“Although the sphere and importance of vision were expanding at this time, to say that visual experience was becoming autonomous would be imprecise. The aesthetic of illusionism engaged viewers as embodied spectators, physically drawn into an image or alert to beat a hasty retreat. One measure of an illusion’s success was its ability to provoke a bodily response-an impulse to touch or to flee. The challenges that modern life and modern illusions presented to modern subjects were too great for vision to handle on its own.”-from the essay Seeing, Touching, Fleeing by Michael Leja (Moving Pictures American Art and Early Film 1880-1910)
My favourite New Year’s Day tradition doesn’t involve parades or football games or overindulging in sweets. For this girl, it is all about books. Shocking, no?
A pile ‘o books and calendars.
This pile ‘o goodies is the result of my annual New Year’s Day Book and Calendar Hunt. As you can see, the 2013 edition was quite successful. I decided to by-pass literature in favour of selections from the genres of art, biography, and silent film. Here are a few of the highlights:
Egon Schiele by Sandra Forty
REASON: Egon Schiele is my favourite artist (in a three-way tie with Modigliani and Pissarro).
Frontier Madam The Life of Dell Burke, Lady of Lusk by June Willson Read
William Randolph Hearst, circa 1910. He threw all of the best parties, thanks to his sweetheart Marion Davies. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Title: Hollywood Royalty
Author: Gregory Speck
Year Published: 1992 (Birch Lane Press Book/Carol Publishing Group)
Year Purchased: 1990s
Source: Library sale
About: San Simeon, William Randolph Hearst’s estate, was the setting of countless celebrity-gilded parties. An invitation for a weekend stay was not only a passport to bask in temporary opulence so extreme it made members of the movie colony seem like paupers in comparison, it meant that you had truly arrived on the Hollywood scene. Close your eyes. Conjure up a dinner party of seven courses, attended by some of the most fabulous classic movie stars. Your curiosity probably takes the form of many questions, with the big one being: What would they talk about? The setting of Hollywood Royalty is real, the occasion is imaginary and the conversation is composed of snippets from published interviews. Fact and fiction cross borders, on an evening removed from time, to mingle as seductively as the stars in Hearst’s dining room.
Motivation: I like when lines are blurred. I love classic film.
Times Read: 1 or 2
Random Excerpt/Page 160: “I (Olivia de Havilland) learned a lot from Jimmy Cagney, and he was always so sweet to me. On A Midsummer Night’s Dream he was very nice to me, and I was so flattered. He would come into my little canvas dressing room, and we would just talk about everything. I couldn’t believe it, for he was already a great star, and it was my first film, way back in 1935.”
Title: Legends of the Silent Screen A Collection of U.S. Postage Stamps
Authors: Charles Champlin and Linda Klinger (for the United States Postal Service)
Year Published: 1994 (U.S. Postal Service)
Year Purchased: 1994
Source: This was a gift from my mom, received after some pleading on my part.
About: In 1994, the U.S. Postal Service released a set of stamps commemorating ten of the silent screen’s greatest stars (which was, itself, part of a larger series dedicated to entertainers). This book was published as a companion piece, but is good enough to stand on its own merits. The detailed individual biographies are underpinned by amazing photographs and a time-line of the first 100 years of American film history. It’s a handsome volume, and the Al Hirschfeld caricatures commissioned for the stamps render the subjects instantly recognizable. The stars covered in this volume are: Rudolph Valentino; Clara Bow; Charlie Chaplin; Lon Chaney; John Gilbert; ZaSu Pitts; Theda Bara; the Keystone Cops; Harold Lloyd; and Buster Keaton.
Motivation: I was already totally captivated with silent films, even at a relatively young age.
Times Read: A few
Random Excerpt/Page 39: “Film historians note that (Theda) Bara’s producer actually cast her in quite a few sympathetic-not evil-roles, knowing that after her vamp image had been accepted, the public would continue to read treachery into all her characters, regardless of their motivations.”
Happiness Scale: 10
Bara in the title role as Cleopatra (1917) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Selected and Edited by: Rudy Behlmer (With an Introduction by S.N. Behrman)
Year Published: 1972 (The Viking Press)
Year Purchased: 1990s
Source: Antique Barn, Ohio State Fair
About: Over the years, and quite by accident, I have amassed a nice sub-section to my Cinema Library, what I call The Lives and Times of Ruthless Moguls. This book started it all. The memos, covering the years 1926-1962, provide us with intimate access to the professional dealings and private concerns of one of the most powerful men in Hollywood during the greatest years of the studio system. Continue reading →
Title: Walking with Garbo Conversations and Recollections
Author: Raymond Daum
Editor and Annotator: Vance Muse
Year Published: 1991 (HarperCollinsPublishers)
Year Purchased: 1993
About: Greta Garbo. The Swedish Sphinx. She of eternal mystery. One half of the most famous screen (and real-life, but that’s another story) couple of the 1920s. The great actress may have valued her privacy, both before and after retirement, but she was no shut-in. Continue reading →