Fall Books

The Daily — Oct 18, 2018
The Federal Theatre Project’s 1936 production of Macbeth, directed by Orson Welles, opening at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem

Perhaps the only thing cinephiles enjoy more than watching movies is reading about movies. Every couple of months or so, I put together an overview of book reviews and excerpts, interviews with authors, and news of forthcoming releases, and this round offers a mix as eclectic as any that’s come before it.


With the theatrical release and online premiere of The Other Side of the Wind just weeks away now, interest in Orson Welles is as high as it’s been since 2015, the year we celebrated the 100th birthday of the man of whom Jean-Luc Godard once said, “All of us, always, will owe him everything.” 2015 was also the year a centenary conference was held at Indiana University, and the papers delivered there have been collected and edited by James N. Gilmore and Sidney Gottlieb. Orson Welles in Focus: Texts and Contexts will be of interest for those eager to learn more about the lesser known work such as Welles’s journalism, the television series Around the World with Orson Welles, a 1936 theatrical production of Macbeth, even his letters. Writing for Film International, Tony Williams walks us through each of the entries, quibbling a bit here and there, but ultimately recommending the volume as “a fascinating collection, several of the contributions making the reader wish for more.”

Reviewing How Did Lubitsch Do It?, Jan-Christopher Horak, director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, notes that author Joseph McBride “analyzes the German and American periods in relation to each other, rather than as whole separate phases of his career.” McBride further distinguishes his book from most Lubitsch biographies in that he “doesn’t bifurcate the comedies and the more famous historical dramas, seeing strong doses of irony in the latter, which would become part and parcel of the ‘Berlin style’ that would characterize his American work.”

In the Washington Post, Mark Jenkins recommends Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art, a study of the work of the legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki. Though author Susan Napier teaches in the Japanese program at Tufts University, Jenkins finds the book “blessedly free of lit-crit and cultural-studies jargon. The professor is above all a fan.”

Overlooked and Underappreciated

Anticipating “a slew of events celebrating silent cinema comediennes coming up soon,” Pamela Hutchinson has posted two reviews she’s written for Sight & Sound. “For those who would like to see Marie Dressler and Marion Davies, let alone Flora Finch and Anita Garvin, as celebrated as their male peers, Steve Massa’s Slapstick Divas: The Women of Silent Comedy will be a welcome resource,” she advises. “Even for a silent film aficionado there will be unfamiliar names here. Massa’s rigorous research leaves no comedienne behind.” And Maggie Hennefeld’s “rich and provocative book, Specters of Slapstick and Silent Film Comediennes, carries us several steps further in our understanding of a pivotal period in cinema history.”

Back in Film International, Alex Brannan reviews The Films of Jess Franco, a collection of essays edited by Antonio Lazaro-Reboll and Ian Olney: “Formal analysis, plot segmentation, analyses through LGBT or feminist lenses, industrial contextualization, and auteur theory are all methods by which the contributors situate Franco and his films in contrast to the common perception that his work is mere sleazy, soft-core pornography.”


Last month saw the publication of The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together by Adam Nayman, a widely published film critic and a contributing editor for Cinema Scope. Over the past few weeks, excerpts have been popping up all over, wherein we can sample Nayman’s thoughts on The Big Lebowski (1998), The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001), and Burn After Reading (2008). Nayman has also recently taken part in a conversation about the Coens with K. Austin Collins, Michael Koresky, and Aliza Ma on the Film Comment Podcast. And for TIFF, he talks about why audiences seem more drawn to Fargo (1996) than probably any other film in the brothers’ oeuvre:

Oscilloscope’s Musings has posted an excerpt from Jason Bailey’s new book, It’s Okay With Me: Hollywood, the 1970s, and the Return of the Private Eye, in which he argues that the “racial politics are surprisingly middle-of-the-road” in Gordon Parks’s Shaft (1971).

David Cairns recommends hunting down a copy of The Cleopatra Papers: A Private Correspondence by Jack Brodsky and Nathan Weiss, originally published in 1963, the year of the film’s release. “Basically,” Cairns explains, “two Twentieth Century Fox publicity men preserved and edited their correspondence accumulated during the production of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s epic gabfest, Cleopatra, and the result is a unique window into the life of that embattled studio and production. Along the way, the authors . . . get in pot-shots at the (other) turkeys on the Fox roster.” And that’s the true heart of Cairns’s amusing round of snippets from the book.


For the past few years, scholar David Bordwell has been thinking and writing about a crucial decade for American movies, the 1940s. Talking to a former student, Henry Jenkins, who now teaches at the University of Southern California, Bordwell notes that in two of his previous books, The Classical Hollywood Cinema and The Way Hollywood Tells It, he was able to “build up a general picture of norms of storytelling and style.” But last year’s Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling allowed him to “dig more into the dynamic of how narrative strategies develop in a short time span.” In the second part of the interview, Bordwell notes that, toward the end of Reinventing, he’s “floated the idea that the much-vaunted ‘New Hollywood’ of the 1970s emerged out of conditions similar to those that nurtured the 1940s innovations.”

On an entirely different note, Dan Callahan, the author of books on acting, Barbara Stanwyck, and Vanessa Redgrave, now has a novel out. That Was Something centers on three young cinephiles in the Manhattan of the late 1990s. Kristin Iversen interviews Callahan for Nylon, and for Full Stop, Quinn Roberts asks him about a Susan Sontag cameo. She “actually stood behind me in line for a half hour out in the cold to see Marguerite Duras’s India Song (1975) at the Museum of Modern Art in 2003,” says Callahan. “She kept falling into me and coughing on me and then apologizing, and it was truly one of the most erotic experiences of my life.”


For Richard Marshall in 3:AM Magazine, reading Stewart Home “can be a strange and electrifying experience, one tinged by the sense you’re reading works by a maniac writing towards the edge of an abyss that is more and more your own.” Home’s latest book, Re-Enter The Dragon. Genre Theory, Bruceploitation and the Sleazy Joys of Lowbrow Cinema, “is the first in-depth look at movies that riff on tropes associated with Bruce Lee and that sometimes transformed this actor into a mythical superman.”

Also in 3:AM Magazine, Ali Raz reviews the new revised edition of Nicholas Rombes’s Cinema in the Digital Age. “If film theory is dead—dead because outstripped by the pace of change and the particular forms of digital media—how do we revive it?” asks Raz. “The largest ambition of this book is to offer one possible solution, a solution it performs rather than states.”

Returning once again to Film International, John Duncan Talbird reviews Film as Philosophy, a collection edited by Bernd Herzogenrath. Talbird finds that all fifteen authors, “although they may have different approaches and support their shared thesis to a greater or lesser degree, really do seem to be collaborating on a book with a single argument, primarily that film is able to ‘do’ philosophy.”

Coming Soon

Those who read French can look forward to Post-éditions’ publication on November 21 of Textes critiques, the first complete collection of criticism that Jacques Rivette wrote between 1950 and 2009 for such magazines and journals as Gazette du cinéma, Arts, and Cahiers du cinéma. The volume will also include interviews and previously unpublished writings. For an English-language sampling of Rivette’s insights into the work of Rossellini, Lang, Melville, Hitchcock, and Bresson, among many others, see the interview Frédéric Bonnaud conducted with him in 1998; Kent Jones’s translation appeared in Senses of Cinema in 2001.

Next month also sees the publication of The Earth Dies Streaming, a collection of film writing for n+1, the Baffler, Bookforum, Harper’s, and other publications by the always perceptive and witty A. S. Hamrah.

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