Sunday, March 21, 2010

(Book #11) Kenneth Anger - Hollywood Babylon

The book 'Hollywood Babylon', by Kenneth Anger is a sort-of non-fiction collections of early Hollywood scandals, gossip and rumors. Originally released in France in 1959 (ooh, those catty French!), it was later released stateside in the mid-60's, at which time it was banned and did not get republished for another ten years. Since that time, the book acquired somewhat of a cult status in its recollection of sordid tales of some of the most notable and notorious names in the Hollywood film industry from its early beginnings in the 1900's through the 50's.

Anger opens with anecdotes surrounding the epic film 'Intolerance' and its enormous iconic sets, one of which, the Babylon sequence, became the inspiration for the modernly gaudy Hollywood & Highland complex. He continues by taking the reader through the early development of this filmmaking colony before it even received the name that it now bears. We move into the "Golden Age" of Hollywood in the 20's which was filled with a growing number of stars, many of whom were revered through the country as royalty. Even in these early days, the public latched onto any and all gossip surrounding these high-profile personalities in the original city of sins. The exploitation of celebrities' personal lives became commonplace, effectively planting the seeds for a budding industry of its own, where no one was safe from the public eye. Personal relationships, drug use, and sexual preference were often scrutinized to the point of detriment of an actor's professional career and mental sanity. Many times, these stories ended in suicide, violence and murder. Anger writes about these incidents in harrowing detail and accompanies the text with a plethora of explicit photographs.

As I read the graphic and notorious tales that have become the stuff of legend in Hollywood, I couldn't help but wonder why stories like these are appealing to people. Why do people care so much about the lives of people they don't even know? The book offers one possible response to this: "Americans like to read about things which they are afraid to do themselves."

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