Posts tagged 1940s
Welcome to the second Weekend Movie Preview of the New Year. As you might suspect based on last week’s reviews of “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Promised Land,” I’m still catching up on screeners from 2012 and probably will be for the rest of this month, so make sure that you keep following along with my mini reviews here on Reel Recon. Today’s column on Starpulse features the first new film that I’ve seen in 2013: Ruben Fleischer’s “Gangster Squad.”
When you read a book about the film industry, you don’t want to be overwhelmed by text. You expect photos to tell the story. After all, what would a motion picture book be without the pictures? Supplying an adequate number of storytelling images is even more vital when the topic of your volume is photography like Hollywood Movie Stills by Joel W. Finler. Rather appropriately, Finler’s book doesn’t waste your time with excessive dissertation. He sets up his chapters with historical information, letting multiple pages of photographs and captions serve as examples of his discussion.
Hollywood Movie Stills traces the origin and purpose for still photography in Hollywood from the 1910s through the 1960s, or as it’s subtitled “the Golden Age of the Studios.” The book’s narrow scope works to its advantage for two reasons. First, it is a quick read because it covers a short time span in filmmaking. Second, its in-depth focus provides a thorough education about the value of still photography in Hollywood.
As you learn from the book, still photography has several applications in Hollywood. It is used for old character photographs in movies, record keeping, film promotion, and star publicity. More importantly however, images preserve movie scenes that were cut and films that have been lost to time. Since many prints from the silent era no longer exist, still images provide us with visual proof of their content. What’s slightly deceptive though is that some pictures could be of scenes or characters that didn’t make the final cut, so reconstruction is not a precise science.
The most entertaining sections in Finler’s book describe the 1930s and 1940s, when movie studios were absurdly controlling of their stars. Treated like commodities, actors had to constantly endure being photographed at home, in character, and in seductive outfits. They were styled to match other successful celebrities or to fit specific archetypes. Ironically, these images were highly censored to remove ridiculous things like chest hair and cleavage.
Finler’s volume is a meticulous study of movie photography. Not only does he teach you about the influential photographers of old Hollywood, he also shares some amusing industry anecdotes. One photographer hilariously recounts pranks that Alfred Hitchcock played on him and another comically discusses how actor Jimmy Stewart was considered “a problem” because studio execs couldn’t fit him into one of their molds. Finler’s captions are equally detailed. There are captions that literally just describe the types of images you will see on the following pages in addition to individual ones for each photo. These segments can be a bit long and tough to read though given their length however.
In his conclusion, Finler argues that still photography in films today has less impact and quality given the industry’s switch to color photography and digital cameras. While these methods certainly deviate from tradition, I disagree with his assessment that they lower the effect or the worth of the pictures. Color photography shows the brilliant shades of costumes, sets, and makeup in ways that black and white photos cannot. A couple of years ago he might have been correct about digital photography, but the advances in technology now allow high resolution photographs to be taken that are equal in excellence to those captured by traditional cameras.
If you are a movie buff with knowledge about photography, then you’ll appreciate Hollywood Movie Stills. Even if you aren’t into photography like me, you’ll still soak in a lot about its origins and purpose in filmmaking.
Hollywood Movie Stills is available in stores and online at www.titanbooks.com.