Showing posts with label Mark A. Vieira. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mark A. Vieira. Show all posts

Thursday, November 9, 2023

George Hurrell's Hollywood by Mark A. Vieira

George Hurrell's Hollywood
Glamour Portraits 1925-1992
Revised Edition
by Mark A. Vieira
Foreword by Sharon Stone
Running Press
September 2023
Paperback ISBN: 9780762484607
406 pages

"The dreamlike world of silent pictures had created a stary system based on personalities who were bigger than life. The naturalism of talking pictures diminished them. If the star system was to survive, the studios would have to enlarge them again. Along came Hurrell, who adapted his technique to this purpose…. In the process, Hurrell perfected a photographic idiom: the Hollywood glamour portrait." — Mark A. Vieira

A George Hurrell portrait is something truly special. Some of the best photographs of movie stars from the golden age of Hollywood—Norma Shearer, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Ramon Novarro, Jean Harlow, Robert Montgomery, Carole Lombard, Mae West—were shot by George Hurrell. He captured the glamour of the industry in its heyday and showcased his subjects at their very best. These dreamy, sexy portraits helped elevate the subject in the public's esteem. In many cases, a Hurrell portrait, often used to publicize a new film, transformed careers. For example, an important photo shoot with Norma Shearer helped the actress convince her husband, producer Irving Thalberg, to cast her in The Divorcee (1930) ushering her into a new phase in her career. Hurrell's photoshoot with Jane Russell for Howard Hughes' pet project The Outlaw (1943) catapulted Russell into fame well before the film was even released to the public. George Hurrell worked with MGM and Warner Bros. and as an independent contractor worked directly with stars or did freelance for other studios like Columbia and RKO. 

Once the studio system began to wane and glamour portraits fell out of fashion, Hurrell struggled to find steady work. Times were changing and so was the technology used in photography. Hurrell's work suddenly became old-fashioned. However, towards the end of Hurrell's life, a new appreciation of his early work led collectors and other photographers to gather and share his work. Hurrell enjoyed a legacy tour which saw his portraits in books and in traveling museum exhibitions. Throughout the '80s, Hurrell was photographing new talent—musicians, comedians, actors—in an era that was far cry from the one he started in during the 1920s. Hurrell worked up until he died in 1992 with his final celebrity subject being actress Sharon Stone.

George Hurrell's Hollywood: Glamour Portraits 1925-1992 by Mark A. Vieira is a fitting tribute to an artistic genius. This book was originally published in 1997 as Hurrell's Hollywood Portraits and then republished as George Hurrell's Hollywood in 2013. Running Press has released a revised and expanded paperback edition which includes 50% more photographs than the 2013 hardcover. Also Mark A. Vieira, a film historian and photographer who first met George Hurrell in 1975, restored every photograph found within the new edition. If you haven't gotten the book yet, please make sure you get the paperback. And if you have the hardcover, now is the time to upgrade!

This book is absolutely stunning. The photographs are presented at their best and many take up an entire page. Joan Crawford fans will be particularly interested because she was Hurrell's most photographed subject—they did 33 photoshoots together—and lots of those photos are found within. It's a sturdy paperback and while it is on the heavier size I found that it holds quite well. Because the spine and the signatures are one big block, this is one of the few photography books that I think could stand up on a shelf without the heavy pages pulling from the spine.

In reading the book, I was particularly interested in learning how Hurrell built his network of contacts, how he worked within the studio system and the techniques he developed to showcase his subjects at their best. While there is a bit of biographical information on Hurrell in order to place the timeline in context, the focus of the book is really his career.

“You can’t work with a person and be exactly cold-blooded because there’s got to be a rapport, there’s got to be that quality, that something that rings between the two of you. If it doesn’t, well, you might as well quit and go home.” — George Hurrell

Some interesting facts from the book: 

  • Hurrell advanced his career through connections. A photo shoot with a wealthy socialite led him to meet Ramon Novarro who introduced him to Norma Shearer which led to a contract as a studio photographer at MGM.
  • Hurrell mostly shot in black-and-white but also photographed in Kodachrome and Warner Color.
  • He shined a spotlight on the part of the hair. “The placement of the boom light so that it shone down from behind, or down the part in the subject’s hair, on onto the cheekbones”
  • This had the effect of giving the subject's face a lot of dimension. In retouching, he would add a tiny dot in order to make the eyes pop more and liven the face in the final portrait.
  • Used the color white to great effect. Actresses wore white dresses. Subjects would be photographed against a white wall.
  • He would play music and use sexy talk to get his female subjects in the mood. Olivia de Havilland was having none of this and did not enjoy working with Hurrell.
  • Vieira refers to Norma Shearer as Hurrell's patron and Joan Crawford as his muse.
  • Worked with Greta Garbo. In one photo shoot, he pretended to trip over something in order to get a reaction out of her. When it did, Garbo's more expressive looks translated well on camera. She later became his landlord when he rented out new studio space for his photography.

George Hurrell's Hollywood was recently selected as one of The Hollywood Reporter's Top 100 Film Books of All Time.

I discuss the book at length on episode #2 of The Classic Movie Roundup. Watch here:

Thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of George Hurrell's Hollywood for review!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Forbidden Hollywood by Mark A. Vieira

Forbidden Hollywood
The Pre-Code Era (1930-1934)
When Sin Ruled the Movies
by Mark A. Vieira
TCM and Running Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762466771
April 2019
252 pages

AmazonBarnes and Noble Powells TCM Shop

"Pre-Code refers to the four-year period before the Production Code was strengthened and enforced. There had been a Code since 1930, but the studios negotiated with it, bypassed it, or just plain ignored it." - Mark A. Vieira

For true classic movie fans, it's not enough to just watch our favorite films. We need to extend the experience. We watch, research, learn, share, repeat. We relish the details. One of the reasons I love classic film books is that they provide me with context on why these films were made. They help me understand how movies were influenced by politics, culture, social mores, industry trends and the lives and careers of the key players involved.

Mark A. Vieira's new book Forbidden Hollywood does just that for the Pre-Code era. It provides the context needed to fully appreciate what made 1930-1934 a unique period in film history. Movies were an increasingly popular form of entertainment and with the threat of government regulation looming over them, Hollywood decided to self-regulate. But during the Great Depression, stakes were high and a power struggle ensued between the studios and the censors. Who were the people on both sides of the table? First who have the studio execs, the directors, the producers, the writers who were all trying to circumnavigate the system, one they had originally agreed upon but prevented them from producing the scandalous movies that Depression era audiences would put their hard earned money towards. On the other side you have the censors, Will Hays, Joseph Breen, the MPPDA, the SRC and countless state regulators who were fighting a losing battle. When the censors finally put their foot down and the production Code was finally enforced the way it was intended to be, the Pre-Code era was officially over.

Forbidden Hollywood is the ideal film book. It's the perfect marriage of information and entertainment. The text focuses on the people behind-the-scenes and the beautiful photographs showcase those in front of the camera. This coffee table style book is compact enough to read comfortably but large enough to be displayed in all its glory. The text starts with an introduction from the author and a section devoted to the 1920s, which set the stage for what was to come. Then each section is a year-by-year analysis, breaking down the escalating factors that made Hollywood filmmakers bolder and the censors weaker. Within each section are chapters based on themes that help readers tie the threads together of what exactly what was going on in the Pre-Code era. And for anyone whose studied this era, it's not an easy one to follow which makes Vieira's direction all that more helpful.

Source: Running Press

Source: Running Press

Source: Running Press

Some of the films discussed include:
Little Caesar (1931)
The Public Enemy (1931)
A Free Soul (1931)
Mata Hari (1931)
The Easiest Way (1931)
Possessed (1931)
Cock of the Air (1932)
Scarface (1932)
Red Headed Woman (1932)
Grand Hotel (1932)
The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
Freaks (1932)
Call Her Savage (1932)
Sign of the Cross (1932)
Island of Lost Souls (1932)
So This Is Africa (1933)
She Done Him Wrong (1933)
42nd Street (1933)
Gold Diggers of 1933
Footlight Parade (1933)
Baby Face (1933)
Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
and more

If you want to know more about how the book is structured, what it looks like inside and more, check out my video review of the book below!

Make sure you check out my interview with Mark A. Vieira on the TCM website and the TCM Tumblr (which has some additional images!).

Thank you to Running Press for a review copy of this book!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Into the Dark by Mark A. Vieira

Into the Dark by Mark A. Vieira
Into the Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941-1950
by Mark A. Vieira
336 pages - 9780762455232
May 2016
Running Press and TCM
Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

“When I walk onto a set, I never have the slightest idea what I’m going to shoot. Then I sit in a chair for a few minutes and I see it all before me.” – Edmund Goulding

If you’re looking for a book on film noir, your options are endless. Much has been written about this beloved and still impossible to nail down genre of film. When author Mark A. Vieira sought out to create Into the Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir 1941-1950 he needed a different approach. This book is not a primer on film noir nor is it a scholary work. It isn’t even your standard coffee table book. It’s a pictorial history told through archival documents. The author is renowned as a great researcher with access to materials, documents and photographs that few others have. Into the Dark is your armchair as you dig through the film noir archives alongside Vieira.

Before you even consider picking up this book, it’s important you know what’s contained inside and how it’s structured. If you don’t have a full appreciation for this you’ll be disappointed. The book explores a wide variety of films noir starting with Citizen Kane (1941) and ending with Sunset Blvd. (1950). All the major film noir classics Out of the Past (1947), Gun Crazy (1950), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Murder My Sweet (1944), Double Indemnity (1944), Laura (1944), Mildred Pierce (1945), etc. and lesser known gems as well make up the space in between. Some films get one spread (2 pages) and some get up to four spreads (8 pages). There are large black-and-white publicity stills and a designed layout for the archival information. Each section will include some or all of the following:

Film name and credits
One line description of plot
Production quotes
Box Office Numbers
Letters from Regional Theaters
Artist Comments
Detailed photo captions
Asides and explanations from the author

Below is what the layout for Out of the Past (1947) looks like:

The films are presented chronologically and divided into different time periods. Each of these sections is introduced with some more archival documentation which serves to demonstrate how the genre was evolving over time.

I remember as a little girl I once had a book about the presidents of the United States. It was a reference guide from Funk & Wagnalls and was laid out in a similar way to Into the Dark. Each president had his own section with his official presidential portrait, some stats, some photographs/paintings and one article from the archives. It was not a true reference book about presidents in that it didn’t give me a sense of the president’s life and career or the milestones of his presidency. The archival material was a mixed bag with some interesting details and some fluff. Woodrow Wilson’s section included his wedding menu. I wanted more out of that book but in those pre-internet days this was all I had. Eventually I got a full encyclopedia set and could look up the presidents individually and was content with that. Into the Dark reminds me of that book but this time I was more prepared. I could appreciate it for what it was not what I wanted it to be. And lucky for me this book was richer in contextual and relevant detail.

Into the Dark is an excellent pictorial history of film noir with the context that only archival documents can give. While we love these films noir now, many were neglected back in the day. We see some shocking reactions from theater owners and from film critics (Bosley Crowther of The New York Times is heavily referenced in the book). We also see that many of these films returned a nice profit and went on to have a better appreciation in the decades that would follow. For example, my favorite film noir Out of the Past (1947) wasn’t fully appreciated until the 1970s when repertory houses started showing the film regularly. There was little publicity for it the year it came out because Dore Schary, who recently arrived at RKO, decided to only focus on films he’d been working on. There are lots of great trivia bits to be gathered from the book. For example Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely was adapted into Murder My Sweet (1944) starring Dick Powell because the book title would have confused patrons expecting another Powell musical. Crossfire (1947)’s original plot dealt with homophobia but it was changed to anti-Semitism for the film. Impact (1949) included product placement from brands like Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer and Coca-Cola. Ever watch The Big Sleep (1947) and wonder what the heck was going on? After they finished filming they added more Lauren Bacall scenes which threw off the plot. Nuggets of information like these are why I read classic film books.

There are some problems with Into the Dark. There are a handful of grammatical errors and typesetting flaws. These could have easily been caught if the publisher took more care with copyediting and proofreading. The book itself is gorgeous but the signatures pulled away from the spine as I read it. Stronger glue or better overall binding would have helped hold the heavy pages to the cover a lot better. Also the archival documents can often be frustrating to read. Your beloved classic can be dampened by a ornery theater owner complaints (one called In a Lonely Place “stilted corn”). I much preferred reading the photo captions, asides, artist comments and production quotes which gave more background on the films, actors and actresses. Bosley Crowther and the various film critic insights were interesting to read but also showed how these films were not fully appreciated during their time.

When I originally discussed Into the Dark I pegged it as a book for film noir newbies. That is not the case. It’s really for film noir enthusiasts who want to study their favorite films in a new and different way. The book gets a stamp of approval from the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation who contributed a preface.

I bought this book from Larry Edmunds Bookshop at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival. Read more details on how I got to meet author Mark A. Vieira here.

Mark A. Vieira

This is my second review for the 2016 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge.

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