In 1976, journalist Ed Peters finds himself transfixed by an old photograph in a junk shop- a picture of a young Edwardian girl with dark hair and eyes. When it turns out she’s the sister of the proprietor, and that she was an actress in very early silent films, Peters figures he’s got a story in the making if he can find out more. Leda Grey is still alive, a recluse in the ramshackle mansion White Cliff House. When he hikes up there, he finds the house literally falling apart, and sees Leda sleeping in a chair inside. He leaves a note that he will return, and so he does.
Leda is willing to tell the story of how she got involved with film making and with the film maker himself: Charles Beauvois. She became mistress and muse. Through both talking and her written memoirs, the story of his genius, his sickness and his brutality come out. But the story isn’t just told to Peters; he finds himself experiencing some of it.
I found this story un-put-downable. The descriptions of the making of the movies, of the house in its prime, of the passion between Leda and Beauvois, are lush, with a near photographic quality, as if they themselves are movies. It’s a story of dark and light contrasts; the darkness of Beauvois, the lightness of young Leda interacting with the other actors her own age. Multiple lives go wrong in this story, and I found myself caring a lot about them.
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