September Books

Frances McDormand in Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch (2021)

When Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch sees its North American premiere next week during the New York Film Festival, it will be arriving with an accompanying book. “Publishing a collection of stories as a companion piece to a movie feels like a literary version of a soundtrack,” suggests Susan Morrison. Her conversation with Anderson serves as the introduction to An Editor’s Burial: Journals and Journalism from the New Yorker and Other Magazines, and you can read it, of course, at the New Yorker.

Anderson’s movie tells a handful of stories drawn from the final issue of The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, a fictional magazine modeled to a good degree on the New Yorker but also, because it’s written and edited by American expats in France, the Paris Review. The film “draws on the work and lives of specific writers,” Anderson tells Morrison. “This book is almost a great big footnote.” It’s also “an excuse to do a book that I thought would be really entertaining. These are writers I love and pieces I love. A person who is interested in the movie can read Mavis Gallant’s article about the student protests of 1968 . . . Frances McDormand’s character, Krementz, comes from Mavis Gallant, but Lillian Ross also gets mixed into that character, too—and, I think, a bit of Frances herself. I once heard her say to a very snooty French waiter, ‘Kindly leave me my dignity.’”

One of the pieces collected in An Editor’s Burial comes from Luc Sante, who has written the foreword to Some Collages, a selection of “small, eerie” artworks by Jim Jarmusch. As it happens, the foreword is up at the Paris Review. “You could say that Jarmusch, ever the director, is engaging in exploratory casting,” writes Sante. “He wants to see Stanley Kubrick in the role of a golfer, and Nico as a Vegas crooner, and Jane Austen winding up on the mound, and Albert Einstein as a rock star, and Bernie Sanders as a dog. Andy Warhol, meanwhile, just goes ahead and casts himself in every role, turning all of them into ‘Andy Warhol.’”

Jarmusch talks a bit with Art in America’s Francesca Aton about the collages and about what he’s been watching—the Criterion Channel is “my drug of choice,” he says—and reading. “I’ve been revisiting some love poems by Rene Ricard that were recently republished,” says Jarmusch. “He was a very young star of the Andy Warhol crowd.” He has a few more recommendations for the editors of Zoetrope All-Story: Warren Ellis’s Nina Simone’s Gum, Jim McBride’s Deacon King Kong, and—no surprise here—Luc Sante’s Maybe the People Would Be the Times, “a fantastic collection, mostly about his life in New York in the ’70s and ’80s.”

Before we proceed with this month’s roundup on new and noteworthy titles, let’s have one more set of recommendations. Michaela Coel, who won her first Emmy on Sunday night for writing the limited series I May Destroy You, has written up a list of ten favorite books for One Grand. Coel’s selections range from Courttia Newland’s novel Society Within (the “first book I read that was adjacent to the world in which I lived”) to Liu Cixin’s sci-fi trilogy Remembrance of Earth’s Past. Perhaps Coel, who will be seen next year in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,could land a role in the series adaptation of Remembrance that Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss are working on for Netflix.


The French Dispatch isn’t the only NYFF selection with a literary spin-off. Memoria, which chronicles the making of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s new film with Tilda Swinton, is a “structureless montage of script notes, diary entries, hand-drawn illustrations, and rich research photography that traverses archaeological sites in Bogotá and the verdant jungles of the South American countryside,” writes James Balmont for AnOther Magazine. The Thai director tells Balmont that “as I travelled, I have had many imaginary films in my head. They are in this book.”

Writing for Filmmaker, Holly Willis calls Memoria “a beautiful, compelling, and meticulously designed book that sits in relation to the film of its title, but also offers a poignant experience all on its own.” Willis also reviews Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers: The Eye Behind the Lens, a collection of twenty-three interviews conducted by Jacqueline Frost with such camerapeople as Kirsten Johnson, Robert Elswit, Ed Lachman, Rachel Morrison, and the late Harris Savides. “At its best,” writes Willis, “the book is an invitation to peek into the personal reflections and lives of a group of DPs who have helped shape American cinema for the past three decades.”


Nick Davis’s Competing with Idiots: Herman and Joe Mankiewicz, a Dual Portrait is a “tasty combination of film history, family album, and psychological study,” writes Chris Vognar in the Los Angeles Times. Davis tells Vognar that he grew up being told that his grandfather, Herman, who cowrote Citizen Kane with Orson Welles, “wrote the greatest movie of all time,” while his great-uncle, Joseph, who wrote and directed such golden age classics as A Letter to Three Wives (1949) and All About Eve (1950) was also “responsible for the biggest disaster of all time,” Cleopatra (1963).

Herman, recently portrayed by Gary Oldman in David Fincher’s Mank, was a newspaperman through and through but also an aspiring novelist who for the most part considered screenwriting beneath him. He was in it for the cash that fed his gambling and drinking habits. “Herman resented [Joe] for playing the game and for taking the game seriously, for succeeding at the game,” says Davis. Over the years, Davis warmed up to Joe and his work—despite a traumatic episode he writes about at Literary Hub.

In 1958, Joe’s second wife, Rosa, killed herself. Joe sent his niece, Davis’s mother, to discover the body. “So was Joe trying to hurt his brother’s child that afternoon?” wonders Davis. “Was he still competing with the Herman in the back row of his imagination, the man who had regularly derided him as his ‘idiot brother’? Or did Joe’s behavior have nothing at all to do with Herman that afternoon? . . . Did my mother overreact?”

The title of Davis’s book is a reference to the ever-quotable telegram Herman sent from Hollywood to his friend and fellow reporter Ben Hecht in 1925: “Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.” Hecht came and wrote Underworld (1927) for Josef von Sternberg, The Front Page (1931) for Lewis Milestone, Scarface (1932) and Twentieth Century (1934) for Howard Hawks, and Spellbound (1945) and Notorious (1946) for Alfred Hitchcock. A Child of the Century, “Hecht’s long, episodic, sprawling, picaresque, sardonic, bawdy, unreliable, and intermittently riveting memoir, published in 1954, made a deep impression on me many years ago,” writes Geoffrey Wheatcroft in the London Review of Books. Drawing on Adina Hoffman’s Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures, Wheatcroft traces Hecht’s disturbing path toward militant Zionism.

In her latest Vanity Fair column, Hadley Hall Meares recommends Emily W. Leider’s 2003 biography Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino. Leider “painstakingly extracts the documented facts from a life story mired in myth,” writes Meares. “Despite her almost academic reserve, the drama and tragedy of Valentino’s brief life burst through the pages as Leider exposes Valentino as an imaginative, naïve dreamer thrust into a role he could not control.”


In her 1992 book Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, Carol J. Clover coined the going term for the lone female survivor of so many slasher movies: the “final girl.” “Typically white, sexually unavailable, averse to illicit behavior, and—this is key—masculinized in some way, by clothing, nickname, or appearance, the final girl survives the killer’s rampage because of her supposed moral superiority and uncorrupted purity,” writes Neil McRobert at Slate. The “greatest innovations in this traditionally cinematic narrative are taking place away from the screen, in fiction.” Two recent novels, Stephen Graham Jones’s My Heart Is a Chainsaw and Grady Hendrix’s The Final Girl Support Group, “move the conversation along, suturing together the irony of post-Scream slashers with an earnest—and moving—consideration of how the slasher narrative and its final girl can work in a culture newly awakened to the reality of male violence and female trauma.”


In the New Review of Film and Television Studies, Kyle Stevens tells Daniel Morgan, the author of The Lure of the Image: Epistemic Fantasies of the Moving Camera, that he “can’t remember the last time a book challenged our habits of reading film form so powerfully.” Morgan says that his primary argument is that “much of film theory—and, implicitly, film criticism as well—has been caught on the idea that we relate to the world of the film by identifying with the camera in some way or other. One of the arguments I’m trying to make by focusing on camera movements, the formal technique where this identification seems at its highest point, is that we relate to the world of the film—and to the film image—in different ways. Of course our relation to the film can be by way of the camera: I’m arguing that it need not be, and that it indeed often isn’t, so that the presumption that our engagement with the film supervenes on identification with the camera not only mistakes the terms of that relation but in so doing artificially limits how we understand what spectators are doing.”

Film International has posted an abridged version of Frank Krutnik’s introduction to Film, Cinema, Genre: The Steve Neale Reader, which Krutnik coedited with Richard Maltby. “Renowned for his groundbreaking work on genre, Neale has also made key interventions into other areas of film and media criticism,” writes Krutnik. “His work is unified not so much by theme as by method. Whatever he is writing about, and whether he is working within theoretical or historical paradigms, Neale’s writing is immediately identifiable by its precision, clarity, and rigor.” Also in Film International, Thomas Puhr writes that, in Ambiguity and Film Criticism: Reasonable Doubt, Hoi Lun Law “focuses on how a ‘plurality of meanings’ emerges from ‘a multitude of aesthetic concepts’: the mechanics of ambiguity, one might say.” Law’s essays are “a testament to the importance of active viewing.”


For the Notebook, Srikanth Srinivasan reviews Luc Moullet’s “endearing and very funny” Mémoires d’une savonnette indocile (Memoirs of an Unruly Bar of Soap). At eighteen, Moullet began writing for Cahiers du cinéma, and in his book, he offers a few “personal assessments of the other leading lights of the magazine,” such as Jacques Rivette (“the driving engine of the new criticism”) and Jean-Luc Godard (“he put everything into his work, nothing into his life”). Moullet began directing at twenty-three, and the “bulk of Mémoires is devoted to the discussion of each of his films.” Srinivasan notes that “it isn’t always clear if it’s the memoirist or the farceur in Moullet who is holding forth.”

In the late 1950s and early ’60s, Hayley Mills was a promising teenage actor enjoying success in such Disney films as Pollyanna (1960) and The Parent Trap (1961). In an excerpt at Literary Hub from her new memoir, Forever Young, Mills writes about the roles that her parents, actors John Mills and Mary Hayley Bell, and “Walt” refused to let her take on. Otto Preminger offered a handsome fee and an original Renoir if they’d let her appear in Exodus (1960). They didn’t. Walt blocked a role in William Wyler’s The Children’s Hour (1961). “Then came the most interesting offer of all,” writes Mills. But there was no way any of her guardians would allow her to play Lolita in Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film. “That was the one that hurt the most.”


Rashna Wadia Richards tells Bruno Guaraná in the new Film Quarterly that what she is trying to do in Cinematic TV: Serial Drama Goes to the Movies is “circumvent the discussion of ‘cinematic’ in relation to quality. Instead, what I’m most keen on is how (and, to a smaller extent, why) television resembles cinema. What I am doing is tracing the implications of D. N. Rodowick’s suggestion that the cinematic is the ‘predominant cultural and aesthetic model for engaging the vision and imagination of viewers.’ If that is the case, what kind of work is the contemporary serial drama doing in engaging with cinema?”

For Little Dot Studios, Lynsey Niven talks with Michael Leader and Jake Cunningham about Ghibliotheque: The Unofficial Guide to the Movies of Studio Ghibli, a book that has sprung from the podcast launched back in the summer of 2018 and still going strong. So, too, is John Bleasdale’s podcast, Writers on Film. A couple of weeks ago, Bleasdale spoke with Adam Nayman about his books on the Coen brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson. José Arroyo, who teaches at the University of Warwick, occasionally records a conversation, and most recently, he’s spoken with Ana María Sánchez-Arce about her new book, The Cinema of Pedro Almodóvar.

New and Forthcoming

Through Sunday, a series at Anthology Film Archives is celebrating the publication of Alan Licht’s Common Tones: Selected Interviews with Artists and Musicians 1995–2020. Over the years, the writer, musician, and curator has spoken with Kelly Reichardt, Michael Snow, Rudy Wurlitzer, Tony Conrad, Ken Jacobs, Lou Reed, and many, many more singular figures.

The Film Desk has been working on two major titles. Sally Shafto’s translation of Jean-Michel Frodon’s The World of Jia Zhangke—a fine companion to our program of eight films by the Chinese director on the Criterion Channel—is out now. At the end of October, the Film Desk will release a newly restored edition of Amos Vogel’s groundbreaking 1974 book Film as a Subversive Art.

October also sees the release of Ian Nathan’s Guillermo del Toro: The Iconic Filmmaker and His Work. Then, in June, Michael Hofmann’s translation of Werner Herzog’s first novel arrives. The Twilight World reimagines the story of Hiroo Onoda, the real-life Japanese soldier who carried on fighting the Second World War until 1974—alone, on a small island in the Philippines.

For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.

You have no items in your shopping cart