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ISSUE 121 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/14/2008

Critic examines era of stardom

By Annie Ashby
Associate Editor

Friday, March 14, 2008

Renowned film critic and historian Jeanine Basinger paid a visit to St. Olaf on March 6 to discuss her newest book, "The Star Machine." Basinger attended two class discussions and gave a public lecture on how the film industry created stars in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

At the lecture, Boldt chair and professor of English Diana Postlethwaite introduced Basinger as "a sassy stylist who's able to tell it like it is" and called her "the fizz on the soda."

"I was planning on skimming ["The Star Machine"], but I ended up jumping in and swimming the whole way," Postlethwaite said. "It was a fantastic book. It pays tribute to actors and actresses that, 50 years later, are still alive inside the frame."

Basinger's 10th book, "The Star Machine," describes the process used to create movie stars during the glamour age of Hollywood.

"People found it difficult that stars aren't just discovered by the public," Basinger said. "They're planned for in business."

Basinger compared Hollywood at this time to the Wizard of Ozpulling all the levers behind the scenes, controlling the illusion that is seen by the public. However, according to Basinger, an important aspect to the business was allowing the public to think they had some small say in the matter.

Basinger addressed the ways in which stars were created from "absolute nobodies." Talent scouts scrutinized everyone, from elevator operators to nightclub dancers. Many were given a ticket to Hollywood and a screen test to determine their stardom potential.

Called "properties," the prospective stars were examined on everything from how well they caught the light to the size of the pores on their nose. Basinger compared the process to a slave-trade market. If they passed the tests, stars were given new names, biographies and a seven-year contract to make movies.

"Stars were not accidents or glorifications," Basinger said. "It was a machine-made job. It was fake but real, and it was fascinating."

Mark Everhart '08 heard Basinger's lecture in his film history class.

"I love how [Basinger] will watch every single movie that comes outgood or bad," Everhart said. "That's a true film historian. She wasn't pretentious at allin fact, she really complimented movies like 'Knocked Up' and 'Wedding Crashers.'"

Basinger stated that she will watch any and every movie that comes out, and stay until the end. However, she maintains that film exhibited the highest level of craft in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

"That was the golden era of film as an art form," Basinger said. "It's less sophisticated todayquicker, cheaper, less subtle and more character and story line oriented."

Despite her non-pretentious approach to film, Basinger maintains close Hollywood ties. She described her close friendship with Joan Crawford and being in Clint Eastwood's inner-circle.

"I might as well name-drop, I mean, that's what you all came for," Basinger said. "So, at dinners with Clint Eastwood, all you can hear is the 'chk chk chk' of cameras hiding in the bushes. The poor guy can't finish a meal without being interrupted by some fan. Even if he goes to the bathroom, all the men in the room get up to follow him in."

Basinger encourages the study of film at the college level, as when she was growing up, film studies programs didn't exist.

"Film is dominant today, in so many forms," Basinger said, "Even doctors put cameras down someone's throat!"

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