March Books

On Film / The Daily — Mar 16, 2020
François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock, and Helen Scott

Here’s hoping that everyone who can is self-quarantining to the greatest degree possible. Now that so many of us are spending more time at home, this month’s guide to recent writing about new and noteworthy books on cinema may be especially timely.

Let’s begin with a piece for the Paris Review on the work of the late Anna Karina beyond her performances in films by Jean-Luc Godard and her image as “the newlywed of the New Wave,” as she was once called by Paris Match. Madison Mainwaring observes that as “both writer and director, Karina had a style characterized by excess, what might be theorized as the return of everything she had never been allowed to say.” She wrote four novels, and in two of them, “her preoccupation is revenge. Both feature adolescents as main characters; both end with patricide. There are no nice strangers. The twelve-year-old heroine of Jusqu’au bout du hasard is repeatedly raped by her father before being sold to a pedophile by her best friend. Rage simmers on the page.”

Another woman who played a vital role in the French New Wave was Helen Scott, an American writer, translator, and agent who became fast friends with François Truffaut when they met in 1960. Scott would eventually become a liaison between Paris and Hollywood, working with Godard, Alain Resnais, Philippe De Broca, Jacques Tati, Claude Berri, and Milos Forman. She was also the translator at the table when Truffaut interviewed Alfred Hitchcock for the 1966 book Hitchcock/Truffaut. As Truffaut was completing the book, working on getting Fahrenheit 451 set up, and flirting with the idea of adapting Cornell Woolrich’s novel The Bride Wore Black, Scott sent him an early version of Robert Benton and David Newman’s screenplay for Bonnie and Clyde. Truffaut was simply too busy to take on the project and recommended Godard. In an excerpt at IndieWire from The American Friend, a new book on Scott, Serge Toubiana, president of Unifrance and former director of the Cinémathèque française, quotes Benton, who recalls that at an early meeting, one of the young American producers “said to Godard: ‘You do know the film has to be made this summer?’; Godard, who actually wanted to make the film in the winter, got up and said: ‘I’m talking about cinema and you’re telling me about the weather.’ And he left.” The job eventually went to Arthur Penn.

Hollywood in the 1930s

The Los Angeles Review of Books has posted an excerpt from the book that Lisa C. Hickman is working on, Between Grief and Nothing: Faulkner’s Later Years. In what appears to be an entire early chapter, Hickman writes about the years between the publications of Light in August (1932) and Absalom, Absalom! (1936), when William Faulkner was splitting his time between Mississippi and Hollywood, his family back home and an affair with a younger woman in California, and his own work and the screenplays he wrote for Howard Hawks and other directors. He was on the verge of financial ruin when MGM offered him a 500-dollar-a-week contract. The writer “made quite an impression with his late arrival at the studio on May 7, 1932‚ disheveled, inebriated, and with a bleeding head,” writes Hickman. Faulkner then promptly “disappeared for nine days, later telling those in charge he had been wandering in Death Valley. Quite a shocking story as it was 150 miles away and he didn’t seem to know how he got there.”

Here in the Current last summer, Imogen Sara Smith wrote that photographer George Hurrell’s “high-contrast lighting, hard edges, and bold, art deco poses became the essence of 1930s glamour.” If that piques your interest, Chris Yogerst, writing for the LARB, recommends Mark A. Vieira’s George Hurrell’s Hollywood: Glamour Portraits 1925–1992 alongside Vieira’s latest book, Forbidden Hollywood: The Pre-Code Era (1930–1934). “As an author, photographer, and historian, Vieira combines his skills to highlight Hollywood history in a captivatingly visual way,” writes Yogerst.

Journals and Magazines

The first three chapters of Martial Law Melodrama: Lino Brocka’s Cinema Politics focus on the Filipino director’s “social, maternal, and crime melodramas, respectively, exploring their links to realism and film noir,” writes Bruno Guaraná, introducing his interview with author José B. Capino in the new issue of Film Quarterly. “The next chapters assess the domestic social costs of the country’s post-1980 financial meltdown as depicted in Brocka’s family and male melodramas, in which brave young men fight authoritarian figures.” The removal of dictator Ferdinand Marcos from office in 1986 “prompts a more overt political investment on Brocka’s part, reflected in the ‘political melodramas of redemocratization’ assessed in Capino’s sixth chapter,” which FQ has made available as a free download.

Rolling out its latest issue, Cineaste has posted two book reviews available exclusively online. Vienna in the popular imagination in the early twentieth century was “a haven out of time, filled with waltz and schmaltz,” writes Austrian Film Museum curator Christoph Huber, but as Alexandra Seibel “sets out to demonstrate” in Visions of Vienna: Narrating the City in 1920s and 1930s Cinema, “the escapist allure of mythic Vienna allowed for highly ambivalent filmmaking, at least in the hands of major auteurs.” And for Irina Trocan, Morgan Adamson’s Enduring Images: A Future History of New Left Cinema is “a welcome addition to studies of militant film practice.”

Tragic Lives

Nearly twenty years after the publication of Natasha, a biography of Natalie Wood, Suzanne Finstad has written a new version updated with fresh details on a deeply sad life cut short. “The fallout from a lifetime of psychological damage and abuse led Natalie to multiple suicide attempts, daily psychoanalysis, and a fear of being alone at night so primal and deep-seated that she regressed to her child self,” writes Finstad in an excerpt at Vanity Fair. “Her greatest fear, I discovered, derived from a prophecy told to her superstitious Russian mother by a Gypsy—namely, that she would die in dark water.” And that, of course, came to pass on November 29, 1981, when Wood was only forty-three. Sheila Weller, the author of a new book on Carrie Fisher, talks with Finstad for Air Mail about new evidence that would suggest that Wood was pushed off the yacht she’d been cruising on with her husband, Robert Wagner, and their friend, Christopher Walken; about Wood being pursued by Frank Sinatra and eventually pimped out to him by her own mother; and about the brutal rape one year later by an unnamed star. “No one advocated for Natalie—in her life or for decades after her death,” Finstad tells Weller.

The Atlantic’s Hannah Giorgis talks with Diane Keaton about her second memoir, Brother & Sister, in which she looks back on her relationship with Randy, her younger brother, now seventy-one and suffering from dementia. Over the years, as her career took off, Randy struggled with mental illness and alcoholism, even as he published two books of poetry and created hundreds of collages. “Apart from telling a poignant story about two siblings,” writes Giorgis, “Brother & Sister is a fascinating exercise in writing a personal and methodical tale about someone who has come to feel, in some sense, like a stranger.”

Odds and Ends

Screen Slate, a daily guide to screenings in New York that is currently transitioning to “‘Stream Slate’ mode” as the city’s movie theaters shut their doors, has a new book out. In an excerpt from 1995: The Year the Internet Broke, Patrick Dahl argues that Johnny Mnemonic, written by William Gibson, directed by Robert Longo, and starring Keanu Reeves, “remains a coherent, visionary, exciting piece of popular entertainment, as good or better than any other pre-millennium studio sci-fi outing.”

A few more quick notes:

  • Reviewing Yellow Earth, the new historical novel by John Sayles (Matewan) about the impact of the discovery of rich layers of shale oil in North Dakota, Caden Mark Gardner writes at Hyperallergic that Sayles’s “dry wit and cynicism crackle in both the narration and dialogue. The author’s sprawling historical fiction recalls E. L. Doctorow and William Kennedy, and Yellow Earth is replete with astute exchanges that address power dynamics around law, government, big business, and minority communities.”
  • Writing for the TLS, Catriona Kelly finds that with This Thing of Darkness: Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible in Stalin’s Russia, Joan Neuberger “succeeds in proving that the film was conceived from start to finish as a work of protest.” And “above all, so Neuberger argues, the film was outrageous because it was, in every sense of the word, consummately queer.”
  • Having read Gerd Gemünden’s new book on Lucrecia Martel, “I feel that I perceive movies a bit differently now, especially in how I listen to them,” writes Thomas Puhr for Film International.
  • Literary Hub has posted an excerpt from The Criminal Child: Selected Essays in which Jean Genet writes about Jean Cocteau: “Poems, essays, novels, theater—the entire body of work cracks, and lets anguish be discovered in the fissures. A vastly complex and sorrowful heart wants both to hide and to blossom.”
  • Mason Currey has posted a brief note on the nightly reading habits of Roberto Rossellini, who once “estimated that he had read and annotated some nine thousand books.”
  • Vulture is running an excerpt from Barry Sonnenfeld, Call Your Mother: Memoirs of a Neurotic Filmmaker, and in the New York Times, Dave Itzkoff finds that the cinematographer (Blood Simple) and director (Men in Black) proves himself to be “an ideal tour guide through the vagaries and hypocrisies of the entertainment industry.”
  • For Little White Lies, J. C. Gabel talks with the outstanding poster designer Akiko Stehrenberger about Akikomatic, a new collection of her work. And anyone looking for more eye candy will want to know that Mirages: The Art of Laurent Durieux is just out from Mondo.

Please stay safe, everyone.

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