November Books

On Film / The Daily — Nov 14, 2018
Ida Lupino and Howard Hughes

Before Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood, Karina Longworth, a former a staff critic at the Village Voice and film editor at the LA Weekly, wrote books about George Lucas, Al Pacino, and Meryl Streep. Seduction, though, is the first of Longworth’s books to build on research she’s conducted for her outstanding podcast, You Must Remember This, which for four years now has explored the “secret and/or forgotten history of Hollywood’s first century.” Publisher Harper Collins has posted the first two chapters of Seduction in which Longworth sets the scene for a collision of two headstrong cultural forces: Hollywood and Hughes. The first chapter conjures a fledgling company town still learning how to cope with scandal in the early 1920s. In the second, we learn how Hughes inherited not only his wealth but also his father’s and uncle’s ideas about marriage.

In the chapters that follow, Longworth focuses on Hughes’s many relationships with such rising stars as Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Jane Russell, Ava Gardner, and Ida Lupino. “The book is a compulsive page-turner, written with a wisecracking style,” writes Sheila O’Malley in the Los Angeles Times, where she notes that Longworth also “provides mini-profiles of many forgotten female figures who deserve to be remembered outside the small circle of Hollywood film buffs. People like writers Anita Loos, Sheilah Graham, Adela Rogers St. Johns, and director Lois Weber. Much of Seduction reads like a long overdue act of redress, repositioning women into the more central positions where they belong.” Writing for the Atlantic, Sophie Gilbert suggests that these stories “are so rich, so compelling, that they urge you to question how much else in history has been lost within the swirling vortex of Great Men.”

For Longreads, Rae Nudson asks Longworth about drilling down through the legend of Hughes to get at the truth, and the Hollywood Reporter’s Katie Kilkenny talks with Longworth as well. “Whenever I hear that so-and-so was famous for having slept with a lot of women,” she says, “I wonder what the women felt about that.”

More Hollywood History

Hughes also turns up in Hollywood Godfather: The Life and Crimes of Billy Wilkerson, a new biography of the founder of the Hollywood Reporter and, according to Chris Yogerst in the Los Angeles Review of Books, “arguably the most influential person in Hollywood from the 1930s through the 1950s.” Wilkerson relied on his connections to the criminal underworld to have secrets stolen from the studios, and he founded “trendy boîtes like Café Trocadero and Ciro’s, where inebriated actors and producers were primed to spill information.” And here’s a twist. The book is written by Wilkerson’s son, W. R. Wilkerson III, and Yogerst finds that, while the author keeps “a respectable distance from the subject,” he also “pulls few punches.”

Also writing for the LARB, Mark Goble reviews Hollywood Math and Aftermath: The Economic Image and the Digital Recession, in which J. D. Connor draws on the work of Gilles Deleuze to take on a few ideas inherent in histories of Hollywood’s studio era that make the case for “the genius of the system,” a phrase scholar Thomas Schatz borrowed from André Bazin for the title of his landmark book. Connor “makes strong and startling claims about how movies think about and visualize the experience of capitalism,” writes Goble. “That, by the end, they feel altogether true is even more outlandish.”

For America: The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture, John Anderson reviews How Did Lubitsch Do It?, the critical biography by Joseph McBride, author of books on John Ford, Howard Hawks, Orson Welles, and Steven Spielberg. “Everything is explained,” writes Anderson, “every rabbit hole is excavated; virtually every film given what in some other book would be a casual mention is examined here in Talmudic detail. If you think, ‘I wish I knew more about that’ about a movie or star, read on; you will.” Meantime, Two Cheers for Hollywood: Joseph McBride on Movies is “the best anthology I’ve read for some time,” declares Tony Williams in Film International, “since it contains an equal measure of past criticism, revised material, and new items that make reading about film the pleasure it once was before Screen Theory judged such delights reactionary.”

Film International has also posted Brandon Konecny’s review of Murray Pomerance and Steven Rybin’s Hamlet Lives in Hollywood: John Barrymore and the Acting Tradition Onscreen, “a significant contribution to the woefully small amount of scholarship on Barrymore,” and Louis J. Wasser’s review of Gabriella Oldham and Mabel Langdon’s “outstanding biography,” Harry Langdon: King of Silent Comedy.

A few brief but vigorous recommendations are worth mentioning. José Arroyo, who teaches film studies at the University of Warwick, argues that, taken together, Gary Giddins’s Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams: The Early Years, 1903-1940 from 2001 and the just-published Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940-1946 comprise “one of the great accounts of twentieth century American popular culture ever written.” And in his latest roundup for the Film Stage, Christopher Schobert asks, “Do we need another Marilyn Monroe biography?” The answer: “Yes, when it is fresh and insightful as Charles Casilio’s Private Life of a Public Icon.

Beyond Hollywood

At the age of eighty-six, Alexander Kluge is as busy and prolific as ever. This is the German author, philosopher, and filmmaker who was introduced to Fritz Lang, for whom he’d work as an assistant on The Tiger of Eschnapur (1959), by Theodor Adorno; who, in 1962, was one of the twenty-six signatories to the Oberhausen Manifesto, the seminal document of the New German Cinema; who won the Golden Lion in Venice for The Artist in the Circus Dome: Clueless (1968) and the FIPRESCI Prize in Cannes for Strongman Ferdinand (1976); and who took his collaboration with Filipino poet and filmmaker Khavn dela Cruz, Happy Lamento, to Venice Days just a couple of months ago. Back in the LARB, Celluloid Liberation Front suggests that Philipp Ekardt’s new book, Toward Fewer Images: The Work of Alexander Kluge, is “not only an entry point into Kluge’s multiverse, but also an interpretative key to unlock its depth, not always visible to the naked eye.”

Flavorwire has posted an excerpt from Mark Dery’s new biography, Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, in which the author and illustrator sometimes referred to as the “Grandfather of Goth” is seen in the 1970s attending screenings of “rarely seen silents, early talkies, and foreign gems from the ’20s and ’30s” hosted by film historian William K. Everson. Among the fellow attendees? Andrew Sarris and Susan Sontag.

For Vague Visages, Zach Vasquez talks with cult director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho Top, John Dies at the End) about his new book, True Indie: Life and Death in Filmmaking. “I started thinking about some of the horror movie directors I know,” says Coscarelli, “and I felt a sense of mortality, with the passing of George Romero and Tobe Hooper. I thought, ‘I’d have loved to have seen a memoir from those guys, so maybe it’s never too early to get started one.’”

Forthcoming

Last week, I noted that One Day at a Time: Manny Farber and Termite Art, an exhibition dedicated to the renowned critic and artist, is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles through March 11. Next month should see the release from Hat & Beard Press of Manny Farber: Paintings & Writings, a collection of essays edited by Michael Almereyda, Jonathan Lethem, and Robert Polito and including contributions from Olivier Assayas, Greil Marcus, Kelly Reichardt, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Luc Sante, Robert Storr, Gina Telaroli, and Wim Wenders, among others.

Meantime, the editors at Sabzian have posted a round of notes on new and forthcoming releases. Most of these titles are in French, but they’re definitely worth knowing about: the collected writings of André Bazin, for example, or an anthology on film editing gathering work by Godard, Welles, Rossellini, Brakhage, Frederick Wiseman, and many other filmmakers and critics. Two of the new publications, though, are in English, Digital Tarkovsky, by the Dutch collective and design studio Metahaven, and k-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004-2016), which, as Sabzian notes, includes “a selection of his insightful film and television reviews.”

Endnotes

If you’ve made it this far down the page, you clearly like to read, and chances are, you’ll want to know about about a few annotated lists that don’t necessarily have all that much to do with cinema. Bookforum is one of the earliest publications to ask writers to contribute a few notes on their favorite books of the year. Ellie Kemper, star of The Office and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, has a new collection of essays out, My Squirrel Days, and talks to One Grand Books about her top ten books of all time. And Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, who wrote thousands of book reviews for the New York Times from the 1970s through the mid-’90s, passed away last week. The NYT has posted links to and excerpts from some of the editors’ favorites, including reviews of work by Philip Roth, Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, and Maurice Sendak.

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