Again, I really hope no one is sick of these reviews! I’m a bit behind on my movie-watching due to my little brother graduating from middle school so this week has been hectic to say the least. This is the last book review for a bit (actually have to start reading a new one) but I’m saving the best for last! There’s a lot of pictures on this blog and none of them would have come into being without the aid of stills photographers. I’ve always been fascinated by the people who take pictures of celebrities while making movies and writer Joel Finler presents the story behind the stills in his book Hollywood Movie Stills: Art and Technique in the Golden Age of the Studios. In over 200 pages not only is the story detailed about what goes in to filming stills from the 1920s-1960s but presents gorgeous pictures of the stars and the films. This is a book you’ll want to read twice to read the text and gaze at the photography.
The book looks like a coffee table book with its large hardcover. Normally with these types of books I look at the pictures and put them on display but the text is just as compelling. Finler, the writer of several Hollywood histories, details the work of this neglected profession from its origins to its weak end. The best Hollywood stills photography was from the 1920s-1960s and has always been used as a marketing tool to promote films and the stars. The book makes the distinction between the stills men and the portrait men, one group photographing the film set and the others photographing the stars in portrait sessions. Both jobs were seen as intrusive to the directors and the stars and the book details many stories from the photo men themselves, detailing how they were seen as pests getting in the way of the shots yet without them, a key marketing technique would be ignored.
The book expertly blends and focuses on numerous types of photography and details in-depth how particular shots were accomplished. The book doesn’t go into technical jargon like cameras and shots so you don’t have to be a photo enthusiast to read it. There are sections on “cheesecake” shots, behind-the-scenes, portraits, etc. Every type of Hollywood photo taken is analyzed here. There aren’t in-depth biographies on the men (and women) behind the cameras but you come to see the tight connection between certain stars and the photographers.
Why am I discussing the text when it’s all about the photos. The book is 224 pages but over half of that is devoted to pictures. Certain chapters are about 7 pages of texts with the remaining ten being photos with in-depth captions. The pictures range from stars goofing around on the set, talking with friends and family (there’s a great shot of Joan Crawford and her daughter Christina for all you Mommie Dearest fans), and posing for portraits. The glamour just oozes off the pages in some photos (particularly the ones of Marlene Dietrich) and I spent a lot of time just looking at the detail in some of the photos. There’s discussion on particular costumes as well.
Sadly the stills job has degraded over the decades as Finler details in the books final chapter. I wish I could put up all the pictures in the book to propel you to buy it but half the fun is looking at the stars detailed in this book. I ate this book up and I hope you do. Hollywood Movie Stills can be purchased at the official Titan Books webpage or via Amazon. Thanks to Tom Green of Titan for giving me a new book to add to my coffee table!
I promise movie reviews will come back tomorrow!
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.