March Books

The Daily — Mar 7, 2019
Orson Welles

It’s been seven weeks since the last roundup on new and noteworthy titles, so we’ve got more than a few to catch up with, ranging from coffee table books to biographies to critical studies.

Directors’ Arts

Mark Cousins’s documentary The Eyes of Orson Welles, a reevaluation of the director’s work as a graphic artist, will soon arrive in theaters. In the meantime, Cousins has written the foreword to Orson Welles Portfolio: Sketches and Drawings from the Welles Estate, a collection that, as Dalya Alberge notes in the Guardian, also includes illustrations of set designs and costumes for unrealized projects. Author Simon Braund, who’s worked on the book with Welles’s daughter Beatrice, estimates that around three quarters of these drawings have never been published before. At Wellesnet, Ray Kelly talks with Braund and Beatrice Welles about a few of their favorites. “The illustrations for the edition of Paris Vogue he guest edited in the early ’80s are terrific,” says Braund, adding that they’re “full of mischief and merciless self-parody. The set designs and costume sketches are also fascinating, particularly those for Chimes at Midnight. They’re typically economical but extremely vivid and action-packed.” You can have a look at a dozen or so drawings from the book at Flavorwire.

At Slant, Chuck Bowen notes that there’s currently an ongoing effort to “recalibrate” the position of David Lynch in popular culture. “The documentary David Lynch: The Art Life featured hypnotic footage of Lynch in the studio of his Los Angeles home, smoking and creating new canvases,” he writes. “Last year, the book David Lynch: Nudes collected his empathetic, erotic, and astonishingly subjective photography of nude women. Now there’s David Lynch: Someone Is in My House, a gorgeous volume of Lynch’s painting, photography, sculpture, and short-film stills.”


The Guardian’s Peter Conrad argues David Thomson’s criticism remains “the most ingenious and imaginative writing about film.” Of the over twenty books Thomson has written, the one he’s best known for is his Biographical Dictionary of Film, which reappears every few years in a new and expanded edition. Thomson’s latest, Sleeping with Strangers: How the Movies Shaped Desire, is “a strange and scrambled history of sex onscreen,” finds Annalisa Quinn in the Washington Post. Daphne Merkin, reviewing the book for the New York Times, suggests that it’s “an argument—or several arguments—wrapped in a film history wrapped in a memoir . . . Whether the book works as a whole (I’m not sure it does) seems to me less important than the parts that sum it up, which in Thomson’s case contain more original insights, provocative asides and thought-inducing speculations than several volumes of a less talented writer’s efforts.” In an excerpt at Literary Hub, Thomson proposes that Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success (1957), with Burt Lancaster as a gossip columnist and Tony Curtis as a press agent, “might have been a greater film still if it could have seen or admitted that their mutual loathing is the only thing that keeps them from being lovers.”

Geoff Dyer has followed up on his 2012 book Zona, both a close reading of and an extended riff on Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), with Broadsword Calling Danny Boy, a scene-by-scene breakdown of Brian G. Hutton’s Where Eagles Dare (1968). In an excerpt at Literary Hub, Dyer writes that the World War II movie starring Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton “still seems, fifty years after its first release, to contain some essence of what cinema means to me now, when action movies have become a form of explosive torpor.”

Longreads has posted a generous excerpt from The Golden West: Hollywood Stories, a 2005 collection of writing by Daniel Fuchs, a novelist who moved out west in 1937 to write or simply spruce up screenplays. Fuchs argues that the great directors of the golden age “were a gaudy company, ram­bunctious and engrossed. What they produced, roistering along in those sun-filled, sparkling days, was a phenomenon, teeming with vitality and ardor, as indigenous as our cars or skyscrapers or highways, and as ir­refutable. Generations to come, looking back over the years, are bound to find that the best, most solid creative effort of our decades was spent in the movies, and it’s time someone came clean and said so.”

Flavorwire has put up a brief excerpt from Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood in which Karina Longworth writes about the romance between “kindred spirits” Hughes and Katharine Hepburn. Seduction is one of eleven books that Pamela Hutchinson writes about—and recommends—at Silent London.

Hollywood Lives

This Friday and Saturday, Victoria Riskin will be at the Billy Wilder Theater in Los Angeles to present her new book about her parents, Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir, and the UCLA Film & Television Archive will be screening a series of films dedicated to the famed star of King Kong (1933) and the screenwriter known for his work with Frank Capra. While that series runs every weekend through the end of March, New York’s Film Forum will present an even more robust series from March 15 through April 2. “Researching and writing this book has given Victoria Riskin—and her readers—two related pleasures,” writes Dennis Drabelle in the Washington Post, namely, “getting to know the man who championed the little guy on film and remembering the woman who screamed life into a Fay Wray doll.”

In her portrait of the man Pauline Kael called “the greatest American screenwriter,” Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures, Adina Hoffman “expertly links Hollywood and New York, American Jewish conundrums and the intricacies of Zionist politics,” writes David Denby in the New Yorker. “Immersing herself in Hecht’s novels and tracts (no easy task), she writes with enormous flair about a marginal figure in literature but a major influence on twentieth-century popular culture.”

Writing for Bright Lights Film Journal, Nell Beram considers a fateful turn in the career of Betty Garrett, the actress who appeared in such MGM musicals as On the Town and Take Me Out to the Ball Game, both from 1949, but lost the lead role in Annie Get Your Gun the following year to Betty Hutton. Beram compares the versions of the episode that appear in Farley Granger’s 2007 memoir Include Me Out: My Life from Goldwyn to Broadway and the actress’s own Betty Garrett and Other Songs from 1998.

If Peter Shelley has “a fix on Gene Hackman’s true nature, he’s not telling,” writes Louis J. Wasser for Film International. “As readers of Gene Hackman: The Life and Work, we’re left to connect the dots the biographer has made available to us.” And for Tony Williams, also writing for Film International, Stone Wallace’s George Raft: The Man Who Would be Bogart is “a welcome addition to material on this actor’s life and cinematic status.”

Director Joe Dante recommends Caelum Vatnsdal’s biography of his late friend, You Don’t Know Me, But You Love Me: The Lives of Dick Miller.

Women Filmmakers

Kathleen Collins directed only one film, Losing Ground (1982), before she died in 1988 of breast cancer. Notes from a Black Woman’s Diary gathers short stories, diary entries, letters, plays, the screenplay for Losing Ground, and another for an unrealized project, A Summer Diary. For the New Yorker’s Richard Brody, the “entirety of the book joins her collection of short stories, Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? (published posthumously, in 2016), in proving that Collins was a polymath and an artist of extraordinarily diverse and original talent—simply one of the great artists, both literary and cinematic, of her time.”

At Women and Hollywood, Michele Meek introduces her new book, Independent Female Filmmakers: A Chronicle through Interviews, Profiles, and Manifestos: “All of the women filmmakers featured in this compilation can be considered ‘legendary’ in that they broke gender, race, and sexuality barriers; influenced film movements; and presented some of the most innovative, unconventional, and even revolutionary films of their era.”

On the latest episode of The Cinephiliacs, host Peter Labuza talks with Maya Montañez Smukler, the author of Liberating Hollywood: Women Directors and the Feminist Reform of 1970s American Cinema. The book focuses on sixteen women, including Elaine May, Barbara Loden, Joan Micklin Silver, and Claudia Weill.

The story that Mallory O’Meara tells in The Lady from the Black Lagoon is “a good, if infuriating, one,” writes Liz Hand in the Los Angeles Times. Milicent Patrick was an animator for Disney who switched to Universal’s makeup department, where she designed the “graceful, elegant, and surprisingly sexy monster whose influence extends to Guillermo del Toro’s 2017 Oscar-winning homage, The Shape of Water,” as Hand puts it. Credit for the design of the star of the 1954 3D horror movie Creature from the Black Lagoon was nabbed, though, by a jealous male colleague.

Critics’ Collections

Reviewing Mysteries of Cinema: Reflections on Film Theory, History and Culture 1982–2016 for Film International, Jeremy Carr finds that whether Adrian Martin “digresses into first-person disclosures (his suffering from migraines) or espouses grand statements on Mysteries’ art form of choice (‘Cinema is the art of surprise and disorientation, the art that creates constant confusion’; ‘cinema is an art of energies’), his authorial voice never wavers. Most impressive in Mysteries is how Martin takes to task preconceived notions of film history, theory, and critical evaluation.”

David Bordwell has not only announced a new second edition of his and Kristin Thompson’s e-book Christopher Nolan: A Labyrinth of Linkages, he’s also writtentwice now—about books, essays, and films that have sparked supplementary commentary on the arguments he’s laid out in Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling.

In his study of Spirits of the Dead, the 1968 anthology film in which Federico Fellini, Louis Malle, and Roger Vadim each adapt a story by Edgar Allan Poe, Tim Lucas “supplies his usual erudite and meticulous reading of the film’s pre-production, production, and post-production history along with the type of detailed analysis he is well known for,” writes Tony Williams for Film International.

As his 2016 book Desires for Reality: Radicalism and Revolution in Western European Film comes out in paperback, Benjamin Halligan revisits two of the films he’s written about, Nicolas Roeg’s Performance and Bernardo Bertolucci’s Partner, both from 1968, in the wake of the directors’ deaths last November.

For those who read French, David Davidson recommends the new collection Jacques Rivette: Textes Critiques. “For anyone who grew up with the Cahiers politique des auteurs and watched the films of Hitchcock and Hawks through their eyes,” he writes, “there’s a real pleasure of re-reading and discovering some of Rivette’s original arguments and hyperbole.”


Thelma Schoonmaker, the editor known for her work with Martin Scorsese, tells the Guardian’s Vanessa Thorpe that she’s planning to publish the diaries kept by her husband, renowned director Michael Powell, who passed away in 1990. Powell, whose collaborations with Emeric Pressburger include A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), and The Red Shoes (1948), fell out of favor with the waning British film industry when he made Peeping Tom in 1960. “The writing is stunning and it shows he never gave up and was constantly trying to option scripts and to raise money,” says Schoonmaker. Among the projects he was never able to realize was an adaptation of an episode of Homer’s The Odyssey to be written by Dylan Thomas and designed by Henri Matisse with music by Igor Stravinsky and a cast that would have included Orson Welles.

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