November Books

Bette Davis

Before delving into this month’s round on new and noteworthy books, let’s note that, while it’s probably just a coincidence, this week seems to have been haunted by the 1970s. On Tuesday, we posted a roundup on Melissa Maerz’s new book, Alright, Alright, Alright: The Oral History of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, a lively collection of anecdotes about the making of the 1993 film that hangs out with a gaggle of teens for a day and a night in 1976. The Ringer has added another excerpt, by the way, a pretty juicy one in which the cast and crew looks back on who was hooking up with whom during that summertime shoot. As Marissa Ribisi, who played Cynthia, puts it, “We were all fucking hormonal. We couldn’t help it!” Another excerpt at Vulture assures us that, appropriately enough, there was also plenty of weed being passed around.

Wednesday’s roundup was all about Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks, Adam Nayman’s new book on the filmmaker whose current project, Soggy Bottom, has him revisiting the milieu of his 1997 film Boogie Nights, the San Fernando Valley of the 1970s. And now Quentin Tarantino has announced that he’s cut a deal with HarperCollins to write two books rooted in that wayward decade. “In the ’70s, movie novelizations were the first adult books I grew up reading,” says Tarantino. “And to this day I have a tremendous amount of affection for the genre.”

So Tarantino’s first book will be a novelization of his most recent feature, Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood (2019), set to be released as a mass market paperback. The budding author promises to flesh out the lives of television and spaghetti western actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double, Cliff Booth, expanding the timelines both forward and backward from the crucial events of 1969 that the movie focuses on. HarperCollins describes Tarantino’s second book, Cinema Speculation, as a “deep dive into the movies of the 1970s, a rich mix of essays, reviews, personal writing, and tantalizing ‘what if’s.’”

Directorial Visions

The Nolan Variations: The Movies, Mysteries, and Marvels of Christopher Nolan is the latest book from Tom Shone, who has written critical overviews of the work of Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and Quentin Tarantino. For the Los Angeles Times, Josh Rottenberg talks with both the author and his subject. “Tom’s pitch seemed to be that I’m either the most underrated overrated director or the most overrated underrated director,” says Nolan. “There was this feeling that the culture doesn’t always quite know what to do with commercial success, with the knotty problem of the intersection of commerce and art, which is where Hollywood filmmaking really exists. And I sort of agreed with that.”

Edited by James Lattimer and Eva Sangiorgi and published by the Viennale, Kelly Reichardt: Textur #2 gathers writing by a wide-ranging array of contributors, including critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, filmmaker Jem Cohen, and poet Eileen Myles. The Notebook is running experimental filmmaker and video artist Peggy Ahwesh’s brief appreciation of Meek’s Cutoff (2010), a western tracking the ill-fated trek of a wagon train along the Oregon Trail in 1845. On a related note, at ScreenAnarchy, Shelagh Rowan-Legg calls Seventh Row’s collection Roads to Nowhere: Kelly Reichardt’s Broken American Dreams “a terrific overview of a director in the prime of her career.”

In Jonathan Coe’s new novel, Mr Wilder and Me, a young woman befriends Billy Wilder in 1977, a time in the director’s life when he was coming to terms with his dark family history. On BBC Radio 3, Coe; Phuong Le; Melanie Williams; and Paul Diamond, the son of Wilders writing partner, I. A. L. Diamond, discuss Wilder’s life and work.

From the French

Nicholas Elliott, the New York correspondent for Cahiers du cinéma, has translated three conversations between Marguerite Duras and Jean-Luc Godard that took place in 1979, 1980, and 1987, and the Paris Review is running an excerpt from the first one. The translation can’t have been easy since both filmmakers are champion gamesters when it comes to wordplay. “I like your films because they don’t come from the cinema, but they cross it,” says Godard, to which Duras replies, “I make my texts bend to the cinema.” Duras/Godard Dialogues is out now from the Film Desk.

Three other ongoing translation projects have been especially fruitful over the past few weeks. Srikanth Srinivasan carries on working his way through Luc Moullet’s 1963 book on Fritz Lang, taking us from the director’s exile in France in the early 1930s to the westerns and spy movies he made in Hollywood in the 1940s. Sabzian has given us another one of Sis Matthé’s translations of an extract from Éditions Macula’s two-volume collection of writing by André Bazin. Jean Renoir’s The River is “the most beautiful color film ever made, almost ‘the first one,’ one could say,” wrote Bazin in 1951, the year the film was released. “The work of cameraman Claude Renoir is worthy of his previous work with Jean in every respect. Color film is finally born! True color film!”

Laurent Kretzschmar, in the meantime, has posted another essay collected in Serge Daney’s Ciné journal 1981-86, this one on Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Gertrud (1964): “Dreyer is one of the few un-misogynistic directors (along with Mizoguchi and Renoir) who knows full well that at the decisive moment it is men who strain their eyes looking in the past, and who weep. From rage, impotence, and longing.”

In Theory

In the Notebook, Thomas Quist argues the case for Siegfried Kracauer’s Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality (1960) as “a masterwork of film writing in the broadest sense. Taking nearly two decades to write, the result is a work of genuine care and intellectual titillation, where tossed-off observations feel foundational and the central thesis leaves contusive marks on one’s understanding of what film is and can do.” The thesis, as Quist phrases it, is that the “inherent affinities of cinema—its ability to capture unstaged and fortuitous occurrences, its recording of endless or indeterminant events, and primarily its ability to render the ‘flow of life’—positions film as not only able to redeem the physical world, but maybe the only medium to offer such possibility.”

For Offscreen, Daniel Garrett interviews poet, theorist, and art critic Richard Deming, whose 2018 book Art of the Ordinary: The Everyday Domain of Art, Film, Philosophy, and Poetry covers a lot of ground. Cinephiles will be particularly interested in the passages of the conversation that take on the work of filmmakers as divergent as George Cukor and Andy Warhol.

Hollywood Legends

Revisiting Bette Davis’s two autobiographies, The Lonely Life (1962) and This ’n That (1987) for Vanity Fair, Hadley Hall Meares picks out the story of the time Davis played Santa Claus at school and got too close to the candles on the Christmas tree. “Suddenly I was on fire,” wrote Davis in The Lonely Life. “I started screaming in terror. I heard voices, felt myself being wrapped in a rug—and then silence all around me. Everyone was quite naturally panicked. When the rug was taken off, I decided to keep my eyes closed. Ever the actress! I would make believe I was blind. ‘Her eyes!’ A shudder of delight went through me. I was in complete command of the moment. I had never known such power.”

Literary Hub is running an excerpt from What Becomes a Legend Most: A Biography of Richard Avedon in which Philip Gefter reconstructs the day that Avedon shot Marilyn Monroe and Billy Wilder just prior to the release of The Seven Year Itch (1955). “Sam Shaw documented the photographic session, as if he were making film stills of the publicity campaign itself,” writes Gefter. “In these behind-the-scenes pictures, it is striking how different Monroe looks when she is not performing for the camera. She is a rather pretty—if indistinct—young woman, but easily becomes ‘Marilyn’ in front of the camera.”

For Film International, Tanja Bresan reviews Steven Rybin’s Geraldine Chaplin: The Gift of Film Performance, which draws “parallels to her father’s work and his major acting and directorial achievements in a cleverly fashioned juxtaposition of the two, showing the bridging and passing on the acting gift from father to daughter.”

Back to Vanity Fair, where Laura Pezzino talks with Jane Fonda about her new book, What Can I Do?: My Path from Climate Despair to Action. “I always wanted to be somebody else,” says Fonda, “but if I compare how I was once with how I am now, I have to admit that I’ve never been happier. My body is abandoning me, but I’m happy despite that. It’s happening for a reason—I’ve worked really hard. I’m very proud for not giving up.”

New and Noteworthy

Two new books of photographs with tangential but intriguing ties to cinema seem worth seeking out. For the New York Times, Arthur Lubow talks with photographer Jona Frank and Laura Dern about their work together on Frank’s multimedia memoir, Cherry Hill, which Lubow describes as “a portrait of the artist as a young woman, coping with a mother’s struggles with depression and an older brother’s descent into schizophrenia.”

Ten years ago, filmmaker Harmony Korine and photographer Juergen Teller set out on a road trip from Memphis to Mississippi with photography legend William Eggleston and his son, Winston. William Eggleston 414 collects the shots that Korine and Teller snapped along the way. “The images are shot in color with rectangular frames and there is a subtle overture towards awkward composition and the autumnal light in the images that harkens back to Eggleston at his apex in terms of creation,” writes Brad Feuerhelm at ASX.

Also just out or forthcoming:

  • Light Industry and Primary Information have teamed up to produce a facsimile edition of Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover, a 1975 series of photographs that Snow has called “a quasi-movie.”

Endnotes and Updates

Jonathan Kirshner, the author of Hollywood’s Last Golden Age: Politics, Society, and the Seventies Film in America, has been corresponding with David Thomson, the critic, historian, and author of dozens of books—The New Biographical Dictionary of Film is surely the best known—for about ten years. Now they’ve conducted (and seemingly coedited) a more formal conversation. Kirshner notes that a “central theme that weaves its way throughout our discussion is the enigma of trying reconcile, as Thomson puts it, ‘the intense, often overwhelming sense of another reality up there on the screen with the gradual understanding that it is not a reality.’” Last month, we gathered early reviews of Mark Glancy’s Cary Grant: The Making of a Hollywood Legend and Scott Eyman’s Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise, and in the London Review of Books, Thomson writes that these two biographies “combine to give us the fullest and most discerning portrait of a movie star we will ever have.”

Glenn Kenny, in the meantime, has been talking with Elvis Mitchell, host of KCRW’s The Treatment, and with Mike White in the Projection Booth about Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas, a book we first took a look at back in September. And for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Len Gutkin talks with Alex Ross about another September book, Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music.

Finally for now, the first lists of the best books of 2020 come from contributors to and friends of the New Statesman and the writers and editors at Time.

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