Friday, February 27, 2015

Mount TBR #4

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Cecil B. De Mille: A Life in Art – Simon Louvish

This is a deeply researched and enjoyable biography of the king of hokum, Cecil B. DeMille. It is so highly detailed that casual fans of movie history may be overwhelmed by the plot synopses of movies she’ll probably never see but fans like me will revel in the detail.

De Mille’s work is hard to take seriously though Louvish builds a strong case in support of DeMille’s work in the silent era and his Biblical epics Samson & Delilah and The Ten Commandments. Louvish covers quickly the only film that won DeMille the Best Picture Oscar, The Greatest Show on Earth, a circus extravaganza. I’ve always had a soft spot for that good bad movie. Bad because of the soap opera melodrama and terrible script,

Gloria Graham - Angel: You are a sourpuss, aren't you?
Charlton Heston - Brad Braden: Yeah.
Angel: You want to bite somebody?
Brad Braden: Yeah.
Angel: Well, pick your spot.

But good because of circus animals, Jimmy Stewart always in clown make-up, over the top numbers like Lovely Luawana Lady and the famous train wreck caused by the psycho spurned boyfriend.

Anyway, back to the book. Louvish respects the body of work, less so the craftsman himself. DeMiille, for all his Cold War reactionary politics and pretentious droning about religion, was never a faithful husband. He also had a tendency to treat people as objects, as interchangeable parts, ever fungible. Louvish’s tone about these failings, mercifully, is not shrill and tells enough for us readers to draw our own inferences. Louvish also judiciously gives social history to put DeMille and his 50-year career in context.

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