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Silent Stars Paperback – November 1, 2000
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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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I have read and reviewed her fine book "The Star Machine" and found her writing so fetching I decided to order this older book on the Silent film era. The book is a delight in its countless black and white photographs of the stars and the detailed but succinct recounting of the careers of some of the era's most notable stars.
Basinger recounts the career of Mary Pickford "America's Sweetheart"
(who was actually Canadian born) and her athletic superstar husband of swashbuckling films Douglas Fairbanks Sr. This couple were more famous than Angelina and Brad! Doug and Mary were beloved of the public until their divorce and the coming of sounds ended their careers.
Mabel Normand was an early slapstick comedian who made her fame and fortune with Max Sennett's Keystone Kops. Max was in love with the flighty
Mabel though the two never wed. Mabel died young in 1930 as the era of pie in the face fun ended.
Her chapter on cowboys Tom Mix and William S. Hart tells us that Mix was the precursor of drugstore singing cowpokes like Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey. Hart focused on realism in the Western oaters he starred in during his fabled career. The chapter on Rin-Tin-Tin and animals stars was good. I was surprised to learn that Rinny died in the arms of Jean Harlow!
Basinger looks at the Talmadge sisters; worldy sirens such as Gloria Swanson and seductive Pola Negra(the lover of Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino)and the mysterious and subllime Greta Garbo. Flappers Colleen Moore and the "It" Girl Clara Bow are also profiled.
Major chapters deal with Valentino, Marion Davies (longtime mistress of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst); Lon Chaney "the man with a thousand faces" and John Gilbert who loved Garbo and who died young from drink and a ruined career in the talkie era were interesting.
Basinger screened countless old silent films prior to writing this book. Her work is readily understandable to a general reader making it easier to comprehend than such technical works on silent films as those by Kevin Brownlow such as his "The Parade's Passed By." This is a fun book to take with you to the beach or on your next business trip.
format is splendid! Really easy to read. Decent prose. Thankfully Ms. Basinger avoided the
sleaze and cheese factor and went for verifiable information.