BEHIND THE MASK OF INNOCENCE by Kevin Brownlow

BEHIND THE MASK OF INNOCENCE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Massive, worthy, but less-than-compelling survey of silent rims of a social cast, most of them shot during the first 20 years of this century and now lost. This completes Brownlow's superb film-history trilogy begun with The Parade's Gone By. . . (1968) and continued with The War, the West, and the Wilderness (1979). Brownlow discusses directors and actors, and often gives plot summaries written by reviewers when the films were released--summaries that smell and taste of the times. In some few cases, he has managed to dig up actors or contributors to these films, but most filmfolk from those days are dead. We get plenty of historical research, and often are taken once more through subjects by now devoid of interest (may Will Hays and the rise of censorship rest in peace at last). As seen by Brownlow, the era of the early silents was not the period of charmed innocence that memory tricks us into seeing. It was instead a time that recorded history rather closely, revealing ""the corruption of city politics, the scandal of white slave rackets, the exploitation of immigrants. Gangsters, procurers, and loan sharks flashed across the same screen as Mary Pickford. . ."" The liveliest pages here examine Evelyn Nesbit, the girl on the red velvet swing and object of millionaire playboy Harry K. Thaw's murder of architect Stanford White in 1906. The Thaw case immediately produced three films, viewed by the society's watchdogs as scandalously indecent. Also rich is Brownlow's telling of the making of King Vidor's The Crowd, and of The Passaic Textile Strike, a labor film, Other subjects include films on social diseases, drugs, prisons, women's suffrage, poverty, and foreigners. Film history for film historians; much less for entertainment buffs.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Knopf