running them through a machine of sorts. Stars were assigned a type: star, character, or supporting, and then placed in movies that fit their type. Names were changed, teeth capped, hair cut, bodies shaped, biographies written, articles planted in the papers, and stars were born. I cannot gush enough about this book. Basinger fills it with over 200 photos of the stars that capture the era with their soft lighting and fabulous fashions. She picks specific stars and follows their journey through the star machine to show how it succeeded and how it just as often failed. She also uses stories of stars who broke the mold and made the machine unnecessary. The book feels decadent, like a box of good chocolate or fluffy slippers. But the way Basinger talks about movies is anything but fluffy. She's the chair of film studies at Wesleyan University, and reading the way she describes films, I would absolutely pay money to hear her teach a class on the subject. She gives even the flimsy, frothy comedies of the 1930s depth by discussing how a character is developed before they even walk onscreen. This is a book that demands a class or TV special filled with clips. I discovered stars I'd never heard of and fell back in love with long time favorites. My too see list has expanded exponentially.Two small notes: Johnny Depp's singing was dubbed in CryBaby, but he's proven he can sing since in Sweeney Todd. And, why the hatred toward Abbot and Costello? They are two of my family's favorites! Those points aside, if you are a fan of old movies, this is a must read. Charmingly written with insight and witty asides, Basinger's love for film shines on every page.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By C. M Mills on November 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The Star Machine operated in Hollywood during the Golden Age of American Cinema for a little over 30 years. With the introduction of sound
recording, technological wizadry and a focus on the "star" among the public the major studios carefully groomed men and women for stardom.
The process took raw talent as well as theatre professionals through the wringer of a seven year contract; appearing in B films and moving through the hoops to appear in major roles in important movies. Not everyone, of course, made it or were happy when they were on the top of the motion picture ladder. Nevertheless, MGM, RKO, 20th Century-Fox, Columbia, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal and the minor studies continued to produce about 450 movies per year at the height of the golden age. MGM was the best studio with excellent cameramen, directors, producers, makeup artists and set designers to produce lavish entertainment for the millions who made movie attendance a two or three trip event during the 30s and 40s.
Basinger delves into detail on how the stars were selected, groomed and functioned within the system. Some people like Joan Blondell and Norma Shearer who married Irving Thalberg the MGM boy boss-wizard did well.
Others became disillusioned as did the good actor Tyrone Power who was typecast as a romantic/adventure hero. Deanna Durbin the musical teen walked away forever in 1948 disgusted by the business as did the reclusive Jean Arthur. Errol Flynn and the wild Lana Turner were disobedient and raised all kinds of hell without the approval of studio bosses. One of the most fascinating tales she spins is that of Eleanor Powell an average looking girl who was a great dancer.
Basinger tells these people's interesting stories while we learn about how and why movies succeed.
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