October Books

Robert Bresson

Let’s open this month’s roundup of new and notable book reviews, interviews with authors, and recommendations by taking a look at the whopping twentieth-anniversary issue of Senses of Cinema. It features a dossier on the work of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, another entitled “This Is What Defined Cinema in the 2010s,” and a selection of some of the best essays from the previous ninety-one issues. Then there are the usual rounds of fresh articles, interviews, festival reports, program notes on films screened at the Melbourne Cinémathèque, and so on. In one of the new articles, Bruce Hodsdon tracks the evolution of the ideas that Paul Schrader first laid out in his 1972 book Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer and then revisited in a second edition published last year. Hodsdon argues that, in his critically acclaimed 2017 film First Reformed, “Schrader aims to bring new life to the hierophanies of style (expressions of the sacred) spearheaded by a major change of resolve in his own filmmaking practice.”

Hodsdon also reviews Tom Ryan’s new book, The Films of Douglas Sirk: Exquisite Ironies and Magnificent Obsessions. This is the first study in English “to comprehensively provide a full perspective on Sirk’s filmmaking career” and “a labor of love, in the best sense.” Also in the book reviews section of Senses, Dudley Andrew writes about Colin Burnett’s The Invention of Robert Bresson: The Auteur and His Market, asking, “Was Bresson’s career self-consciously directed as an intervention into the art market which he calculated could be most forcefully made through the abstracting yet physical pursuit of a cinema of rhythmic relations? This claim is stronger than the piecemeal evidence Burnett comes up with. But his search for the evidence is dogged enough to convince the reader to look more closely than ever at Bresson’s films. And what could be more important than that?”

Writing for Critical Inquiry this summer, Dudley Andrew argued that Eric Rohmer's Film Theory (1948–1953): From ‘école Scherer’ to ‘politique des auteurs’ proves Marco Grosoli “to be one of the deepest thinkers of his generation of film scholars.” Jeremi Szaniawski agrees. Concentrating on Rohmer “in the crucial pre-Cahiers du cinéma years” and on “the intellectual constellation in which, Grosoli convinces me, Rohmer may be the most brilliant star,” writes Szaniawski, “Grosoli has accomplished something truly impressive, reorienting the historical narrative which has, hitherto, had a ‘certain tendency’ to give the lion’s share of credit to [François] Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and André Bazin.” Speaking of Bazin, Sabzian has begun rolling out translations of texts that appear in Éditions Macula’s new two-volume collection of the complete writings of the immeasurably influential critic and Cahiers cofounder. “In a sense,” wrote Bazin in a 1947 piece translated by Sis Matthé, “cinema can’t lie, and every film can be considered a social documentary. As long as it satisfies the dream needs of the masses, it becomes its own dream.”

Critical Views

In her 1973 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey “called for the destruction of pleasure as a radical weapon,” writes Erika Balsom in her review of Mulvey’s new book, Afterimages, for frieze. “Rather than buying into the seductive illusion of narrative cinema, Mulvey sought to shatter its spell and clear ground for the creation of a new filmic language . . . Readers familiar only with this period of Mulvey’s practice may find the tone of Afterimages surprising, particularly the author’s palpable love for filmmakers such as Hitchcock and Ophüls. Militancy gives way to mourning, as Mulvey plunges deeper into the elegiac mode already present in her 2006 publication Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image.

Reviewing The Eloquent Screen: A Rhetoric of Film for the Brooklyn Rail, Nicholas Forster finds that the late critic Gilberto Perez “is less interested in underlying ideologies, preferring to tarry with the world created on-screen and all of its nuance. The film is what it is. The job of the critic, as he sees it, is to understand that film’s world and its “conviction of fantasy” rather than right it.”

For the TLS, Imogen West-Knights reviews Marxist Film Theory and Fight Club, in which Anna Kornbluh presents a model for critical interpretation, and Ayoade on Top, the latest comedic missive from Richard Ayoade. “It may seem incongruous to be thinking about these two books together,” writes West-Knights, “given that one is a serious and accomplished work of scholarship about an acclaimed film, and one is a self-confessed toilet book about a ‘film no one has seen’: the Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle A View from the Top (2003). But in their different ways, both of these books have a lot to say about capitalism, and none of it is good.” Fight Club, by the way, turns twenty this year, and among those looking back on David Fincher’s film, an adaptation of the novel by Chuck Palahniuk, are Amy Simmons for the BFI and Scott Tobias for the Guardian.

In Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan, J. Hoberman addresses “the regressive turn of many of Hollywood’s greatest hits of the 1980s,” writes Rebecca Prime in the Washington Post. “Whether evincing nostalgia for the ‘Nifty Fifties,’ as in Back to the Future and Peggy Sue Got Married, or fulfilling childhood fantasies of action and adventure, as in the Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises, these films bypassed the cultural disruption and failed political revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s . . . ‘Reaganland,’ in Hoberman’s telling, was a place where ‘America’s lost illusions were found, dusted off, and deployed one last time.’” Hence the title of Hoberman’s trilogy, “Found Illusions”; the previous two volumes are An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War (2011) and The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties (2003).

While Midnight Movies, the 1991 book Hoberman cowrote with Jonathan Rosenbaum, “sought out self-styled culture warriors projecting their head-trips at the witching hour,” writes Adam Nayman for Cinema Scope, “the ‘Found Illusions’ series seeks something like the reverse, plunging into the collective unconscious of matinee-appropriate movies (and genres) and revealing the ideological demons within. It’s film criticism as a form of exorcism.” Reviewing Make My Day for the Notebook, Lawrence Garcia observes that “a striking aspect of reading Hoberman’s account is realizing the extent to which the nascent personalities and intellectual properties of the late ’70s and ’80s have not just persisted, but also remained frighteningly dominant.”

Troubled Lives

When Sandy Nagle, the fourth and last wife of Preston Sturges, died in 2006, her son, Tom Sturges, discovered that she’d kept all of his father’s letters to her as well as his papers and journals. For the Guardian, Pamela Hutchinson talks with Tom Sturges about the book he’s coauthored with Nick Smedley, Preston Sturges: The Last Years of the Hollywood’s First Writer-Director. “There’s jealousy and alcoholism in this story,” writes Hutchinson, “but also an undimmed ambition, and the same chutzpah that had carried him through the early successes of his career.”

Corina Copp’s translation of Chantal Akerman’s 2013 memoir My Mother Laughs was published in the U.S. this summer and Daniella Shreir’s translation came out in the UK last month. The book is, as Phoebe Chen writes in Cinema Scope, “the final installment in two decades of sporadic autobiography, but the first to feel monumentally literary. Its frank prose and brusque clauses were rehearsed in 1998’s slim roman à clef, Une famille à Bruxelles.” Writing for 3:AM Magazine, Lucy Holt finds that “moments accumulate at the pace moments should. Sometimes you feel like the narrative could be approaching a denouement, but then [the] text will pause, draw breath, and drop a pin somewhere else entirely, starting off along a new path.”

Living Legends

The Washington Post has a brief excerpt from Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, in which Julie Andrews looks back on that panoramic opening sequence of The Sound of Music (1965). “The problem was that as I completed that spin and the helicopter lifted,” she writes, “the downdraft from the jet engine was so powerful, it dashed me to the ground. I’d haul myself up, spitting mud and grass and brushing it off my dress, and trek back to my starting position. Each time the helicopter encircled me, I was flattened again.” Andrews tells the Atlantic’s Sophie Gilbert that what she learned from writing this book “was how hard I was working on any given day.” NPR’s Rachel Martin, too, has recently spoken with Andrews, who will be at New York’s Metrograph starting Friday to introduce a series of films directed by her husband, Blake Edwards, who passed away in 2010.

For Time, Suyin Haynes talks with Jessica Lange about Highway 61, her new collection of over eighty photographs taken along the myth-laden route that runs from a small town just northeast of Minneapolis down to New Orleans. “For me, photographing is a wonderful kind of solitary meditation,” says Lange. She also mentions that she and her American Horror Story collaborator, Ryan Murphy, are “talking about doing a film” that would focus on the final years in the life of Marlene Dietrich.


Next month sees the publication of two titles to look forward to, Masha Tupitsyn’s Picture Cycle, a “multigenre investigation of the personal and cultural annals of memory, identity, and spectatorship, both on and off the screen,” and Musings, a two-volume collection of essays written over the past four years for Oscilloscope Laboratories’ editorial project. Contributors include Bilge Ebiri, K. Austin Collins, Sheila O’Malley, and Angelica Jade Bastién.

Leonard Maltin has a few suggestions for further reading, and Farran Smith Nehme, who’s been browsing the Internet Archive, has pulled up a few titles from Hollywood’s golden age. Meantime, Guardian critics have put together an annotated list of the hundred best books of the twenty-first century.

Finally, we should note the passing of Harold Bloom, the literary critic whose best-known works include The Anxiety of Influence (1973) and The Western Canon (1994). In the New York Times, Dwight Garner calls Bloom “the last colossus in terms of his ardor and prodigious memory, a self-described ‘tired, sad, humane old creature,’ and a man who was increasingly isolated in his opinions about what the great books are and why they matter.”

Bloom died on Monday, and yesterday saw the publication of his latest book, The American Canon: Literary Genius from Emerson to Pynchon. Literary Hub has an excerpt, an essay on Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985), “the authentic American apocalyptic novel,” according to Bloom. McCarthy’s Judge Holden, a member of the Glanton gang of scalp-hunters who roamed along the border between Texas and Mexico in the mid-nineteenth century, “is a villain worthy of Shakespeare,” writes Bloom. “If the American pastoral tradition essentially is the Western film, then the Judge incarnates that tradition, though he would require a director light-years beyond the late Sam Peckinpah, whose The Wild Bunch portrays mildness itself when compared to Glanton’s paramilitaries.”

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