Stardom: Industry of Desire

By Christine Gledhill | Go to book overview

1

SEEING STARS

Janet Staiger

Having studied film history for little more than five years, my first tendency, like so many youth in any field, is to presume that the older histories are wrong. Revisionist history has, I am sure, as much to do with the Oedipal complex as it has to do with changing ideological conditions which position those of us in more recent times to see facts in new ways. Of interest, then, to me is that the more I study US film history, the more I realise that the older histories are less wrong than I used to believe they were. Often, the problems I have with them are not so much in fact but in emphasis, or more precisely, in the theoretical assumptions that have determined their choice and arrangement of those facts.

Much work on film historiography has been done recently. 1 What I would like to contribute here is a gesture towards our new histories of film. I am interested in reasserting the value of background study, of study of adjacent facts in understanding events in the area upon which we are focusing. I am concerned that related histories become requisites in any study of film. I also find of interest the effect that a detailed chronology with careful dating of events can have on the representation of the events and their significance. Take, for instance, the standard representation of the appearance of the star system in the US film industry. Both a fuller set of dates and facts and an analysis of the concurrent theatrical scene can significantly alter our version of its appearance and development.

David A. Cook in the most recent extensive history of film repeats the story that in 1910 Carl Laemmle's promotion of Florence Lawrence led to the star system. 2 The reputed reason was Laemmle's competitive move as an independent to take business away from the Patents Trust. Cook is relying on Lewis Jacobs' and Benjamin B. Hampton's histories. Jacobs' version is the more descriptive. Mentioning the movie audiences' attraction to some of the players, Jacobs posits that the Trust manufacturers 'diligently kept [the player's identities] secret, reasoning that any public recognition actors received would inspire demands for bigger salaries'. Laemmle, however, lured Lawrence from Biograph to IMP through an increased salary and promises of publicity. IMP's advertisement in the Moving

-3-

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Stardom: Industry of Desire
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Introduction xiii
  • Part I - The System 1
  • 1 - Seeing Stars 3
  • 2 - The Emergence of the Star System in America 17
  • 3 - The Carole Lombard in Macy's Window 30
  • 4 - The Building of Popular Images 40
  • 5 - Fatal Beauties 45
  • Part II - Stars and Society 55
  • 6 - Charisma 57
  • 7 - Shirley Temple and the House of Rockefeller 60
  • 8 - 'Puffed Sleeves Before Tea-Time' 74
  • 9 - The Return of Jimmy Stewart 92
  • 10 - Three Indian Film Stars 107
  • 11 - A Star is Born and the Construction of Authenticity 132
  • 12 - Feminine Fascinations 141
  • Part III - Performers and Signs 165
  • 13 - Articulating Stardom 167
  • 14 - Screen Acting and the Commutation Test 183
  • 15 - Stars and Genre 198
  • 16 - Signs of Melodrama 207
  • Part IV - Desire, Meaning and Politics 231
  • 17 - In Defence of Violence 233
  • 18 - The Politics of 'Jane Fonda' 237
  • 19 - The Glut of the Personality 251
  • 20 - Pleasure, Ambivalence, Identification 259
  • 21 - 'A Queer Feeling When I Look at You' 283
  • 22 - Monster Metaphors 300
  • Select Bibliography 317
  • Index 332
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