From one of our leading film authorities, a rich, penetrating, amusing plum pudding of a book about the golden age of movies, full of Hollywood lore, anecdotes, and analysis.
Jeanine Basinger gives us an immensely entertaining look into the "star machine," examining how, at the height of the studio system, from the 1930s to the 1950s, the studios worked to manufacture star actors and actresses. With revelatory insights and delightful asides, she shows us how the machine worked when it worked, how it failed when it didn't, and how irrelevant it could sometimes be. She gives us the "human factor," case studies focusing on big stars groomed into the system: the "awesomely beautiful" (and disillusioned) Tyrone Power; the seductive, disobedient Lana Turner; and a dazzling cast of others--Loretta Young, Errol Flynn, Irene Dunne, Deanna Durbin. She anatomizes their careers, showing how their fame happened, and what happened to them as a result. (Both Lana Turner and Errol Flynn, for instance, were involved in notorious court cases.) In her trenchantly observed conclusion, she explains what has become of the star machine and why the studios' practice of "making" stars is no longer relevant.
Deeply engrossing, full of energy, wit, and wisdom, The Star Machine is destined to become an invaluable part of the film canon.
In Hollywood's heyday, studio bosses were on an endless quest to spot, groom, and pamper actors who could be molded into profitable commodities. Basinger (film studies, Wesleyan Univ.; Silent Stars), a well-known film historian and commentator, describes how the old dream factories of the 1930s-50s worked, what was needed to separate stars from character actors and contract players, and the steep price some paid for their fame. The bulk of the book consists of appreciations of stars as widely varied as Eleanor Powell, Deanna Durbin, Loretta Young, and Norma Shearer. Star making was an evolutionary process, and Basinger shows how actors were shaped for changing public tastes, including the girl next door image of June Allyson and such curiosities as the Latina Carmen Miranda. Most of the profiles offer insight about the individuals, but there is little new material on familiar figures like Tyrone Power, Lana Turner, or Errol Flynn. Basinger ends with an appraisal of how today's crop of film celebrities differ from the creations of Hollywood's golden age. Overlong at points, this is still a good choice for public library browsing collections.-Stephen Rees, Levittown Lib., PA Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
October 22, 2007
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger
Part One: Stars and the Factory System It’s a crackpot business that sets out to manufacture a product it can’t even define, but that was old Hollywood. Thousands of people in the movie business made a Wizard-of-Oz living, working hidden levers to present an awe-inspiring display on theatre screens: Movie Stars! Hollywood made ’em and sold ’em daily, gamely producing a product for which its creators had no concrete explanation. Sometimes they made films that told the story of their own star-making business, and even then they couldn’t say what exactly a movie star was. They just trusted that the audience wouldn’t need an explanation because it would believe what it was seeing—star presence—could verify its own existence. “She’s got that little something extra,” muses James Mason in 1954’sA Star Is Born, quoting actress Ellen Terry for credibility. Since he’s talking about Judy Garland as he watches her sing “The Man That Got Away,” the point is made. (“She has something!” cries out Lowell Sherman when he spies waitress Constance Bennett in the earlier version of the story,What Price Hollywood?) Hollywood justtoldpeople that “he” or “she” or “it” (let’s not forget Rin Tin Tin and Trigger)had“that little something extra” and let it go at that. As a definition, it wasn’t much, but it was all anyone needed—and there’s no arguing with it. The truth is that nobody—either then or now—can define what a movie star is except by specific example, but the workaday world of moviemaking never gave up trying to figure it out. As soon as the business realized that moviegoers wanted to see stars, they grappled with trying to find a useful definition for the phenomenon of movie stardom, which is really not like any other kind. Marlon Brando called all their attempts “a lot of frozen monkey vomit.” Adding up the monkey’s offerings, it’s clear that over the years, Hollywood collected a sensible list of informed observations: A star has exceptional looks. Outstanding talent. A distinctive voice that can easily be recognized and imitated. A set of mannerisms. Palpable sexual appeal. Energy that comes down off the screen. Glamour. Androgyny. Glowing health and radiance. Panache. A single tiny flaw that mars their perfection, endearing them to ordinary people. Charm. The good luck to be in the right place at the right time (also known as just plain good luck). An emblematic quality that audiences believe is who they really are. The ability to make viewers “know” what they are thinking whenever the camera comes up close. An established type (by which is meant that they could believably play the same role over and over again). A level of comfort in front of the camera. And, of course, “she has something,” the bottom line of which is “it’s something you can’t define.” There’s also the highly self-confident version of “something you can’t define” that is a variation of Justice Potter Stuart’s famous remark about pornography: “I know it when I see it.” The last one makes sense. “Seeing it” is, in fact, the only reliable definition of stardom. The problem for the business was that audience members didn’t all agree on what they saw. Some said that Greer Garson was a talented actress of ladylike grace and charm, but Pauline Kael called her “one of the most richly syllabled queenly horrors of Hollywood.” For their legions of fans (who still endure), Nelson Eddy