October Books

Gloria Swanson in 1921

From 2016 until last year, the Close-Up Film Centre in London hosted the Liberated Film Club. Artist, filmmaker, and curator Stanley Schtinter would select a work from his collection of “lost, suppressed, and impossible” titles, and neither the audience nor the person introducing the screening would know which film they were about to see until the lights went down. Schtinter has gathered transcriptions and specially commissioned artworks and texts from over two dozen contributors—including John Akomfrah, Dennis Cooper, Laura Mulvey, Chris Petit, Ben Rivers, Astra Taylor, and Athina Tsangari—for the first title in this month’s roundup on new and noteworthy books: The Liberated Film Club, the second publication from Tenement Press.

Writing about the club in this summer’s issue of Sight & Sound, Matilda Munro observed that “Schtinter answered what he saw to be a serious need for an open void for audiences to jump into.” “And,” writes Jonathan Rosenbaum at Screen Slate, “as Jean-Luc Godard once observed in a different context, reviewing Jacques Becker’s Montparnasse 19 (1958), ‘He who leaps into the void owes no explanation to those who watch.’ Maybe Godard was poetically or metaphysically right, but the very existence of both this book and this review refutes his premise by offering a veritable slew of explanations, no two of which are alike.”

Two events at separate venues in London will launch the book on Saturday. In the afternoon, children will read manifestos on cinema—including texts by Werner Herzog, Peggy Ahwesh, Jean-Marie Straub, Yvonne Rainer, and Pope Pius XI—at LUX. Then in the evening, Schtinter will introduce a screening of György Fehér’s Twilight (1990), adapted from Friedrich Durrenmatt’s “furious ‘corrective’ of his maltreated screenplay” for Ladislao Vajda’s It Happened in Broad Daylight (1958), at Close-Up.

Big Pictures

Wil Haygood’s Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World “plays out against the backdrop of American history, from the Scottsboro Boys and the Tuskegee Airmen through Rodney King, Clarence Thomas, Barack Obama, and Black Lives Matter,” writes Dwight Garner in the New York Times. “This is sweeping history, but in Haygood’s hands it feels crisp, urgent, and pared down. He doesn’t try to be encyclopedic. He takes a story he needs, tells it well, and ties it to the next one. He carries you along on dispassionate analysis and often novelistic detail.”

Jurij Meden, a curator at the Austrian Film Museum, is “one of the stalwart last defenders of a certain kind of film exhibition, one that scrupulously acknowledges the limitations (and privilege) of asserting and defending the need for 35 mm projections as a shared cultural experience while also still going to great lengths to defend it from extinction,” writes Christopher Small in the Notebook. Meden’s Scratches and Glitches: Observations on Preserving and Exhibiting Cinema in the Early 21st Century is “presented as a series of short reflections—anecdotes, passing reflections, rather than ‘chapters’ in the academic sense—that bear superb, wiggly titles like ‘The Subterranean Strata of the Film Economy or In Praise of the Celestial Cinematheque,’” writes Adrian Martin for Ubiquarian. “It is rare to encounter a book that is at once so charged and so concise, so free and so exact.”

The Classic Era

Revisiting Gloria Swanson’s “highly enjoyable and slyly catty” 1980 autobiography Swanson on Swanson in Vanity Fair, Hadley Hall Meares walks us through “a vivid picture of the sordid early days of Hollywood,” Swanson’s disdain for Charlie Chaplin, her brief and terrible marriage to Wallace Beery, her being “raised out of the slapstick muck” by Cecil B. DeMille, her fling with Joe Kennedy, and her comeback in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950). “I had a huge specter in the spotlight with me,” wrote Swanson. “She was about ten feet tall, and her name was Norma Desmond.”

Reviewing 20th Century-Fox: Darryl F. Zanuck and the Creation of the Modern Film Studio for the Wall Street Journal, Farran Smith Nehme observes that Scott Eyman is “particularly good at balancing the extremes of the Zanuck temperament . . . Admired for his genius and loathed for his egotistical and at times vindictive style, Zanuck supplies no shortage of anecdotes.”

Chapter by chapter, Srikanth Srinivasan has begun rolling out his fifth translation of a book by Luc Moullet. Le rebelle de King Vidor (King Vidor’s The Fountainhead, 2009) is a deep dive into the 1949 adaptation of Ayn Rand’s 750-page ode to individualism. “It is astonishing to see that an ambitious novel, but of mediocre quality, and adapted by its author, can turn into a brilliant film,” writes Moullet.

Sixties and Seventies

“Porn and Its Uses” is the theme of the new issue of Synoptique, and among the thirteen books reviewed is Elena Gorfinkel’s Lewd Looks: American Sexploitation Cinema in the 60s. “Researching outside the acceptable framework often means writing hidden histories in the absence of dedicated archives, working with fragmentary paper trails, rummaging through personal film collections or video rentals, and dealing with what Gorfinkel calls the ‘lack of a legacy or a sense of historicity,’” writes Vibhushan Subba. “Under such circumstances it becomes increasingly difficult to put together a historical account, yet this is precisely where Lewd Looks excels.”

In Still Life: Notes on Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970), Anna Backman Rogers “demonstrates how the film is not only speaking to a bevy of cult fans,” writes Holly Willis for Filmmaker, “nor is it simply an iconic emblem of the past; it is instead a prescient alarm for the present.” Rogers “sees and celebrates Barbara Loden’s brilliance and quiet ferocity, and, as in the best examples of autotheory, deftly integrates personal experience with philosophical inquiry. More importantly, Rogers meets Loden’s powerful drive to represent a woman’s experience with her own equally searing indictment of American myths.”

Vanity Fair is running an excerpt from Mark Seal’s Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of The Godfather. The battles between Francis Ford Coppola and Paramount head Robert Evans over the casting of Vito and Michael Corleone have been extensively chronicled, and we’ll see them played out again in the forthcoming Paramount+ limited series, The Offer. In the excerpt, Seal focuses on Marlon Brando’s preparation to read for the role of the Don, having overcome his initial resistance to the idea of taking part in a project that might glorify the Mafia.

Brando had his “secretary and all-purpose assistant,” Alice Marchak, look over a set of photos of real-life gangsters with him. Seal notes that they’d been “taken in everyday locations: ‘on the street, in cars, in restaurants,’ Marchak wrote [in her 2008 memoir, Me and Marlon]. They were struck by how unremarkable the Mob bosses looked. ‘After we had gone through the stack a few times, we concluded the Don should be an ordinary-looking man you passed on the street,’ Marchak continued. That’s when Brando stumbled on ‘the germ of the idea.’ He would start with how he himself might look when he aged and build the character from there. And with that, according to Marchak, ‘Marlon morphed into the Don.’”

John Bleasdale talks with Sam Wasson about his latest book, The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood. “My obsession was never with the movie,” says Wasson. “My obsession is more with the system that created Chinatown—Los Angeles, as a place in the public imagination. I’m a native Angeleno. I’m proud of this city, and I’ve always been fascinated with the American view of this city, and in large part, how wrong it is . . . Finally, it was Trump winning the election that set me into a real contemplative spiral: Where are we? What is this? Chinatown became my metaphoric frame of reference for the world we were living in.”

Lives in Crime

Vulture is running two excerpts from James Andrew Miller’s Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers, both of which focus on The Sopranos, and more specifically, on James Gandolfini. His “complex, nuanced, and inspired” performance as Tony Soprano, the head of a crime family, “demonstrated remarkable range, not just over the course of the series, or any one episode, but often within a scene, a confrontation, even a single moment, that seemed to transcend mere ‘acting.’ No matter how despicable Tony’s behavior appeared on the surface, Gandolfini was so persuasive and affecting . . . that the audience never turned his back on him.” But connecting “with his darkest side” over such a prolonged period—the series ran to eighty-six episodes over six seasons—took its toll. “He lamented several times, ‘You don’t understand what this is doing to me.’”

David Bordwell has been working on a book currently titled Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and the Poetics of Murder. In a new blog entry exploring the style and structure of two crime novels—Richard Wright’s The Man Who Lived Underground, written between Native Son (1940) and Black Boy (1945), and Colson Whitehead’s new novel, Harlem Shuffle—Bordwell notes that a “robust storytelling tradition forges its own tradition of craftsmanship, and that tradition is open to borrowing from anyone. Of course we cinephiles have known about this possibility for a long time.”


Last month,Some Collages, a collection of artworks by Jim Jarmusch, had just come out, and here, we need to mention that many of them are now on view at James Fuentes in New York through October 31. Jarmusch—at Hyperallergic, Sarah Rose Sharp calls him “the maestro of casual dystopia”—talks to Max Lakin in the New York Times about the collages he has been making for the past twenty years. “The interesting thing about them is they reveal to me that my process of creating things is very similar, whether I’m writing a script or shooting a film or making a piece of music or writing a poem or making a collage,” he says. “I gather the elements from which I will make the thing first. Like, shooting a film is just gathering the material from which you will edit the film, you know? The collages reduce it to the most minimal form of that procedure.”

July’s roundup opened with Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a retelling of the stories of television actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double, Cliff Booth, with 1969 Los Angeles as a backdrop. “This is not a proper novel,” writes Scott Tobias in the Reveal. “It is only occasionally a novelization. And if you were to read it without any knowledge of the film, it wouldn’t be illegible, but it never behaves like a story its reader is encountering for the first time. The book is perhaps best likened to the supplemental material on an album reissue—B-sides, extended takes, alternative recordings, and songs that didn’t make the cut at all.”

In the new Cinema Scope, Adam Nayman suggests that “the sullen, self-destructive, know-it-all Cliff isn’t Tarantino’s only mirror: Rick’s arc comes to stand in for a different and more endearing form of self-knowledge, one shot through with a current of gratitude. It’s a stretch to call this quality humility, such as it is; we never forget that this is a titan moonlighting. But even if, at its core, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is little more than history written by a winner—a victory lap by a scribe forever turning curlicues on his home turf—at least the author proves gracious and even humane in victory.”

New and Forthcoming

Every film Mike Leigh has ever made, including the dramas he directed for the BBC anthology series Play for Today, will screen in London as part of a comprehensive BFI season running through November 30. Faber has just released a new edition of Mike Leigh on Mike Leigh, a collection of interviews edited by Amy Raphael that now includes Leigh’s reflections on Mr. Turner (2014) and Peterloo (2018). “In person,” writes Zoe Williams in the Guardian, “he is so warm and curious that, even though it’s true about his unsparing nature, you don’t really feel unspared; it wasn’t until I read back the interview transcript that I realized how often I got told off. I wonder if the success and originality of his method, going to the brink of an actor’s mind for the intuitively truest line, might be rooted in this: people who can be frank in an affectionate way can say almost anything.”

Craig Baldwin: Avant to Live!, a collaboration between San Francisco Cinematheque and INCITE: Journal of Experimental Media devoted to the work of the filmmaker and curator, should be out soon. Edited by Brett Kashmere and Steve Polta, the collection will include contributions from Stephen Broomer, Manohla Dargis, Max Goldberg, Sam Green, Mike Hoolboom, Rick Prelinger, Lynne Sachs, and Baldwin himself.

Moments of Perception: Experimental Film in Canada, which pairs Michael Zryd’s essay on the history of the movement with profiles of key filmmakers by Stephen Broomer and editors Jim Shedden and Barbara Sternberg, will be out on November 16. December 7 sees the release of Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley: The Rise and Fall of Stanton Carlisle, Gina McIntyre’s book on the making of the film that will open ten days later.

Matt Singer has announced that he will be spending the next “few years” working on Opposable Thumbs: The Story of Siskel and Ebert. While you wait, you can listen to Gene and Roger, the podcast series that the Ringer produced over the summer. Aisha Harris, in the meantime—she’s a cohost of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour and a frequent contributor to Slate—is working on Wannabe: Figuring Out a Life through Pop Culture.

Finally for now, for more on new and forthcoming titles, see the latest invaluable seasonal roundup from Ruben Demasure at Sabzian.

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