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Acting for the Silent Screen: Film Actors and Aspiration Between the Wars

Acting for the Silent Screen: Film Actors and Aspiration Between the Wars
Chris O'Rourke

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A shop girl wins a newspaper competition and is transformed overnight into a transatlantic celebrity. An aristocrat swaps high society for the film studio when she 'consents' to perform in a series of films, thus legitimising acting for what some might have considered a 'low' art. Stories like these were the stuff of newspaper headlines in 1920s and reflected a 'craze' for the cinema. They also demonstrated radical changes in attitudes and values within society in the wake of World War I.Chris O'Rourke investigates the myths and material practices that grew up around film actors during the silent era. The book sheds light on issues such as the social and cultural reception of cinema, the participatory film culture expressed through fan magazines, instructional booklets and movie star competitions, and the working conditions encountered by actors behind-the-scenes of silent films. Drawing on extensive research and a wealth of archival materials, O'Rourke examines how dreams of stardom were fuelled and exploited in the interwar period, and reconstructs the personal narratives and experiences of the first generation to imagine making a living on screen.In doing so, he reveals a missing - and much sought after - piece of cinematic history to bring to life the developing industries, social attitudes and norms of a period of enormous change.

Author Info

Chris O'Rourke is Lecturer in Film & TV History at the University of Lincoln, UK. He has published widely on aspects of British cinema history, in particular the silent film period, including contributions to the DVD release of Shooting Stars (BFI, 2016).


‘O’Rourke has significantly broadened our understanding of the contours of British film culture in the 1920s and ‘30s, showing how filmmakers, agents, publicists, publishers, novelists and journalists simultaneously encouraged, castigated and cynically exploited a nascent mass yearning for screen stardom.’ – Jon Burrows, University of Warwick
‘With flare and imagination, this book traces the debates about the professionalization of acting, the everyday experiences of both those who aspired to, and those who did make their living as film actors, and the fan cultures that surrounded the industry. It is an object lesson in the rich possibilities of archival research: beautifully written, authoritative and absorbing.’ – Lawrence Napper, King’s College London
‘A valuable, and highly readable, addition to British cinema scholarship that is infused with real feeling for the period. Through vivid examples, O’Rourke’s book evokes in particular the attractions and dangers the British interwar film culture held for ‘cinema-struck’ society.’ – Michael Williams, University of Southampton

Bibliographic Info

Imprint: I.B.Tauris
Publisher: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd.
Series: Cinema and Society

ISBN: 9781784532796
Publication Date: 30 Nov 2016
Number of Pages: 272
Height: 216
Width: 138
Illustrations: 15 bw integrated

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