HOLLYWOOD by Blaise Cendrars


Mecca of the Movies
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 French modernist Cendrars (18871961) provides a fitfully amusing account of the American movie industry circa 1936. That was the year the poet, novelist, journalist, and sometime filmmaker spent two weeks in Hollywood on assignment for Paris- Soir. The resulting book-length article (originally published in installments) is occasionally entertaining, as when it details non- encounters with stars: A roadblock prevents Cendrars from getting to William S. Hart's ranch; a surly gatekeeper at Paramount causes him to miss a lunch date with Charles Boyer; he passes but doesn't accost a furtive-looking Douglas Fairbanks in the rain. The closest he comes to engaging a Hollywood power is a goofy 4 A.M. telephone conversation with Ernst Lubitsch about ``the star crisis in Hollywood.'' The Frenchman's resigned acceptance of the industry's capricious operating procedures can be endearing. In a chapter devoted to the difficulty of gaining entrance to the studios, for instance, he describes the M.G.M. gatekeeper turning away a mob of Japanese sailors: ``The number of people he was in the midst of executing when it came my turn to meet him flooded me with admiration.'' Cendrars visits the set of The Great Ziegfeld, where an overwrought production number reminds him, he jokes waggishly, of a Promethean scene in one of his own novels, ``a similar monument of plastic synthesis and of life's apotheosis.'' But discussions of economics and suicide, complete with statistical charts, are weird filler, and parts of the book are dated in an unenlightening way, such as a fake-amazed accounting of the phalanxes of technicians required to film an intimate love scene. The general effect is precisely what one would fear from 59-year- old specimen of Gallic whimsy produced for a newspaper: an unflaggingly arch tone that rapidly grows tiresome. The original illustrations, by Jean GuÇrin, are undistinguished. A curious period piece. (1 b&w photo, not seen; 29 b&w line drawings)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-520-07807-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995


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