Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Cecil B. DeMille: The Art of the Hollywood Epic

Cecil B. DeMille: The Art of the Hollywood Epic
by Cecilia de Mille Presley and Mark A. Vieira
Running Press
Hardcover - pages
November 2014

If you're going to invest in a high quality coffee table book, you shouldn't just go for looks alone. There is a pride in ownership of Cecil B. DeMille: The Art of the Hollywood Epic. Not only is this oversize book a beauty to behold it's also chockfull of interesting information about one of the grandfathers of Hollywood. The glossy pages hold an array of images pleasing to the eye but it's not a book just to flip through. Take your time, pore over the pages, linger on the words, read it like a book for the full experience.

The organization of the text and images in the book is one of the best arrangements I've seen in a coffee table book. It feels organic in its construction. You have the trusted voice of historian and photographer Mark A. Vieira and the insider voice of DeMille's granddaughter Cecilia. There is a little bit of bias because a family member was involved in the book however I never felt it was anything but honest. The book serves more as a tribute to a legendary filmmaker rather than a critical look at his career and it's very transparent about that fact. The front matter includes a glowing introduction by director Martin Scorsese who saw DeMille as a publicity savvy visionary and a foreword by producer Brett Ratner who painted DeMille as a showman whose films served as entertainment for many generations.

If you wanted to give the book an alternate title it could be Cecil B. DeMille: The Showman. The theme of DeMille as entertainer was the glue that holds the story of his life and career together. DeMille's movies were commercial successes because he gave audiences what they wanted; epic stories with fantastic visuals and charismatic stars.

"Mr. DeMille loved to make movies that took you out of your seat and placed you in another time, another world. He was a great showman." - Leatrice Joy

The book is divided into seven chapters with multiple sub-chapters within each. Along with the introduction and foreword we get a short piece by Cecilia de Mille Presley called "My Grandfather" and a preface by Mark A. Vieira about the purpose of the book. The chapters follow DeMille's life and career in chronological order with a bigger focus on his movies more so than his personal life. 

The book is primarily written by Vieira with insights from de Mille Presley presented throughout the book in paragraph-long inserts and quotes in the main body of the text.  There are quotes from voices of the past including Henry Wilcoxon, Mary Pickford, Gary Cooper, Charlton Heston, Leatrice Joy, and Cecil B. DeMille himself. Photos throughout the book have detailed captions adding nice additional content. The book also contains artist renderings, costume design sketches, behind-the-scenes photos, production notes, photographs of film memorabilia and publicity photos. Most photos are a good size with some stretching out over double page spreads and others tucked in among text. Some material has never been seen before.

"DeMille took a great deal of care with the production stills for his movies." - Martin Scorsese

DeMille knew these would be useful in promoting his films and today they make up the pages of this beautiful coffee table book. This is the first pictorial coffee table book about DeMille and the visuals help you escape into the world of his films.

There was a lot of interesting information in the book. I liked reading about DeMille's long working relationships with Gloria Swanson, Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard, Gary Cooper and Henry Wilcoxon.

"He believed in women's abilities. Not many other producers were hiring women for jobs behind the camera at that time." - Katherine de Mille Quinn

DeMille was influenced by art and was a very visual director. Critics didn't like his work but the public loved him. His films were known for lavish sets, exquisite costumes and bathtub scenes. He loved to add an element of sex to his movies. I love this quote:

"Motion pictures cannot be made without sex. Take it away from films and you take away their very life." - Cecil B. DeMille

Throughout the book readers learn about the various studios DeMille worked with, the actors, actresses, visual artists as well as behind-the-scenes tales from his extensive catalog of films.

Films covered in the book include:
The Squaw Man (1914) and (1931)
The Ten Commandments (1923)
The King of Kings (1927)
The Godless Girl (1929)
Dynamite (1929)
Madam Satan (1930)
The Sign of the Cross (1932)
This Day and Age (1933)
Four Frightened People (1934)
Cleopatra (1934)
The Crusades (1935)
The Painsman (1936)
The Buccaneer (1938)
Union Pacific (1939)
North West Mounted Police (1940)
The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944)
Unconquered (1947)
Samson and Delilah (1949)
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952)
The Ten Commandments (1956)

Here are some images of the book in all it's glory! These include my favorite spreads.

On Samson and Delilah - "As concerned as he was with details, DeMille's primary focus was on five big scenes. These could be advertised. These would prompt word of mouth. These had to be show stoppers, played by bigger-than-life stars in eye-catching costumes." - Vieira

I could tell this book was lovingly put together with great attention to detail. Cecil B. DeMille: The Art of the Hollywood Epic is a great investment in your classic film library and a must-have for fans of old Hollywood.

Thank you to Running Press and their PR team for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Note: This review is not an entry of my summer reading challenge! I should be reviewing my challenge books soon.

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