Another Round on Books

On Film / The Daily — Aug 20, 2018
Mia Farrow in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Earlier this month, the Metrograph, one of the theaters at the forefront of the current revival of the repertory scene in New York, staged its first annual book fair. Browsing the hundreds of volumes and the stacks of vintage magazines, film critic Bilge Ebiri began ruminating on the once-thriving branch of the publishing industry that specialized in books on cinema. Writing in the Village Voice, he noted that he was “reminded of how much more of everything is out there, beyond the confines of our convenient screens, which may seem boundless but are in fact quite limited.”

The selection of new film books may no longer range as widely as it used to—Ebiri notes that the markets for published screenplays and novelizations, for example, have pretty much dried up—there’s still a steady stream of notable new releases. At the top of the summer, I surveyed a healthy round and now, with the season beginning to wane, is a fine time for another.

The Wisdom of Jim Ridley

We begin with People Only Die of Love in Movies: Film Writing by Jim Ridley, a collection edited by Steve Haruch that takes its title from a line spoken in Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Ridley worked that line into his 2014 essay on the film for Criterion. Just two years later, when he was only fifty, he suffered a cardiac event and died. He’d begun writing reviews in 1989 for the Nashville Scene, a fledgling alternative weekly at the time, and eventually worked his way up to the position of top editor. Following his death, the Scene issued a call for remembrances, and the response was overwhelming. Among those offering tributes was Harmony Korine: “Jim was one of the greatest film writers in the country.”

Reviewing People Only Die of Love in Movies for the Village Voice, Noel Murray suggests that “the book doubles as a sweeping cinematic history lesson and an introduction to an immensely likable human being.” For Sean Burns at RogerEbert.com, the loss of this beloved critic “stings even more because Ridley was so eloquent about the ways in which our relationships with movies evolve over time, and it becomes clear throughout the book that age and fatherhood were deepening his perspective in rich and rewarding ways.” Burns cites a line from Ridley’s review of Ikiru: “The difference between seeing Akira Kurosawa’s film early and later in life is the difference between looking at a window and a mirror.”

Hollywood History

Three new books map the peaks and valleys of Hollywood’s heyday. Reviewing Thomas Doherty’s “deeply absorbing, expertly researched, and thoroughly entertaining” Show Trial: Hollywood, HUAC, and the Birth of the Blacklist for the New Republic, Noah Isenberg, author of books on Weimar Cinema, Edgar G. Ulmer, and Casablanca, argues that “Doherty’s refreshing approach adds quite a few new shades of gray to a story that has all too often been told in black-and-white.”

Tony Williams reviews Anthony Slide’s Magnificent Obsession: The Outrageous History of Film Buffs, Collectors, Scholars, and Fanatics, which tracks the strain of cinephilia that chases after its physical artifacts from the early 1910s through to the present, for Film International. It’s “an engaging and witty book that is one of the most pleasurable I’ve read this year.”

For Spectrum Culture, Pat Padua reviews Dan Callahan’s The Art of American Screen Acting, 1912–1960, “a series of profiles and analyses of essential and influential actors, from silent legend Lillian Gish to ill-fated rebel James Dean.” Callahan “eagerly catalogs a performer’s strengths—and candidly acknowledges their failures.”

The ’60s and ’70s

Hollywood was failing, or at least flailing, by the late 1960s, and turned to a new generation of directors. The publication of This Is No Dream: Making Rosemary’s Baby marks the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Roman Polanski’s disturbing classic. “Author James Munn merrily treats every studio machination and each piece of trivia like a bold-face revelation,” writes David O’Neill for 4Columns. “But the book’s real draw is the portfolio of on-set photos by Bob Willoughby, who documented the production in pleasingly aslant compositions with a Garry Winogrand–like eye for unselfconscious—or quietly berserk—moments.”

Reviewing This Is No Dream for the Washington Post, Lisa Zeidner focuses on Mia Farrow’s performance and Polanski’s direction: “Perhaps no filmmaker has been as deeply empathetic to female isolation and vulnerability, or with the bizarre alien occupation that is even an average, unsatanic pregnancy.”

Tim Lucas, author of the definitive Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, has a new book out, a study of the 1968 omnibus film Spirits of the Dead. Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, and Federico Fellini each directed a segment in the film based on a story by Edgar Allan Poe, and Lucas suggests that all three directors “made their episodes at what was perhaps the most decisive point in their lives and careers.” The book also revisits a screenplay that Orson Welles wrote, “a proposed amalgam of ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ and ‘Masque of the Red Death,’” before he withdrew from the project.

In an excerpt from It’s Okay With Me: Hollywood, the 1970s, and the Return of the Private Eye at RogerEbert.com, Jason Bailey sets Dick Richards’s Farewell, My Lovely (1975), with Robert Mitchum as Phillip Marlowe, next to Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973), with Elliott Gould as a Marlowe dismissed at the time by critics and audiences alike. Altman’s movie floundered at the box office, whereas Farewell was a modest hit. “By preferring that traditional appreciation to the tart aftertaste of Long Goodbye,” writes Bailey, “contemporary critics were letting their own notion of nostalgia gloss over the blackness at the heart of true noir.”

Two Novelists

You Will Know Me is a murder mystery set at a gymnastics tournament by award-winning crime fiction writer Megan Abbott. Producer Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is overseeing an adaptation and, for EW, David Canfield talks with Abbott about her very good year. The just-released psychological thriller Give Me Your Hand has been picked up for adaptation by AMC and Steph Green (The Americans) is directing a pilot based on Abbott’s 2013 novel Dare Me.

French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie (Stranger by the Lake) wrote his first novel in 2014, and Jeffrey Zuckerman’s translation was released this summer. Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Alex Wermer-Colan finds Now the Night Begins “both easy to read, and deeply offensive; a slapstick comedy, and a haunting thriller. Despite its more disturbing scenes, it’s also a heartwarming, queer rendition of an inter-generational romance as taboo and breathless as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Further Reading

Every couple of months or so, Christopher Schobert puts together a batch of capsule reviews of recent releases for the Film Stage. His latest round of fifteen opens with the new edition of Transcendental Style in Film, Paul Schrader’s classic study of the films of Yasujiro Ozu, Robert Bresson, and Carl Theodor Dreyer. In his new introduction, “Schrader looks closely at the ‘slow cinema’ style that followed the book’s release, from Tarkovsky to Van Sant,” writes Schobert. “This is a joy to read, and all the more startling when discovering that Schrader was twenty-four years old when he wrote the original text.”

And finally for now, an evergreen annotated list of thirty-five books that went up at Flavorwire back in 2014. According to Jonathon Sturgeon, these are the “Best Books by Cinema’s Greatest Auteurs,” including Tarkovsky, Bresson, Bergman, Eisenstein, Truffaut, Buñuel, Renoir, Josef von Sternberg, Chantal Akerman, Ida Lupino, Sally Potter, and Derek Jarman.

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