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Seductive Cinema: The Art of Silent Film.

SEDUCTIVE CINEMA - The Art of Silent Film by James Card (Knopf, 319 pp.) is an excellent, thoughtful and richly informative book on the early cinema and the talent behind it. And the book benefits from the rich knowledge of its author, who founded the George Eastman film archive and rates as one of the great experts on silent film.

Inevitably, Seductive Cinema deals with the household names of the young Hollywood -- Cecil B. DeMille, Gloria Swanson, Pola Negri, Ernst Lubitsch, Marlene Dietrich and many others -- who provided filmmaking with its imaginative and fascinating beginnings, each bringing to it his or her own individualistic stamp and often contributing the new touches, and the daring that formed the basis of the modern movies.

The most intriguing chapter in the book deals with DeMille, whom Card met at length. This book -- beautifully produced and illustrated -- incidentally, traces DeMille's penchant for bathroom scenes, his daring forays into sex-on-screen, his concepts of the screen as a giant palette. "If he (DeMille) was not a great director, one has to qualify all existing concepts of greatness," wrote Card, who at the same time points out that DeMille was "not particularly renowned for modesty or humility."

Card's chapter on Josef V. Sternberg, his vivid portrait of Joan Crawford, his references to Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer, Garbo, Barrymore and many, many other greats of the silent era are colorful, informed and always serves the purpose.

It's perhaps unfortunate that Card doesn't detail the almost bizarre behavior of Miss Crawford, not only when it came to her fight for top screen roles but also in her personal life, as he did in dealing with DeMille, whose portrayal in the book isn't complete either.

A very readable book about a fascinating period that became fertile soil for more greatness to come.
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Author:Hilt, Fred
Publication:Video Age International
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1994
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