Hollywood Frame by Frame: Behind the Scenes: Cinema's Unseen Contact Sheets by Karina Longworth
|Hollywood Frame by Frame: Behind the Scenes: Cinema's Unseen Contact Sheets by Karina Longworth|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: While sometimes suffering from the same sense of artifice as its subject matter, this approach of looking at Hollywood through the less familiar image will prove for many to be a well worthwhile purchase.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 208||Date: June 2014|
If you ever think of Hollywood you think of it as the home of a certain kind of output. Superstars, big studio productions, and what they combined to produce – things you might call movies, or films. Once upon a time, of course, they were called moving pictures, without the abbreviation, but the artform – once called the greatest of the 20th Century – was just as recognisable through the still images it produced. This coffee table book is designed as a catalogue of those still images – whether they be formally posed portraits taken on set, re-enactments of the cinema's scenes shot separately on still camera for the purpose of publicity, or candid stills that formed a matter the star had a final say in, which would go some way to increasing the cult of their personality in the magazines that were then starting to focus on celebrity.
To illustrate the book's contents (and its merits and flaws) just as the original images were designed to illustrate the film production, I can take Some Like it Hot as a case in point. Unusual in being spread over six pages, we get semi-prepared portraits of Marilyn Monroe leaning louchely in a door-frame; very unexpected and freer shots of her on a beach between takes, hair blown constantly awry and across her face; and a couple of images of her in seductive nightwear in bed – one of which has been completely redacted. The book is using these images as windows into the 'off-camera', or rather more private, soul of Hollywood, which should be fascinating to all. Each movie gets a thumb-nail introduction, which is just what is required when it comes to either pointing out the import of the stars or the film itself, or the relevancy and unusual details in what we're seeing.
But even when it admits the falsity of these images in discussing the straight persona of Rock Hudson, it is also disguising the contents in some small way. It's not just the fact that for many decades the contact sheet, publicity images, and anything without the stamp of official approval would have been destroyed by a studio lackey. That redacted Monroe snap shows that these images have been made for a purpose – and if they were deemed to not fit the job then they lost all possibility of turning up decades later in a book such as this. What certainly points this out is the obvious evidence that a lot of these images are not contact sheets per se. These, the 'real image' of a full roll of negative film strip, are chronological, and haven't been edited or tampered with – it would be a pure reproduction of what the set photographer would have photographed. And, at the start at least, only about one film in four here gets a proper contact sheet. Yes, we get candid images, but when so many of them are higgledy-piggledy we lose a little of the authority of the images, a little security when it comes to the book, and a filter ends up across our allegedly untouched look at the unseen Hollywood.
That pernickertiness aside, this book has some great contents. Most of the major stars are here, and for the collector of stills and images of Hollywood, without knowing how much of this has been seen before or otherwise, I can hazard a guess at this being a cherished find. It covers the most familiar film titles and ones I have barely heard of, includes both the completely recognisable (James Stewart looking out that rear window) and that which appeared lost to the world (a whole dance number cropped from an over-long Judy Garland A Star is Born, a deleted scene with a blow-up doll in John Carpenter's The Thing).
Just as James Dean, Marilyn and John Cazale flashed and burned, so contact sheets have not really lasted that long. Later examples here are more or less either straight replicas of the films themselves (witness Madonna taking about 24 frames to put an ear-ring in, almost as much as the film would have needed) or have the appearance of what is more or less just a souvenir. (You could easily edit the strips for Silence of the Lambs – it's Jodie Foster at a shooting range and nothing else.) And with digital, they're passé, they're yesterday's news, they're as relevant as the past-it superstar of the Golden Age of Hollywood. By which I mean, of course, that those we do have – those visual memories, and those uniquely fresh ways to see new images of the old – are well worth valuing. This book allows that.
In Glorious Technicolor: A Century of Film and How it has Shaped Us by Francine Stock covers exactly what its subtitle suggests, even if all the pictures remain in your mind and not on the page.
You can read more book reviews or buy Hollywood Frame by Frame: Behind the Scenes: Cinema's Unseen Contact Sheets by Karina Longworth at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Hollywood Frame by Frame: Behind the Scenes: Cinema's Unseen Contact Sheets by Karina Longworth at Amazon.com.
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