- Cupboards of Curiosity: Women, Recollection, and Film History
In Cupboards of Curiosity, Amelie Hastie posits a complex and innovative reimagining of historical film scholarship. At stake are the lost histories—both popular and scholarly— of cinema’s female contributors, particularly those of the early silent era. Hastie mines unconventional sites and spaces to emerge with works seemingly tangential to traditional historical scholarship: scrapbooks, memoirs, marginalia, how-to manuals, cookbooks, and other ephemera wherein women directors and stars inscribed critical knowledge, ranging from reflections on their private lives to the film industry at large.
Yet, having resurfaced, these forgotten texts provide more than evidence for the integration of marginalized figures into recognized historical narratives. For Hastie, these works question relationships between a text, its subject, its author, and the historian who studies them. To clarify and evaluate these various interrelations, Hastie organizes her study into four chapters—“The Collector,” “The Historian,” “The Critic,” and “The Expert.” She casts Colleen Moore, Alice Guy-Blaché, and Louise Brooks as case studies in the first three roles, respectively, whereas the final rubric surveys an array of celebrities and moves the discussion into contemporary times.
With her panoply of scrapbooks, photographs, souvenirs, and miniatures, Colleen Moore as collector “anticipates both the loss of her history and the eventual retrieval of it” (67); it is here that Hastie lays the groundwork for her exploration. Most adventurous—and ultimately most remarkable—is her reading of Moore’s “Fairy Castle,” a dollhouse filled with tiny jeweled furniture, paintings, tapestries, and a library of one-inch, first- or unique-edition books and on which she spent more than seven years and four hundred thousand dollars building. Once completed, Moore’s dollhouse traveled to various department stores throughout the United States and Canada to raise money for charities and now resides on display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, where it was acquired in 1949. Approaching the dollhouse as an invitation from Moore to reconsider what is present, Hastie [End Page 150] examines its history; its connection to the narrative structures of autobiography, fairy tales, and fantastical storytelling; and its relation to film culture to reveal essential aspects of both Moore’s career and private life and the broader history of 1920s Hollywood.
To introduce complex questions of authorship and their relationship to historiographic practices, Hastie surveys the celebrity scrapbooks of Mary Pickford, Claire Windsor, Colleen Moore, and Louella Parsons. Long overlooked in traditional film scholarship, these fragmented histories comprising news clippings and photographs seem undeniably to hold as their subject the star herself. Hastie, however, asks whether the author—often a fan, a family member, or an assistant—might not also be the subject, as in the scrapbooks of Pickford, where some more markedly narrate the fascination of the fan with the celebrity. And do they not, she asks, also make historians out of their authors? Hastie asserts that these roles are unfixed, interchangeable, and ever shifting.
Chapters 2 and 3 consider women whose own authorship is responsible for what we know of them today: director Alice Guy-Blaché, as historian, authors her own lost image, while as critic, Louise Brooks recasts hers. Having recognized that her work as cinema’s first woman filmmaker and founder of the Solax Company had been practically erased from film history, Guy-Blaché took to authoring her memoirs. These, along with a number of interviews, have become central resources for any scholarly work that treats her in depth. And thus, as Hastie emphasizes, Guy-Blaché is mostly known through her own work of remembrance and recollection.
Similarly, in her perceptive analysis of the essays, interviews, and marginalia of Louise Brooks—revealing an educated, snarky, and contemplative critic—Hastie demonstrates how Brooks, too, is an active and self-conscious participant in the production of her own history. Moreover, Brooks is at least partially responsible for the discourse that circulates around her history, including even the overshadowing of her intelligence by her sexual exploits. In both cases, Hastie celebrates authority through authorship and yet identifies hazards in the simple recirculation of ideas produced...