Scattershot, intermittently engaging profiles of Old Hollywood icons.

PLAYBILLS TO PHOTOPLAYS

STAGE PERFORMERS WHO PIONEERED THE TALKIES

This biographical anthology from the New England Vintage Film Society celebrates the lowly thespians whose theater training turned them into Hollywood royalty in the dawning era of sound films.

While silent movies were a quintessentially visual entertainment whose performers needed striking looks and expressive pantomime, the new-fangled talkies that arrived in the late 1920s required actors who could, well, talk—and talk well. That meant ransacking the nation’s stages and vaudeville houses for actors with the resonant voices and verbal agility to bring to life film’s new aural dimension. This uneven collection of essays—highlighting big stars as well as a raft of character actors, and decorated with dozens of striking photos—charts that migration with varying degrees of sophistication. Some of the pieces are shallow, and weakly written, rehashes of a star’s early theater appearances; they treat the stage career mainly as a training ground where actors learned their craft and incubated their future movie personas. Others explore the mutual adaptation between stage and screen styles more seriously; Cinzi Lavin’s illuminating piece on Mae West, for example, shows how the pioneering vamp jumped from stage to screen by toning down her presence, keeping her razor-sharp timing and camouflaging her bawdy repartee with double-entendres that deftly evaded studio censors. The articles on luminaries such as Clark Gable, Katharine Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Spencer Tracy are too skimpy to add much to our understanding of these already well-mapped stars. The book’s more useful contribution is in its many profiles of character actors such as Charley Grapewin and Eddie Quillan, old vaudevillians with long-honed skills at building indelible stock characters. Jon Steinhagen’s sprightly profiles of two seldom-sung Tinseltown mainstays—Warren William, the ultimate suave lothario, and Lee Tracy, eternal embodiment of working-class operators with brains and moxie—stand out as the kind of rapt, perceptive close-ups that make for vibrant film criticism.

Scattershot, intermittently engaging profiles of Old Hollywood icons.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1453587744

Page Count: 570

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2011

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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