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Silent Stars Paperback – November 1, 2000

4.2 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 510 pages
  • Publisher: Wesleyan; 1st edition (November 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0819564516
  • ISBN-13: 978-0819564511
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #576,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on June 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Jeanine Basinger's premise is to explore the silent cinema through the stars who are either forgotten or misunderstood by today's film buffs, but she succeeds only partially, mainly because most people have some kind of concept of who these people were. What she is really trying to do is de-bunk the stereotypes that the modern world holds on those who were the pioneers in creating the matinee idol. For example, say Rudolph Valentino and you think latin lover. Say Douglas Fairbanks and you think swashbuckler. Ms. Basinger's point is that there was a lot more to these and the other actors she profiles and she makes a good argument by backing up that premise with examinations of the complete filmographies of these stars, rather than simply focusing on the more well-known ones.
One of the things that comes across immediately is that Ms. Basinger is a big fan, and she presents her writing as much from a fan's perspective as a critical or historical point of view. However, where Ms. Basinger does herself in is by letting herself gush too much. Bringing something personal to the table is not necessarily a bad thing, and it's kind of nice to see that she's so ardent in her work. Her problem in trying to write in a more familiar manner is a disservice to her overall work. She takes the reader out of the stories she is telling, which are mostly very enjoyable and compelling, by interjecting her own sly comments. Besides that, it's still worth appreciating the variety Ms. Basinger provides as she discusses the flappers, cowboys, romantic leads, cosmopolitan women (Gloria Swanson), action stars (Douglas Fairbanks), character actors (Lon Chaney) and even Rin Tin Tin.
Silent Stars is a great read if you have any kind of love of film or history. Ms.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love silent films,and Jeanine Basinger has given us a work that ranks at the very top for me---right alongside Kevin Brownlow's "The Parade's Gone By",Bill Everson's "American Silent Film",and Walter Kerr's "The Silent Clowns".Honestly, I carried Jeanine's book around with me for days until I'd read it from cover to cover---my only regret was she didn't give us another thousand pages on another hundred stars---that's how good it is.Unlike so many latter day academics and historians,this writer actually enjoys the films and personalities she writes about,and her enthusiasm is infectuous---and no,this isn't just fan worship on her part---Basinger has clearly spent a lifetime pursuing the study of silent film,and her insights reveal a maturity and appreciation for this vanished era that could only come from someone who has truly devoted herself to the subject at hand.There aren't many film scholars operating at this level---believe me, I've endured the agonies of overpriced,University press offerings for too many years---"Silent Stars" is one in a thousand.If you care anything about this era and the people who enriched it,order this book today.It'll be the best money you've spent this year.
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Format: Hardcover
Jeanine Basinger has produced a lovely, thoughtful, well-written volume to add to the body of work on silent film. She showcases sixteen silent performers (including one dog), whom she believes are noteworthy and in most cases underappreciated, or even unknown today. In the ranks of the known but underappreciated are Pickford, Fairbanks, Swanson, Valentino and Chaney, and I believe that she makes her case for their inclusion. [Only Pickford has been the subject of (several, excellent) recent books.] I was happy to see material on Mabel Normand, the Talmadge sisters, Pola Negri, Marion Davies, and Colleen Moore, among others. And the chapter on Rin-Tin-Tin was delightful. When was the last time you thought about him?
Yes, the tone is uniformly passionate and admiring. Basinger is an advocate, and dare I say fan? But she's exceedingly good at linking history of the times with the work; summarizing the films, and hitting the high spots. I couldn't have gushed any better on the subject of Fairbanks myself. (And thanks for including a treatment on THE NUT, my all-time favorite Fairbanks film.)
There are small errors throughout, that you would have thought an astute preview reader or editor would have caught, but I can't say that they seriously detract from the pleasure of reading this book.
Now, Ms. Basinger, how about a series?
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Format: Hardcover
Jeanine Basinger's "Silent Stars" is an enjoyable book that could have been an excellent one if it had followed it's own avowed goals. In the Introduction Ms. Basinger states: "The purpose of this book is to celebrate a group of silent film stars who are somehow forgotten, misunderstood, or underappreciated." Except in one instance her choices of stars are anything but the above!
Writing in a conversational tone, Ms. Basinger covers stars such as Mary Pickford, Clara Bow & Rudolph Valentino; hardly forgotten or underappreciated! She works hard to fairly critique their films & influence on their times, & does a good job at it while ignoring or glossing over the scandals & more interesting details of their private lives. For that aspect of early cinema I recommend Kenneth Anger's "Hollywood Babylon". The only silent star written about who I feel truly deserves to be included as forgotten or underappreciated is Colleen Moore. Every other chapter, while well written & interesting, does not pursue the avowed purpose of this book. Players who are mentioned while discussing the main stars such as Barbara LaMarr, Alma Rubens, Vilma Banky, Wallace Reid, Francis X. Bushman seem to be much better candidates. It made me wonder if the author's choices were dictated by which films she was able to screen, since so many films from before 1940 are now lost.
The other fault to my mind is that there is no progression to this book. Each chapter is written as a stand-alone essay, & it is easy to see that Jeanine Basinger works as a college professor, since the tone of the book is often that of a lecture (there are even humorous asides & 90's references that seem to be hold-overs from classes of sleepy students!).
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