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Famous Faces Yet Not Themselves

The Misfits and Icons of Postwar America

2010
Author:

George Kouvaros

Famous Faces Yet Not Themselves

A revealing examination of the impact of photography on the image of postwar Hollywood acting

Famous Faces Yet Not Themselves offers a multilayered study of the Magnum photographs from the 1961 film The Misfits. By closely scrutinizing the images from one of America’s most haunting and least understood films, George Kouvaros presents a new recognition of the connection between the power of star culture, art photography, and the film industry during a time of rapid social transformation.

In an amazing gesture, George Kouvaros dilates The Misfits, the events of its making, and the photographic record to frame an analysis of the theory and practice of Method acting, as they intersect with the contemporary star system and with the reshaping of movie making in the wake of the studio system’s collapse. It is in many ways stunning.

Sharon Willis, University of Rochester

The 1961 film The Misfits saw the collaboration of director John Huston with playwright Arthur Miller and brought together on screen Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe in what would be their final roles. Adding to the production’s luster, the elite photo agency Magnum was hired to do the on-set photography. The photographs of this landmark film represent the end of an era of Hollywood stardom and the emergence of a new vision of the actor’s craft.

In Famous Faces Yet Not Themselves, George Kouvaros offers a multilayered study of the Magnum photographs that illuminates larger changes in Hollywood acting during the postwar period. Just as the industrial context of film production evolved dramatically in the decades after the war, Kouvaros asserts, so too did the iconography associated with the figure of the actor. Photographs of Hollywood stars such as Monroe, Gable, Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, and Humphrey Bogart form the basis of an evocative analysis of the way photography gave shape to fundamental shifts in the nature of screen acting, perceptions of celebrity, and the relationship between actor and audience.

By closely scrutinizing the images produced on the set of one of America’s most haunting and least understood films, Kouvaros presents a new recognition of the connection between the power of star culture, art photography, and the film industry during a time of rapid social transformation.

Famous Faces Yet Not Themselves

George Kouvaros is associate professor of film in the School of English, Media, and Performing Arts at the University of New South Wales. He is author of Where Does It Happen? John Cassavetes and Cinema at the Breaking Point (Minnesota, 2004).

Famous Faces Yet Not Themselves

In an amazing gesture, George Kouvaros dilates The Misfits, the events of its making, and the photographic record to frame an analysis of the theory and practice of Method acting, as they intersect with the contemporary star system and with the reshaping of movie making in the wake of the studio system’s collapse. It is in many ways stunning.

Sharon Willis, University of Rochester

Kouvaros weaves a compelling story about The Misfits, Method technique, the ‘image of acting,’ and the role of camera-generated pictures in the public imagination. It is a genuinely striking and original contribution.

Roberto Tejada, University of Texas, Austin

The story of the photographs from The Misfits is not just about what they depict, nor is it just about how they came to be. Their story, as George Kouvaros so richly tells it here, is also about how acting is understood, how Hollywood and the society it was a part of changed, how cinema and photography are connected, and about how we apprehend the passing of time.

Screening the Past

That Famous Faces Yet Not Themselves remains such a coherent study is a testament to the author’s comprehensive scholarship and clear prose style as well as the suggestiveness of the Magnum photographs themselves.

49th Parallel

A smart, learned book that illuminates our popular history’s fascination with Monroe.

Film & History

Famous Faces Yet Not Themselves

UMP blog: On The Misfits and seeking a sense of home

5/5/2010
The Misfits was, for many years, a film that I carried around in my head. When I started writing Famous Faces Yet Not Themselves, I wanted to write about the Magnum images taken on the set of the film, their history and relationship to other images of actors. But I also wanted to write about how such images trigger an experience of cinema that operates in advance of our actual viewing of a film. Now that the book is finished, I have become more and more interested in understanding the relationships and contexts that are opened up when we focus not on this or that film, but on the interaction between cinema and everyday life. Famous Faces Yet Not Themselves explores these contexts and relationships from the perspective of the stars involved in the production of the film.