Monday, June 24, 2019

Dynamic Dames by Sloan De Forest

Dynamic Dames
50 Leading Ladies Who Made History
by Sloan De Forest
Foreword by Julie Newmar
TCM and Running Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762465507
248 pages
July 2019

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"Dynamic Dames share an X-factor; they transcend the narrow confines of their gender role, whether by taking small steps or revolutionary strides. Each of these 50 women, in her unique way, is an architect of her own destiny." - Sloan De Forest

Sometimes a book comes into your life that you didn't know you needed until you start reading. And when you do things start to fall into place. That's Dynamic Dames for me. Film historian and author's Sloan De Forest delivers with this captivating feminist manifesto. Dynamic Dames catalogs 50 strong female characters and the actresses who portrayed them. Each woman gets her time to shine. We learn about how the actress got the role, how the character came to be and what ties the two together. You can't divorce the actress from the part, they breathe life into these characters. This book could have been 50 short biographies. It could have been 50 short characters studies. But it's a lot more than that.

It starts off with a wonderful foreword by Julie Newmar, Catwoman herself, and an introduction by the author. Then come the Dynamic Dames. They are presented thematically instead of just chronologically. Themes include Pre-Codes, Comedies, Mysteries, Biopics, Superhero movies, etc. The grouping feels organic and will prevent those hardcore classic film nerds from abandoning the book at a certain decade. The book starts with the 1920s and goes up to present day. For those of you who want the specifics: out of the 50 women, 29 are from the 1960s or earlier and 21 are from the 1970s and later.

The criteria for inclusion is perhaps one of the strongest elements of the book. The women, fictional and real, are strong, empowered women. They are complicated, headstrong and surpassed expectations for their gender. De Forest did something interesting here. Instead of just going with all the iconic roles, she mixes it up and includes characters fascinating but not necessarily the most well-known. For every Scarlett O'Hara/ Vivien Leigh you'll have Lily Stevens/Ida Lupino.

I was a big fan of De Forest's Must See Sci-Fi, a book that really convinced me to take on a genre I was reluctant to in the past. (Check out my review of that book here). I had high expectations for Dynamic Dames and it delivers. The writing is engaging and the narrative voice is whip smart and clever. There is an appreciation of the past and a look towards the future. And like with the science fiction book, De Forest convinced me to try movies that I hadn't thought to before. I enjoyed reading about women and films that I was familiar with as much I did about ones that were still new to me.

Some of my favorite pieces include:
  • Bette Davis - Helen Bauer - Ex-Lady (1933)
  • Greta Garbo - Queen Christina - Queen Christina (1933)
  • Bonita Granville - Nancy Drew - Nancy Drew… Detective (1938)
  • Ingrid Bergman - Paula Alquist Anton - Gaslight (1944)
  • Joan Crawford - Mildred Pierce - Mildred Pierce (1945)
  • Elizabeth Taylor - Cleopatra - Cleopatra (1963)
  • Dorothy Dandridge - Carmen Jones - Carmen Jones (1954)
  • Grace Kelly - Lisa Fremont - Rear Window (1954)
  • Marlene Dietrich - Christine Vole - Witness for the Prosecution (1958)
  • Sophia Loren - Cesira - Two Women (1960)
  • Pam Crier - Coffy - Coffy (1973)
  • Linda Hamilton - Sarah Connor - The Terminator (1984) & Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
  • Jodie Foster - Clarice Starling - The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • Salma Hayek - Frida Kahlo - Frida (2002)
  • Keira Knightley - Colette - Colette (2018)

My only small quibble with the book is the format. The small hardcover size is easy to hold but I would have preferred a paperback format instead. Or a larger format with bigger and better (and more!) pictures.

Dynamic Dames is the must-have feminist film book. To me it's incredibly important to see other women overcoming obstacles and I found a lot of new-found inspiration in reading about them.
Read it for yourself and share it with others. If there is someone in your life who is weary of classic movies because of what they believe is a lack of strong female roles, this is a nice gateway into appreciating film history.

I filmed a book review video which goes more into detail about the book's structure and my thoughts on it. If you liked the video please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel!

Update: Check out my interview with author Sloan De Forest on the TCM website!

A big thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of this book for review.

This is my first review for the Summer Reading Challenge.

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