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For more than a hundred years we have gone to the movies to be thrilled, terrified and amused. Armies of directors, costumers and writers have taken us on emotional journeys, but the person who can make or break a film is very often the star. It is the star who we follow through the story and more than anyone else involved it is the star who we remember...
Movie Star Chronicles (2015. 576 pages), edited by Ian Hayden Smith, follows on from Aurum Press’ previous book, Sci-Fi Chronicles: A Visual History of the Galaxy's Greatest Science Fiction and in many ways the books are similarly structured. Although it predominantly focuses on European and American stars, there is a good smattering of stars from world cinema.
It may seem that this is a large book and indeed it is, but certain restriction have had to be put in place to limit the information to a form which fits the book. For a start, not all of a particular star's work appears, only that which is considered to be their more important. This then is a very personal choice. Most would agree that Citizen Kane (1941) was a seminal work for Orson Wells, but could the same be said for The Day After Tomorrow (2004) for Jake Gyllenhaal. Part of this comes from the page restrictions, as each page can only show eight movies along the top. Some more long standing stars do get a double page spread allowing sixteen films to be highlighted.
Each page is structured the same. The top contains basic information, the star's name, their date of birth and death, if appropriate, the type of roles they played and the awards won. Below this we have the shots from the eight or sixteen films deemed worthy enough to note. The central area is taken up with textual information about the person and their films.
These are provided by twenty-four different contributors and so the content ranges from a straight forward record of their work to small attempts at a critique, though the word count limitation means that there is little in the way of in-depth analysis.
The bottom of each page is taken up with an infograph which shows when the films were made, who the director was and the genre, all of this is colour coded.
Some of the more important actors, as well as getting a two page spread also get a further two pages of shots from their films. A nice little touch is that down the side of the picture page they have reproduced the film posters. Depending on the age of the film the pictures are a combination of colour and black and white plates. Within the body of the book there are also longer, two page pieces which look at certain genres or concepts associated with stars, including Femmes Fatales, science fiction, westerns etc. The book finishes off with an awards directory, a list of contributors and a comprehensive index.
Given that this is set up as a coffee table book, something to browse rather than read from cover to cover, the book succeeds in what it is trying to be; a reminder of some great actors and films or a jumping off point for further reading.