Sunday, April 13, 2008

16. The Star Machine

The title: The Star Machine
The author: Jeanine Basinger
Publication: Knopf, 2007
Got it from: The Library

It's been Hollywood time here in our apartment for the past several weeks, and I swear I can't stuff another fact about Tinseltown in my brain even if I tried. Reading this book with the Uncle John one simultaneously was kind of trippy, because at certain points I'd be reading one and think, "didn't I just read this?", only to discover that I had actually read it in the other book.

Right now it's hard for me to give a fair review of this book because I'm sick of hearing about old movie stars, old films and "the star machine." On better days I love learning about Old Hollywood, particularly because stars back then are less annoying than the ones we have now and roles for women were much more interesting. But let's be honest here: you can pretty much guess why I picked up this book in the first place. The answer is on the cover.

What I thought was going to be a light read turned into a very detailed study of the old Hollywood system of "making" stars, a system that is now long dead. It is quite interesting to see how ordinary people were turned into megastars and how the studios provided for their every need, like they lived in little cults and weren't allowed to interact with the outside world. I learned a ton about movie stars whom most people don't know about today but who were worshiped in their day: Deanna Durbin, Eleanor Powell, Van Johnson. What this book doesn't cover are the juicy details in stars' lives, unless they were important enough to affect their careers. Errol Flynn comes across as just a dashing, troubled star instead of the drug-and-orgy loving savage that he was. Power's bisexuality isn't even hinted at.

What brings this book down for me is that it's just too damn long. Yes, the author knows her stuff inside out. I can't even imagine how many thousands of hours of film and countless articles she must have read as research. But for someone with a casual interest like me, it's just too frustrating. The book is 553 pages long with minuscule print and headache-inducing, rambling footnotes. I'm someone who must read every word, and I'm not sure if it was the best investment of my reading time. It's undoubtedly one of the most detailed, comprehensive books on the subject, but only avid film students will find reading it cover-to-cover worthwhile. B.


Anonymous said...

I've definitely heard of Van Johnson. He was on a bunch of game shows and did cameos on tv shows in the early-mid '70's. I was quite surprised to find out in my adolescence that he had been in the movies. Donna

KJH said...

That sort of reminds me of how funny I thought it was when I discovered Dennis Hopper was once a teen heartthrob.