The story of Hollywood is a 20th century American story – more specifically, it’s a mass-produced fantasy saga starring the people who made the movies and those who consumed them. No book can hope to tell the story. “Not a half-dozen men have ever been able to keep the whole picture equation in their heads,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in the first chapter of his Hollywood novel, “The Last Tycoon”. Yet these books, published over seven decades, even as the film industry itself becomes a legend, offer a prismatic view of what was once called the Dream Factory. Everyone is part of the equation.
‘Image’, by Lillian Ross (1952)
Originally published in The New Yorker, Lillian Ross’ character-rich tale of John Huston’s 1951 adaptation of “The Red Badge of Courage” demonstrated that the story of how a particular film went been made (and undone) might be more interesting than the movie itself. Observing the exotic life forms found on film sets, in studio desks, and at Hollywood parties, Ross is the prose equivalent of a fleeting documentary filmmaker.
Classic Hollywood movie stars were sacred monsters as well as cash cows. French sociologist, sometimes filmmaker (better known for having co-directed the true classic of cinema “Chronicle of a summer”) and virtuoso stylist, Edgar Morin wonders about the great and their fans: “Behind the star system there is no There is not only the ‘stupidity’ of the fanatics, the lack of invention of the writers, the commercial quarrel of the producers. There is the heart of the world and there is love, another kind of absurdity, another deep humanity.
“Les Moguls du cinema”, by Philip French (1969)
And behind the stars, the bumps. The oversized characters, including many Jewish immigrants who built the Hollywood studio system, performed their own human comedy behind the screen. One of Britain’s most courteous film critics, Philip French recounts their weaknesses with a mixture of irony, affection and fear.
“Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks”,
by Donald Bogle (1973)
Donald Bogle’s groundbreaking work filled a void in Hollywood history, offering another focus on the industry by examining all the ways American films dealt with racial issues as well as how African American actors have dealt with racial issues. managed to get a minimum of representation. The book originally ended with the dawn of blaxpoitation; it has since seen three new editions.
Film critic Molly Haskell refracts the classic Hollywood movies she loves through a feminist lens. Her then controversial thesis argued that, rather than liberating, the permissive films of the 1960s and 1970s were fundamentally sexist and even reactionary, undermining the tradition of strong female stars like Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck who flourished in previous decades. .
“Naming Names”, by Victor Navasky (1980)
The story of the writers, directors and actors purged by the film industry during the Cold War for their real or imagined Communist affiliations is one of Hollywood’s most compelling stories. Longtime editor of The Nation, Victor Navasky relies heavily on interviews with blacklists and blacklists. The book is as psychologically acute as it is historically resonant.
“Lulu in Hollywood”, by Louise Brooks (1982)
Kansas-born Louise Brooks was a Broadway teenager who had her greatest success in two silent German films – achieving screen immortality as Lulu, GW Pabst’s self-destructive femme fatale in 1929 “The Box of Pandora ”. A bit Lulu herself, though as intelligent as she is shy, Brooks absorbed enough Hollywood into her relatively brief career to write a series of spectacular memories, published in the 1970s and anthologies thereafter.
“Easy Riders, Raging Bulls”, by Peter Biskind (1998)
Peter Biskind’s tumultuous, drunk and talkative tale of Hollywood’s last golden age – the 12-year reign of cheeky young, school-educated filmmakers known as “movie brats” – describes a group of wonders as sure of themselves as they were. indulgent. Coppola, Lucas, Spielberg, Scorsese and De Palma brought the counterculture to Hollywood, but while they seemed to be remaking the movie industry in their own image, Biskind suggests it could have been the other way around.
“Hollywood’s Censor”, by Thomas Doherty (2007)
Exemplary social historian Thomas Doherty has repeatedly revisited 1930s Hollywood, exploring the studio system from various angles. Here, his subject is Joseph I. Breen, the feared applicator of the Production Code and, given his absolute power, arguably the most influential individual in the film industry from 1934 to 1954.
“We will always have Casablanca”, by Noah Isenberg (2017)
Noah Isenberg’s book is not the first book on ‘Casablanca’, but, released to mark the film’s 75th anniversary, it is likely to remain definitive – deftly exploring the making, receiving and the afterlife. Hollywood’s premier production.
J. Hoberman is the author of the “Found Illusions” trilogy: “An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War”; “The Dream Life: Films, Media and Mythology of the Sixties”; and “Make My Day: Film Culture in the Reagan Era”.
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