We begin this month’s round of notes on new and notable books with a title that has an indirect but vital link to cinema. The movie of the moment is Da 5 Bloods, and before Spike Lee began shooting it, he had his actors read Wallace Terry’s Bloods: An Oral History of the Vietnam War by Black Veterans. As Sam Levin recently noted in a piece for the Guardian on black vets still struggling with post-traumatic stress forty-five years after the end of the war, in 1967, “black Americans were roughly eleven percent of the civilian population, but 16.3 percent of soldiers drafted and twenty-three percent of Vietnam combat troops.”
1967 was also the year that Wallace Terry began covering the war for Time. But in 1971, he quit, “frustrated by the magazine’s hawkish stance on the war, and focused on turning his reporting into a book,” writes Eric Ducker at the Ringer. Terry’s proposals for Bloods were rejected around 120 times by publishers, “leading to more than a decade of anger and frustration.” Ducker notes that when Random House finally published the book in 1984, Bloods was “immediately recognized as a landmark work and soon became a best-seller. ‘Up until then, a lot of the books’ and movies’ representations of Vietnam veterans did not represent African American voices, particularly with any nuance, complexity, or depth,’ says Lynn Novick, the documentarian who codirected 2017’s The Vietnam War series with Ken Burns. ‘[Bloods] was a revelation of authentic voices that really hadn’t been heard. It was unforgettable.’”
Srikanth Srinivasan has been translating Politique des acteurs, Luc Moullet’s 1993 book on four of Hollywood’s most iconic leading men, and he’s recently posted another chapter. Eighteen minutes into Stagecoach (1939), John Ford introduces the Ringo Kid by propelling his camera toward the face of John Wayne, “a square almost unknown to the big studios, a handsome, scrappy giant, a sharpshooter trapped in Z movies of Republic Pictures where he had made forty mid-length features in six years. Ford seems to have wanted to create a star, his star, since they were to make fifteen films together in twenty-five years. The most faithful duo in the history of cinema. Amazing intuition, when none of the earlier films helped foresee Wayne’s abilities.”
In 1912, readers of Motion Picture Story Magazine voted the now all-but-forgotten Maurice Costello “most popular player,” and in 1924, Photoplay named him “the most recognized star in motion pictures.” Within a few short years, though, that star would be fading fast even as his daughters’ careers were taking off. Helene became the first actress to star in an all-talking picture, The Lights of New York (1928), and Dolores married John Barrymore and carried on acting into the early 1940s. In one of her final roles, she played Isabel in Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). “Maurice, Helene, and Dolores were among the first film celebrities to run the complete gauntlet of a Hollywood career, from youthful fame to scandal and oblivion,” writes Chris Yogerst in his review of Terry Chester Shulman’s Film’s First Family: The Untold Story of the Costellos for the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Natasha Gregson Wagner’s More Than Love: An Intimate Portrait of My Mother, Natalie Wood is “the best of a crop of new books that take us into the turbulent world of stardom,” writes Caryn James in the New York Times’ summer reading package. But James is left cold by Val Kilmer’s “scattershot, largely unrevealing memoir” I’m Your Huckleberry and Stephen Rebello’s Dolls! Dolls! Dolls! Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls, the Most Beloved Bad Book and Movie of All Time, written “with all the flair of Wikipedia.”
Having served in Italy during the Second World War, Alfred Hayes stayed on to work with Roberto Rossellini on the screenplay for Paisan (1946) and with Vittorio De Sica on Bicycle Thieves (1948). When he returned to the States, he wrote the screenplays for Fritz Lang’s Clash by Night (1952) and Human Desire (1954) but also a loose trilogy of novels about lost men in New York and Hollywood that have been recently reissued by the New York Review of Books. “Hayes has been unfairly forgotten for many reasons,” writes Scott Bradfield in the Los Angeles Times. “The biggest one was probably that he wasn’t writing the types of books that were being praised in the postwar era—the ones written by the likes of Mailer, Barth, Bellow, and Roth. Those writers aspired to produce big books with big themes, big books about a big country. But like John Fante, another Hollywood-based novelist who suffered a similar eclipse of reputation, Hayes didn’t write those kinds of books. Rather, his novels explored the ways in which small souls sought to cut their own safe path across the world’s unforgiving bigness.”
Robert Douglas-Fairhurst has recently watched a string of adaptations of novels by E. M. Forster, and writing for the TLS, he explains why he approves of neither David Lean’s A Passage to India (1984) nor Charles Sturridge’s Where Angels Fear to Tread (1991). “The only films that come close to capturing Forster’s characteristic mixture of romance and restraint are those produced by Ismail Merchant and directed by James Ivory,” he writes. A Room with a View (1985), Maurice (1987), and Howards End (1992) “come close to turning into a costume drama version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The same actors return in different roles, as if keen to prove Forster’s idea that each of us contains many alternative lives that we could lead if only we let ourselves go . . . Above all, there is the same focus in each film on characters who are trapped, and a willingness to deploy the full resources of cinema in securing their release.”
In Sharing a House with the Never-Ending Man: 15 Years at Studio Ghibli, Steve Alpert, who headed up the legendary studio’s international division from 1996 to 2011, focuses on the period in which Hayao Miyazaki was working on Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2001). We learn about the often rocky relationship between Ghibli and Disney, about the time that Harvey Weinstein blew up in Alpert’s face, and about the seemingly endless (and unpaid) overtime that Miyazaki’s team put into those masterpieces of animation. “Once Miyazaki-san makes a decision, that’s it, he does it,” Alpert tells Cartoon Brew’s Alex Dudok de Wit. Isao Takahata, on the other hand, was “always questioning his decisions. With My Neighbors the Yamadas , we were recording the music, which is the last part of the film. He decided he wanted to completely change the music and start from scratch. You have to admire [producer Toshio Suzuki]—these two guys were not easy to work with. But he was really good at managing them and getting the films made.”
For Please Kill Me, Benito Vila talks with with Nicca Ray about the book she’s been working on for well over a decade, Ray by Ray: A Daughter’s Take on the Legend of Nicholas Ray. “He was a great man, a great artist, but he wasn’t a good person,” she says. “People have fathers who maybe aren’t the best people or who abandon them, and that’s all they have of their fathers. I have a father who left behind these beautiful movies, who created these worlds that we get to go into and inhabit.”
Literary Hub asks Kevin Whitehead, author of Play the Way You Feel: The Essential Guide to Jazz Stories on Film, about some of jazz’s most under-recognized influences on cinema. “Even before jazz musicians invaded Hollywood studio orchestras in the 1950s, the sound of jazz was well entrenched in film scores—so much that it’s easy to overlook,” he says. And in the 1930s, “swing’s lilt and propulsion seeped into the pacing of cinematic action and dialogue: Think of such directors as Preston Sturges or Howard Hawks, and their snappy-comeback dialogue.”
Akikomatic: The Work of Akiko Stehrenberger gathers movie posters designed over the past fifteen years by one of the busiest and most lauded artists in the business. For the Los Angeles Review of Books, Sophia Stewart has Stehrenberger walk her through the development of a poster, from the first viewing of the movie through the brainstorming and research to the pitch of the essential concept.
Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Colin Marshall suggests that “if they can get past titles like ‘The Architectonics of Female Subjectivity in Post-crisis South Korea,’ even non-academic readers will find much of value in Rediscovering Korean Cinema,” a new collection edited by Sangjoon Lee. Marshall adds that “a newcomer to Korean cinema could do well to use its table of contents as a viewing list, and only after watching through it go back and read the book itself. As in any film-theory anthology, strained interpretations and trivial conclusions are inevitable . . . but the contributors’ arguments matter less than the knowledge they marshal in order to make them: knowledge of why these particular films were made, why they found their audiences, and why they look and feel the way they do.”
Korean cinema marked its centenary last year, and Marshall suggests that “the pre-Parasite and post-Parasite divide has the potential to become its new B.C. and A.D.” Parasite: A Graphic Novel in Storyboards is one of just over a dozen titles recommended by Christopher Schobert in his latest books roundup for the Film Stage. For more recommendations, turn to Sheila O’Malley, who has posted notes on over forty of her favorite memoirs.
Edition One Books has just published Eclogues: Letters and Correspondence, a collection of personal snapshots by Nathaniel Dorsky. “As a filmmaker,” writes Dorsky, “I wanted to bring my sensibility to the page and organize the images in a way as to offer the poetic pleasures of juxtapositions and rhymes that occur in my 16 mm films.” November will see the publication of Dan Callahan’s The Camera Lies: Acting for Hitchcock, and early next year, Columbia University Press will release William Greaves: Filmmaking as Mission, a collection edited by Scott MacDonald and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart.
Finally for now, in the New York Times, Penelope Green remembers the late James Harvey, whose “three books, each more than a decade in the making and meticulously yet gorgeously written, are required reading for cinephiles.”
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