General notes on this Bibliography and its Recommendations for further reading::
All recommendations are for works that I have read and/or used as reference sources. There may be others on the same subjects that are equal or better. However, I can only note those works and authors I have read or consulted. If a trusted source tells me of another work I haven’t seen and recommends it to me, I’ll note it, but not more. I won’t recommend anything sight unseen.
A note on sources and prices: anyone who is a student or faculty member, librarian, researcher, etc., knows that text books and especially reference works are priced outrageously. There may be a valid reason for it, but I won’t waste my time or yours speculating. By far the best and least costly method is to use the resources of libraries and the internet. However, if you are like me in the sense that I want to OWN my own reference books (I know, I’m nuts), there are ways to cut down the cost. Use the search engine on bookfinder.com where you will find thousands of sellers of millions of used and new books. All of the major online booksellers will list books, and smaller independents that list theirs with larger sellers like ABE, Alibris, Biblio or Amazon will also show up on a bookfinder.com search. And be aware that just because a book is listed as “used,” doesn’t mean it isn’t new for all practical purposes. It is not unusual to find a reference book listed new for $90, .and the same title “used” for $35 for a book that’s never had a single page turned. That’s pretty much how I got the entire 12 volume “Griffith Project” set mostly new, or near mint condition “used” for well under the 80$-$90 list price, probably an average of just under $50 each, and all but three were brand new, never used and the “used” ones were pristine. Just be patient. There are bargains out there for those who willing to search for them or those who can wait, and sometimes even for those like me who can’t.
“Florence Lawrence, Resurrection”
On Florence Lawrence: see recommendations under “The Song of the Shirt,” below.
On D. W. Griffith, see recommendations under “Song” plus, “Goin’ to California,” below.
“The Song of the Shirt”
On the Triangle fire of 1911:
Von Drehle, David. “Triangle: the fire that changed America,” (2003, Paperback) Grove Press. The first and, to my knowledge, the only in-depth study of the Triangle tragedy, focussing on the events which led up to the fire. The author, a journalist with the Washington Post, pays particular attention to the labor-management-political climate in New York City in the first decade of the 20th century. He paints a portrait sympathetic, but not biased, toward the labor movement. The many elements in the mix leading up to March 26, 1911, include corruption in city and state politics, dating back to the mid-19th century, which thrived on cronyism and graft, and on a free-market economy run amok, and a schizophrenic popular culture that worshipped as celebrities the industrial “titans,” while the poor and the tabloid print media condemned them as “robber-barons,” America’s version of a moneyed aristocracy whose wealth bought the favor of government and allowed them to run business antithetical to the interests of workers, particularly those employing “unskilled” immigrant labor. Whether you consider yourself a liberal, a conservative or something in between, you will find yourself shaking your head with wonder on nearly every page.
On the film, “The Song of the Shirt,”:
Usai, Paolo Cherchi, General Editor, “The Griffith Project, Volume 1: Films Produced in 1907-1908.” (1999, hardcover) BFI Publishing, Various contributors, 13 Volumes. This massive undertaking was produced between 1996 and 2008, under the auspices of the British Film Institute and Le Geornate Del Cinema Muto of Pordenone, Italy. It is the most comprehensive study of the works of D. W. Griffith, and includes entries and essays by numerous film scholars, critics, writers, historians on every film made or supervised by Griffith, including his early work as an actor, between 1907 and 1931. Unless you plan on devoting a considerable amount of your life to a study of Griffith or cinema of the period, check your library first (the 13 volumes, if you can find them used, will cost anywhere from 30 to 90 dollars each.) The entry on “The Song of the Shirt” is in Volume One, essay #65, pages 150-151, by Steven Higgins, a Griffith scholar and curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Gunning, Tom. “D. W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film,” (1994, Paperback) University of Illinois Press. Mr. Gunning studies the development and structure of the narrative film — in layman’s terms “how a movie tells a story” — with key examples drawn from Griffith’s short films with Biograph from 1908-1913. “The Song of the Shirt,” is discussed in detail primarily on pages 134-137, with screen shots from the film (mine are much better . . ! but he is much more knowledgeable). More info on this book is under the entry for “Goin’ to California,” below.
On Florence Lawrence:
Brown, Kelly R. “Florence Lawrence, The Biograph Girl, America’s First Movie Star,” (1999, library binding, hardcover) McFarland & Co., Inc. The first, and likely the last, book on the life and career of “Our Florrie,” as Lawrence was called by Linda Arvidson Griffith. Lawrence came from a background so similar to so many of her contemporaries (and many who followed later). I don’t mean the fact that she was Canadian and born in the 19th century as were Mary Pickford and Mack Sennett, or that her father was little more than a sperm donor, as were the fathers of the Pickfords’ (all three of ’em), the Gishes’ Lillian and Dorothy, or raised by an abandoned, single mom or a grandmother, as were (minus Sennett) all of the above plus Blanche Sweet. No, they all shared the same knockabout experience of being live “entertainers” performing tricks of thespian daredevilry in towns small and cities big, east coast, west coast, no coast and every hole and dive in all fifty states and the Canadian provinces south of the Yukon. They were the prototype — the first film actors. They were hard people. Not the way we think of actors as people. We think “sensitive,” open to their feelings, emotive, needing the love only an audience of adoring fans can give, a failure in everything else in life. Bullshit. These people were the SURVIVORS, the fittest. They made it to the top, or nearly so, of their profession. They had success on stage, they had success in movies. They were winners, or else WE WOULDN”T KNOW THEIR FUCKING NAMES! So get the tragedy out of your ass and appreciate these people for what they gave us, and not for their human failings that all of us have to one degree or another. Call them whatever you want. Just don’t call them tragic because they took to drink, squandered a fortune, married manipulative assholes, got fat or turned to a needle or bottles of pills or lines of fluffy white crystals (none of which “Our Florrie” did, just for sake of clarity here). All of them are greater success stories than 99.9999% of everyone who has ever seen their performances, live or recorded.
Having said that, Florence Lawrence was the first movie star. She was the first to feel that white hot flame of “movie stardom,” the first to feel adoration — adoration by an audience that was itself experiencing a first love. And through a series of choices and happenstance — the kind of thing we call “life” when it happens to us — it ended before she even knew it. It was an experience that hundreds more would have over the next hundred years, and maybe, just maybe, if she had been the second movie star, or the one hundred and second movie star and then had her star go out cold and black, she could have accepted it, or at least rationalized it, so that she could manage to live out her life as if she was just one of many stars who grew dim then dark, but not the first and not a freak. Not an especially happy life, no. But not one of “if only, only, if only . . .this or that, then I’d be . . .” followed by ceaseless misery, until one day you’ve had enough, and you decide it’s time to check out of this miserable motel hell. And, for the sake of clarity here, that’s exactly what Florence Lawrence did.
None of this editorialising is in the book. The book is halfway between a pop bio and a scholarly biography, which is quite acceptable when the subject is someone with not much evidence left behind, aside from their film work, a relatively short life and much shorter career. Go read it if you want to learn about “Florrie.” It’s good. Then watch her films and appreciate what she was able to do, not what she couldn’t or didn’t do. Above all, don’t call her “Tragic.”
On silent film acting and its development:
Pearson, Roberta E. “Eloquent Gestures: The Transformation of Performance Style in the Griffith Biograph Films,” (1992, Paperback, print-on-demand) California University Press. If you want to understand silent film, you must start by learning acting. Not yourself, but what acting is, how it has developed (changed might be a more accurate word), and how early film acting drew from stage acting and other forms of physical expression in entertainment (pantomime being the obvious example). The biggest misconception — by far — with respect to silent film is that “overacting” was the style of the period. From the ancient Greeks who invented drama as an art form to express human existence, to the 18th and 19th centuries and a Golden Age of live theater, to the development of photography and sound recording — first images, then images with sound — acting has changed depending upon both technological changes, and changes in audiences which are arguably more important than dependence on the false promise of the never-ending forward march of technology in which today is better than yesterday which was better than last week which was better than last June or last year — you get the point. Fortunately, this book doesn’t cover the last 3,000 years of performance art, just acting as it existed at the dawn of film, how and why film acting went in the direction(s) it did, and the impact of stage acting and the expectation of audiences who may or may not have been devotees of live theater in the higher forms of dramatic literature and performance, but for whom melodrama and its spastic mutant child out of wedlock with pop music, vaudeville, were the dominant forms of public entertainment in the period preceding moving pictures.
On D. W. Griffith in general, see the entry for “Goin’ to California,” below.
“Goin’ to California, 1910 and a Mountain of Dreams”
On D. W. GRIFFITH:
Schickel, Richard. “D. W. Griffith, An American Life,” Limelight Editions, 1996 paper or 1984 hardcover. Very thoroughly researched biography, some people think it’s rather “sour,” I think it’s a well written, scholarly biography in the old-fashioned classic sense. Don’t let that word scholarly scare you off: that’s what you want. If you want unsubstantiated dirt on someone, buy a tabloid or a Kitty Kelly bio-hack job, or just about anything on the current non-fiction (hah!) best-sellers list. If you are like me and you want your dirt with documentation, then the “scholarly” approach with filthy footnotes and bitchin’ bibliography is the only way to go.
Robert M. Henderson, “D. W. Griffith, The Years at Biograph.” Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. 1970 hardcover, it’s probably available in used paperback form, also, but try to get the 1970 1st edition with the cool red end-papers with the Biograph logos (just kidding, not about the logos, they are cool; a 1st ed. will cost you, depending on condition as little as $10 or as much as $60, and it’s a small 250pp book — search Bookfinder, you never know what might be out there). Published in 1970, it is one of the earliest of the better-researched Griffith books, and the author focuses on of course just one period of Griffith’s career, but it is a good starting point for someone just learning about the subject. Over the years it has been surpassed in sheer detail and also in heavier analysis by film theoreticians/scholars, whose work can be found in many individual books, articles theses, etc., much of it collected or reiterated in the above-mentioned 12 volume “Griffith Project,” But the Henderson book, while probably having some factual errors that have long since been corrected, is still a readable, even somewhat entertaining book, for someone who wants to focus on the early period, and also wants more detail about individual films and performers, but not to the level of academic research and analysis that has been published since then. For that, you should consider these:
Gunning Tom, “D. W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film, The Early Years at Biograph.” Univ. of Illinois Press, 1990 hardcover, 1994 paper. This is advanced-level, film-studies Griffith, don’t be mislead by the folksy “Early Years” subtitle similar to the Henderson book above . This is film theory at its best, really, in the analysis of how the films shape a narrative “story,” the method of communication from film to you that you are not necessarily aware of when you watch a film, because the elements that make the narrative, the story, have been hardwired into your head since you were old enough for mom to prop you up in front of the tv while she ironed or talked on the phone. (In case you’re interested, film study at its worst is the Kracauer school of signs and semiotics, and texts, subtexts, pretexts, no texts, more signs and then Rod Serling pops up, “There’s a sign post up ahead, er .. a semiotic, er semi-text, oh f**k, it’s the Twilight Zone. Jesus, Spare me! But let me repeat that this is not that kind of book, ,maybe a little tougher going for someone who is years away from their last cinema studies course, but you can actually follow his logic.
My main complaint about these serious academic studies of motion pictures is that many of the films discussed are not readily viewable by the average person Nearly all of Griffith’s Biograph films survive. That’s amazing, but the downside is that most are available only in the paper prints collection at the Library of Congress or else old 16mm prints made from those paper prints (although the last I heard they were transferring, or starting to transfer to 35mm the original paper prints. “Paper prints” are what Biograph and others, Edison in particular, used to file for copyright purposes, and these rolls of prints of each frame of a film were printed on photo paper and filed away at the Library of Congress for copyright because there was no other method to copyright “motion photography” prior to movies being recognized as single photographic entities, rather than just a series of individual photographs, which didn’t occur until around 1913, I believe).
But the point is, you can’t just look in your paper to see what time “The Redman’s View” is playing at the Library of Congress multiplex tonight. The upside is that the examples used in discussing how the films’ structure or “grammar,” the choice of shots, the subject of each shot within a sequence of shots, and the breaking up of space and time via editing forms the substance of film narrative, the “story” it tells, are applicable to other works as well. I’m getting dangerously close to sounding like Kracauer now, so I’ll stop.
On NATALIE WOOD:
Finstad, Suzanne, “Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood” Harmony Books, 2001.
Lambert, Gavin, “Natalie Wood: a Life” Knopf, 2004.
Finstad’s book, the first published of the two, was the first major biography of Natalie Wood, and is the more detailed of the two in terms of family and family background, childhood and early career, and most notably, on her death and the circumstances surrounding it. Lambert was a personal friend of Ms. Wood from the time of “Inside Daisy Clover” (1965, he authored the book on which the film was based) to her death. He also had access to her personal correspondence and “day book” in which she jotted down notes on film activities and those film projects in which she had an interest. Neither book contains interviews with Robert Wagner and the Wagner family after her death in 1981, although Wagner published an autobiography in 2006 which I have not read, nor have I read memoirs of her sister Lana, published several years before either of the above two biographies. With respect to the Finstad and Lambert bios, I can’t honestly recommend one over the other. I can only say that together they would make a great biography. If you have more than a casual interest in the subject, you will want to read both.
Dawn of the Diva:
Brunetta, Gian Piero, The History of Italian Cinema, Princeton University Press (2009, paperback). A rare English translation of an essential Italian film history text which according to the author he prepared as a pared-down version of his longer works, the four volume Storia del Cinema Italiano (1993), and Cent’anni del Cinema Italiano (1991) which places Italian film in the broader context of Italian history. The author has essentially reduced these two larger works into this single volume which is a study of Italian film within the context of international cinema. The first chapter on Italian cinema muto gives a solid foundation and sufficient detail and depth to give the reader a useful understanding of the beginnings and early development of the Italian film industry. It especially interesting to compare the early years of Italian film with its corresponding period in America and France, and though there are many similarities, there are fascinating differences as well. Much of my essay here with respect to the early Italian film companies and their relationship with the George Kleine company was drawn from this excellent volume.
Dalle Vacche, Angela, Diva: Defiance and Passion in Early Italian Cinema, University of Texas Press (2008, Paperback, with DVD, “Diva Dolorosa,” (Filmmuseum Netherlands)/VPRO, 1999, Dir: Peter Delpeut). It is the rare modern book — in paperback, no less — that can be called “sumptuous,” but this book is all that, physically; the contents are even better. As much a sociological study of the “diva” as it is a history of diva film examined within the context of social, cultural and political history — feminism, psychology: obsession and occultism, art: film, acting, photography, fashion, painting, and much more. Included in the 2008 first paperback edition is the wonderful 1999 film, “Diva Dolorosa,” a compilation of surviving diva film woven into a dolorous tapestry with marvelous music score.
The Drunkard’s Reformation:
Usai, Paolo Cherchi, General Editor, “The Griffith Project, Volume 2, Films Produced in January – June, 1909,” BFI Publishing, 1999; “A Drunkard’s Reformation,” pp. 57-60.
Griffith, Mrs. (Linda Arvidson), “When the Movies Were Young,” E.P. Dutton and Co., 1925; (Later editions including a paperback “facsimile” from Dover Press, 1974, are available used and also in e-book format);
Roberta E. Pearson, “Eloquent Gestures: The Transformation of Performance Style in the Griffith Biograph Films,” University of California Press, (1992, 1997, paperback, print-on-demand);
Tom Gunning, “D. W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film,” University of Illinois Press (1991, 1994 paperback);
Scott Simmon, “The Films of D. W. Griffith,” Cambridge University Press (1993, 1998 paperback).
Schickel, Richard, “D. W. Griffith: An American Life,” Limelight Editions, 1996, paperback;
On KAY FRANCIS:
Kay Francis has been the subject of two biographies, “Kay Francis, A Passionate Life and Career,” by Lynn Kear and John Rossman, (2006, McFarland & Co.) and “Kay Francis, I Can’t Wait to be Forgotten,” by Scott O’Brien, (2006, Bearmanor Media). Both have a balance somewhere between pop culture bio and a work of in-depth scholarship — in other words, they entertain, have some bias in favor of the subject, but have notes, source citations and bibliographies in addition to filmographies, radio, stage and television credits. Both were published in the mid-2000s, nearly 40 years after her death in 1968 and a hundred years after her birth in 1905. A third publication, “Kay Francis, the Complete Career Record,” is just that: A compendium of detailed entries on her entire body of work, suited for the KF junkie, but certainly a very useful reference, if not purchase, for the general researcher.
On PINA MENICHELLI:
Martinelli, Vittorio, Pina Menichelli, Le sfumature del fascino, Bulzoni Editore, Rome, 2002. Softcover. 130pp. In Italian. Many B&W photos. The best published source for information on the life and career of Menichelli, but you’ll have to be able to read Italian or be patient enough to translate with Google to use the text. Detailed filmography is extremely useful. And the photos are fantastic, most of which I’d never seen before. You shouldn’t have any trouble locating a copy through one of the major book listings in the U.S. without having to purchase overseas and pay for overseas shipping.