May Books

The Daily — May 24, 2021
Billy Wilder

Last month’s round on new and noteworthy books opened with early reviews of a multifaceted analysis of Alfred Hitchcock and a collection of journalistic missives written by the young Billy Wilder. And the reviews keep coming. With Billy Wilder on Assignment: Dispatches from Weimar Berlin and Interwar Vienna, editor Noah Isenberg and translator Shelley Frisch “have pieced together a sort of memoir of the artist as a young man, and, as such, a book that will own a spot on my Wilder shelf beside Ed Sikov’s unbeatable biography, On Sunset Boulevard, and Cameron Crowe’s fabulous book of interviews, Conversations with Wilder,” writes Sam Wasson, author of The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood, for Air Mail.

In his first-person reports on touring jazz bands and troupes of dancing girls, his celebrity profiles and slice-of-life sketches, “I think you can see the germs for a lot of later ideas,” Isenberg tells Donna Ferguson in the Guardian. “And beyond that, you can see a lot of what we come to expect from a Billy Wilder movie: the dramas and the comedies, all that sparkling wit, that charm, that mordant humor and sarcasm.” In Bookforum, Ryan Ruby writes that “more than any particular correspondence between a reported event and a filmed plot point, it is the ‘voice’ Wilder adopted as a reporter in Vienna and Berlin that found a home in the mouths of the unsentimental, fast-talking, image-obsessed characters that populate Double Indemnity (1944), Sunset Boulevard (1950), The Apartment (1960), and Some Like It Hot (1959).”

For Thomas Doherty, writing for Tablet, two pieces on the making of the 1930 film People on Sunday are among the “gold nuggets” in the collection. Written by Wilder, based on a story by Curt Siodmak, shot by Eugen Schüfftan, and directed by Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer, this “lackadaisical neorealist portrait of a quartet of carefree German youth on a day off, swimming and sunbathing, flirting and quarreling, was a smack in the face to the artsy pretensions of mainstream German cinema,” writes Doherty. “Everyone chips in regardless of job description (Wilder schlepped the camera equipment and held the light reflectors), all in the service of ‘shooting a few truths we consider important, for a laughably small sum of money.’ Wilder relates the backstory with utter sincerity and boyish exuberance, without a trace of cynicism.”

Billy Wilder: Dancing on the Edge, a critical study by Joseph McBride, the author of books on Orson Welles, John Ford, and Ernst Lubitsch, will be out in October. There are, in the meantime, “several impressive, full-dress biographies of Hitchcock,” writes Glenn Frankel in the Washington Post, “but Edward White’s thoughtful and nuanced book takes a different approach.” The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock: An Anatomy of the Master of Suspense “explores the master’s life and work through a dozen different prisms that expose and illuminate his various personas. Some are obvious to any Hitchcock fan: the Murderer, the Womanizer, the Auteur, the Voyeur, the Entertainer. Others are more original: The Dandy, for example, explores Hitchcock’s fascination with fashion design for both men and women.”

In an excerpt up at Literary Hub, White addresses Hitchcock’s often inexcusable treatment of women, while in a piece for the Paris Review, White writes about the director’s “steel girder,” his wife and collaborator, Alma Reville. And Frankel has been talking to Texas Public Radio’s Nathan Cone about his new book, Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic, which will serve as the basis for a new documentary by Nancy Buirski (The Rape of Recy Taylor).

More Updates

Wilder is not one of the ten directors David Thomson writes about in A Light in the Dark: A History of Movie Directors, but Hitchcock is. For the Arts Fuse, David D’Arcy talks with Thompson about both directors, about the story David Fincher might have told in Mank, and about why Thomson suspects that Sam Wasson’s book on the making of Chinatown doesn’t tell the whole story. At Deadline, Todd McCarthy wonders why Thomson has turned against his 1997 biography, Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood. “David is such a good writer and scholar that he could write rings about and around Howard Hawks—as he already has on numerous occasions—but not he nor I nor anyone else of whom I am aware has been able to penetrate the man’s hard-shelled heart,” writes McCarthy.

Reviewing Mark Harris’s Mike Nichols: A Life and Hermione Lee’s Tom Stoppard: A Life for the New Republic, Rachel Shteir finds that a thread running through both books is “their subject’s unknowability. Nichols is enigmatic because his life was lived in public as a famous person—the way an artist has to in order to be successful in America. Stoppard, meanwhile, seems unknowable because his work cannot be traced back to his life. It is, to quote Anton Chekhov, ‘an opening into eternity.’”

Last August, we took an early look at David Mikics’s Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker, and now Andrew Delbanco has written about this “sharp and sensitive” study for the New York Review of Books. Delbanco’s review serves as an excellent primer or refresher on the chronology of a career as monolithic as the black slab in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Two more recent books take measure of the filmmaker’s influence. After Kubrick: A Filmmaker’s Legacy, edited by Jeremi Szaniawski, “complements Mick Broderick’s The Kubrick Legacy, but does not reproduce it,” writes Joy McEntee in Senses of Cinema. “Broderick’s book arguably traces Kubrick’s after-life more directly than Szaniawksi’s. Indeed, Szaniawski’s avowed aim is to approach Kubrick’s legacy obliquely via his followers’ films in terms of Kubrick’s ‘tonal, stylistic and thematic/motivic impact.’”

In March, the books roundup opened with Nick Pinkerton’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn, the title that’s launched Decadent Editions, a series of ten books from Fireflies Press, each one taking on a single film from each year of the 2000s. At Electric Ghost, Pinkerton tells Patrick Preziosi that when editors Giovanni Marchini Camia and Annabel Brady-Brown approached him, “it seemed like a Kismet kind of match, because their focus on trying to create a sort of survey of relatively recent film history with the series corresponded to something that I had been quietly working away at over the last few years largely, if not exclusively, in pieces that I’d done for Film Comment, which was trying to isolate and describe phenomena that were unique to the culture of moving images in the twenty-first century. Going after these phenomena, trying to enumerate things that were genuinely new in film culture and moving image-based art.”

Two Women

In Sofia Coppola: The Politics of Visual Pleasure, Anna Backman Rogers argues that the filmmaker aims “to slyly corrode Hollywood’s patriarchal underpinnings,” writes Edward Jackson in Bright Lights Film Journal. “Whether or not this constitutes a ‘radical form of feminism’ is up for debate, especially given how embedded Coppola is in the same privilege she seeks to trouble. That said, Rogers’s main argument—that Coppola manipulates pleasurable images to unsettle rather than mollify us—is utterly convincing.”

Before she turned to writing, Goliarda Sapienza was an actress who appeared in Luchino Visconti’s Senso (1954) and in Abandoned (1955), the directorial debut of her partner, Francesco Maselli. She “helped shape the Italian film industry in its golden age,” writes Anna Momigliano in the New York Times. “She served as a muse, occasional actress, and uncredited factotum, working on casting, screenwriting, and voice-overs.” Two years after her death in 1996, her widower, Angelo Pellegrino, found a publisher for “what is now considered her masterpiece,” The Art of Joy, originally completed in 1976. In France, the 700-page novel became “a literary sensation, selling 350,000 copies and earning Sapienza comparisons to D. H. Lawrence and Stendhal.”

Two Memoirs

At thirty-nine, Seth Rogen may be a bit young to be writing a memoir, but the Washington Post’s Thomas Floyd has clearly enjoyed his “candid collection of sidesplitting essays,” Yearbook. “Rather than a check-the-boxes origin story or didactic scroll through his IMDb page,” writes Floyd, “Rogen opts for a nonlinear assortment of anecdotes that highlights his sardonic wit, knack for mischief, and find-the-humor-in-life ethos.”

In his new memoir, Brat: An ’80s Story, Andrew McCarthy, “astutely rather than arrogantly, attributes his success in St. Elmo’s Fire and Pretty in Pink to ‘an emotional availability that was difficult to mask’ and ‘a freshness, a sense of discovery, that can be captured only in passing,’” writes Ron Cerabona in the Canberra Times. “He notes this is a quality, not a skill.” McCarthy has a good long talk with Michael Schulman in the New Yorker about revisiting the Brat Pack after all these years, overcoming alcoholism, and becoming a travel writer.


Little White Lies is running an excerpt from Alex Dudok de Wit’s new book on Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies (1988), one of the most moving animated features ever made, and it has us looking ahead to further titles lined up for the BFI Film Classics series. October will see the release of J. Hoberman’s study of Leo McCarey’s Marx Brothers classic, Duck Soup (1933), plus Michael Atkinson’s book on David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) and more. November will see two new books on films by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, with Pam Cook taking on I Know Where I’m Going! (1945) and Ian Christie writing about A Matter of Life and Death (1946).

Tell It to the Stones: Encounters with the Films of Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, a collection edited by Annett Busch and Tobias Hering, will be out in July. And Dana Stevens’s long and eagerly anticipated biography, Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century, now has a release date: October 26.


Ecstatic Static is a production company and online resource recently launched by This Long Century founder Jason Evans and producer Myriam Schroeter. While working with artists and hosting screenings, Evans and Schroeter have also put together an impressive collection of freely accessible resources, including books by and about Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Bresson, Maya Deren, and Satyajit Ray. And speaking of Ray, he would have turned 100 on May 2, and the Times of India reports that two new collections of stories written by the filmmaker have been translated and released to mark the centenary.

Scout Tafoya talks about his new book, Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, on the Cine-Cast and tells Video Essay Podcast host Will DiGravio that he hopes readers will see Hooper “the way I see him: this was an old-school film artist, one of the best in the American cinema, and he ought to be treated like it.”

Stephen Saito talks with critic, editor, and author Matt Zoller Seitz about the online bookstore he’s set up in his garage, MZS Worldstore. “We probably sell ten times as many books of an extremely specific type as a lot of the major chain outlets would, so it’s great to be able to prolong the life of—and in some cases resuscitate—books that are thought of as dead,” says Seitz. Light Industry, the Brooklyn venue for film and electronic art, has also set up a store and invited Erika Balsom, author of the forthcoming second volume in the Decadent Editions series, Ten Skies, to spotlight ten titles. For even more recommendations, see the latest round from Christopher Schobert at the Film Stage.

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