VINE VOICEon 13 August 2004
The Hollywood publicity photograph is the subject of this intriguing book. Unlike their more famous counterparts who did fashion and artistic portraits, the Hollywood still photographers were asked to sell a product, the films that the stars were appearing in. Because the films and the publicity were censored, the final products were determined by the Hays office. The photographers were allowed to ask for how they would like the prints finished, but were not allowed to do the work themselves. As a result, the final results often fall far below what the photographer probably intended.
Despite these limitations, the photographers were working with extremely talented actresses and actors who could capture a mood and a moment in unusually powerful ways. Some of the results are arresting, and overwhelm the limitations of the too small pages and the often flawed photographic finishing.
The book also contains many wonderful comments by the leading Hollywood photographers about their views of the task and their experiences. You will definitely feel that these stars were represented as "icons, made to be admired." The chins are uplifted along with the eyes in noble poses that suggest goddesses and heroes rather than mere mortals.
Your interest is captured by the sense of "electric, full of sexual qualities" character of the images. The most successful move beyond iconography to capture "a moment or mood unattainable with the motion-picture camera" to show something about the movie in creating a "poster effect."
You will also appreciate the rivalry among the photographers in seeing who could accentuate glamor the most. Light, shadows, make-up, and props are all carefully composed to add an uplift of excitement that ordinary people could only hope to see on the silver screen during these days of depressed economic times and war.
I graded the book down two stars for the indifferent printing of many of these images from the negatives and for the poor quality of the reproductions on the pages in the book in many other cases. Many of the photographs are also very fuzzy and appear to have been shot through what looks like a nylon. One or two of those would have been enough. But there are many more than that in this volume.
Here are my favorite photographs:
Louisa Brooks, 1928 (2), Eugene Robert Richee, for Paramount
William Powell, 1929, George Hommel, for Paramount
Jean Harlow, 1932, George Hurrell, for MGM
Joan Crawford, 1933, George Hurrell, for MGM
Marlene Dietrich, 1932, Don English, for Paramount
Carole Lombard, 1935, Eugene Robert Richee, for Paramount
John Gilbert, 1932, George Hurrell, for MGM
Sylvia Sidney, 1935, Eugene Robert Richee, for Paramount
Joel McCrea, 1933, Ernest A. Bachrach, for RKO - Radio
Norma Schearer, 1932, George Hurrell, for MGM
Katherine Hepburn, 1935, Ernest A. Bachrach, for RKO - Radio
Greta Garbo, 1930, 1935, Clarence Sinclair Bell, for MGM
Ginger Rogers, 1934, Ernest A. Bachrach, for RKO - Radio
Frances Farmer, 1937, Eugene Robert Richee, for Paramount
Lana Turner, 1939, Eric Carpenter, for MGM
Barbara Stanwyck, 1937, Robert Coburn, for United Artists (Goldwyn)
Eleanor Powell, 1937, Laszlo Willinger, for MGM
Vivien Leigh, 1940, Laszlo Willinger, for MGM
Lauren Bacall, 1946, Scotty Welbourne, for Warner
After you have finished enjoying these wonderful, hypnotic faces I suggest you spend a little time in front of a mirror looking at your own favorite expressions. How would you react to you if confronted with those expressions? Then begin to become more conscious of the impressions you make. Tiny nuances in facial expressions convey more meaning than words in most communications. Be as careful of those nuances as you are of your choice of words.
Project your meaning more accurately and lastingly!