April Books

Harpo Marx

We begin this month’s round on new and noteworthy titles with two unrealized screenplays. In some alternative universe, Louis B. Mayer might have said yes to Salvador Dalí and Harpo Marx when they pitched Dalí’s fourteen-page treatment for a Marx Brothers movie to be called Giraffes on Horseback Salad. But in the timeline we live in, Mayer turned down what Wayne Alan Brenner describes in the Austin Chronicle as “a badinage-riddled, snark-infested, song-studded sort of Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Girl's Head Turns into a Fish romantic comedy.” And as Etelka Lehoczky notes at NPR, the “surrealist script fell flat even with Groucho Marx, who said simply, ‘It won't play.’”

For years, though, the project has fascinated Josh Frank, who’s teamed with Tim Heidecker to cowrite a graphic novel version with artwork by Manuela Pertega. As Donald Liebenson points out in the Washington Post, the new book “contains the literary equivalent of DVD extras—including reproduced pages of the treatment Dalí pitched to MGM, alternative endings, excerpts from Dalí’s notebook and sketch designs.” At Hyperallergic, Angelica Frey finds that even though Frank and Heidecker “are witty and irreverent while making sense of both Dalí’s worldview and the Marx brothers’ dynamic, their text interrupts, almost disturbs the sheer beauty of Manuela Pertega’s work.”

In the world of Yannick Haenel’s latest novel, Hold Fast Your Crown, shortlisted for the 2017 Prix Goncourt, not only is Michael Cimino still alive and well, he meets the narrator and “the two get royally drunk” and “debate film, literature, immigration, and other matters,” as Sarah Lyall notes in her review for the New York Times. The narrator, who also discusses Heaven’s Gate (1980) with Isabelle Huppert, is convinced that Cimino is the only director fit to take on his “impractical 700-page screenplay about ‘the mystical honeycombed interior’ of Herman Melville’s mind.” Ultimately, he “concludes that Cimino has moved beyond conventional film to direct scenes inside his head, which is how it should be.”

Hollywood Characters

Lillian Ross’s Picture, a blow-by-blow account of the making of John Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage (1951), “is populated by raffish heroes (Huston) and tyrannical philistines (Louis B. Mayer), by the beleaguered (producer Gottfried Reinhardt) and the overweening (MGM head of production Dore Schary), and by various hypocrites, toadies, greenhorns, and wives,” writes Melissa Anderson for Bookforum. “Envisioned by Ross as ‘a fact piece in novel form, or maybe a novel in fact form,’ Picture endures as a key work of proto–New Journalism.”

The New Yorker’s Richard Brody recommends Lois Weber: Interviews, a “remarkable” new collection edited by Martin F. Norden. Weber’s “remarks, mainly taken from brief articles in which she’s quoted a few lines at a time, reveal an extraordinarily self-conscious sense of her artistry and of the nature of movies, and they speak as clearly to the present day as to her own time.” On a related note, Peter Labuza talks with Jane Gaines, author of Pink-Slipped: What Happened to Women in the Silent Film Industries?, on the latest episode of the Cinephiliacs.

Reviewing Patrick McGilligan’s Funny Man: Mel Brooks for the Washington Post, Steven Gimbel suggests that you won’t “come away from the book feeling like you have spent time with Mel Brooks. Rather, you feel like you were on a long car ride with Brooks’s gossipy, catty accountant. In exploring a prolific figure in show business, we get lots of business and much less show.”

Bergman Family Matters

Three autobiographical novels that Ingmar Bergman wrote in his seventies “in a remarkable creative rush,” as Daniel Mendelsohn describes it in the New York Review of Books, offer a deeper understanding of certain passages in Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), Wild Strawberries (1957), and especially Fanny and Alexander (1982). From a variety of angles, all three books—The Best Intentions (1991), Sunday’s Children (1993), and Private Confessions (1996)—approach the “doomed marriage” between his parents, the “high-spirited and willful” Karin (née Åkerblom) and Erik Bergman, “the impoverished, ‘nervous, irritable, and depressive’ Lutheran pastor whom she married against her family’s wishes.”

Arcade’s release of these three novels follows the publication in January of Unquiet, the latest novel by Linn Ullmann, daughter of Bergman and Liv Ullmann. “It is a spare, beautiful portrait of an unusual childhood with unique people,” writes Dmitry Samarov for Hyperallergic, even though, “as she mentions more than once, there’s not a single photo of the three of them together; the nuclear family she aches for only exists in her imagination.”


Following Zona (2012), an extended riff on Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), Geoff Dyer’s new book is Broadsword Calling Danny Boy, a book about watching Brian G. Hutton’s World War II movie Where Eagles Dare (1968), starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood as Allied agents on a rescue mission. “There’s a wonderful chemistry between Eastwood and Burton,” Dyer tells Danny King at Bookforum. “It’s this combination of Burton, who is all voice, and Eastwood, who is all physicality—that beautiful rhythm of his walking and movement.”

Sheila O’Malley, who spoke with Dan Callahan last year about The Art of American Screen Acting: 1912–1960, follows up with another conversation about the second volume, which covers the years from 1960 to the present. “The narrative arc of the first book—from silent-era Lillian Gish to Method-based Kim Stanley—is very clear,” says Callahan. “The arc here isn’t as clear. I knew I needed to present some contrasts because so many of the people in the book—Al Pacino, Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda—studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. This is why I brought in the English actors and the influence of Olivier. Someone like Daniel Day-Lewis is torn between the two.”

For AnOther, Miss Rosen calls up Ron Galella, the “Godfather of Paparazzi,” to talk about his new photographic memoir, Shooting Stars: The Untold Stories. “Brando called me over,” says Galella, “and asked, ‘what else do you want that you don’t already have?’ I said, ‘well how about a picture without the sunglasses?’ and Brando sucker-punched me. He knocked five teeth from my lower jaw.”


“In time, I’ve discovered that strong links exist between chess and the musical notation system, set up as it is in durations and pitches,” the great composer Ennio Morricone tells Alessandro De Rosa in an excerpt from Ennio Morricone: In His Own Words posted at the Paris Review. “I happened to play a few games with Terence Malick, although I must admit that I was much better than him.” Fellow Italian composer Aldo Clementi, on the other hand, “was definitely better than I was, and I can still remember when he told me about that game against John Cage! I wasn’t there, but it remains a legendary one in the music world.”

Jim Lochner’s The Music of Charlie Chaplin “represents that rarest of things, a new Chaplin monograph that actually fills a gap in Chaplin studies,” writes John Fawell for Film International.

Political Contexts

Reviewing Images: A Future History of New Left Cinema for Hyperallergic, Ela Bittencourt notes that author Morgan Adamson’s “primary focus is on film as an activist tool: her subjects include the American Newsreel Collective’s documentary studies of the antiwar movement; feminist cinema in Italy; early video groups such as Videofreex; and the Marxist work of France’s Dziga Vertov Group and Argentina’s Third Cinema.” And Adamson “persuasively demonstrates the role of cinema in broadening the Left’s rhetoric and agenda.”

In the Austin Chronicle, Marc Savlov recommends Joseph Lanza’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Its Terrifying Times: A Cultural History, a “bloody brilliant granular contextualization of the global zeitgeist that informed the making” of Tobe Hooper’s landmark 1974 horror show. And Richard Whittaker reviews David McGowan’s “fascinating history,” Animated Personalities: Cartoon Characters and Stardom in American Theatrical Shorts, a study of how “studios deliberately created, fostered, and revised their top-line characters as celebrities separate to their roles.”


Two of David Bordwell’s most recent posts at Observations on Film Art cover an array of newish publications. In the first, Alan K. Rode’s Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film has got him “thinking about creativity in the studio system. Specifically, we can broaden our view of Curtiz’s career, which ran from 1912 to 1962, and see it as encapsulating some major trends in commercial entertainment cinema, inside Hollywood and out.” And Orson Welles in Focus: Texts and Contexts, edited by James N. Gilmore and Sidney Gottlieb, prompts a round of reflections on The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). The second post “has murder on its mind” and among the books featured is James Naremore’s Film Noir: A Very Short Introduction, which will be out in a couple of weeks. “One of the virtues of the book,” writes Bordwell, “is its sweep: it covers nearly eighty years of noir on the page and on the screen. Like everything else Jim writes, it’s essential for film fans and researchers.”

John Wyver, in the meantime, presents an annotated guide to the shelves in his collection devoted to cinema.


Marching Song, a previously unpublished play by Orson Welles, will be out in August, reports Ray Kelly at Wellesnet. Written when Welles was seventeen, the play “recounts the life of  abolitionist John Brown through multiple, sometimes contradictory recollections—a narrative framing device used nearly a decade later in Citizen Kane.” The book will also include a foreword by Welles biographer Simon Callow and two essays by Todd Tarbox, the author of Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts.

Walter Chaw is close to completing a book on Walter Hill that will include contributions from Larry Gross, who worked with Hill on 48 Hrs. (1982) and Streets of Fire (1984), and Edgar Wright as well as an introduction by novelist James Ellroy.

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