January Books

Orson Welles on the set of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s La ricotta (1962)

Let’s open this month’s overview of new and noteworthy books with a couple of newly revised editions. First up, Wellesnet’s Ray Kelly talks with Joseph McBride about the updated edition of his 2006 book What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? A Portrait of an Independent Career. 

“The biggest misconception about him professionally, and it’s a damaging and still unfortunately widespread one, is that he was a profligate filmmaker who wasted money and couldn’t finish his films,” says McBride. “Charlton Heston, who starred in Touch of Evil, said Welles was the most efficient director he ever worked with, and I witnessed that for five years while working on The Other Side of the Wind. The reasons he had trouble completing films were many, mostly having to do with the quality we value him for today, his independence, using mostly his own money to make films the way he wanted and without interference. That is not the commercial way to make films in the U.S., and as Jean Renoir put it, Welles was an aristocrat working in a popular medium.”

Twenty years ago, Eddie Muller wrote Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, and now, having completed an expanded edition, he tells Zoe Kurland at Film International that he’s found that “it’s just as cogent, even more so today because politically we are right back there, right with the exact same dynamics that were happening in the late forties and early fifties, the exact same break is happening in American culture. These films actually still resonate.”


The title of Henry K. Miller’s new book, The First True Hitchcock: The Making of a Filmmaker, comes from Alfred Hitchcock himself. Talking to François Truffaut about his third feature, The Lodger (1927), the silent thriller starring Ivor Novello as a mysterious man who may or may not be Jack the Ripper and June Tripp as the woman who falls for him, the director said it was “the first true Hitchcock movie.” In an excerpt from the book, Miller tells the story of the shooting of a scene that called for Tripp to carry an iron tray of breakfast dishes up a long flight of stairs. She must have done it twenty times despite the pangs of pain around a scar where she’d had her appendix removed. “Within weeks June was at death’s door,” writes Miller. She pulled through, though, and went on to narrate Jean Renoir’s The River (1951) and publish a memoir, The Glass Ladder (1960), before she passed away in 1985 at the age of eighty-three.

Miller, by the way, working with Rachel Garfield, has coedited DWOSKINO: The Gaze of Stephen Dwoskin, a new collection gathering texts on the filmmaker’s work by Laura Mulvey, Raymond Bellour, Raymond Durgnat, and Dwoskin himself.

Glenn Frankel, whose most recent book is Shooting Midnight Cowboy, notes in the Washington Post that the making of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972) is “a story that’s been told, retold, psychoanalyzed, and strip-mined for leftovers.” So “do we really need to read again how Brando dyed his ponytail with black shoe polish, stuffed his cheeks with cotton balls and lowered his voice two octaves for the screen test that got him the starring role? Mark Seal, a longtime movie writer for Vanity Fair, clearly believes we do. And after resisting the idea as long as I could, I have to confess that his book, even with the inside-joke title of Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli (an improvised line in the movie), captured me with its joyful energy, extensive research, and breathless enthusiasm.”

In the Los Angeles Review of Books, screenwriter and producer John Romano reviews Phil Rosenzweig’s “absorbing new book about a screenwriter and his movie,” Reginald Rose and the Journey of 12 Angry Men, and discusses the original teleplay, the first “Golden Age of Television,” and Sidney Lumet’s 1957 debut feature. “If ever there were a movie to jolt you, assuming real-life events haven’t already done so, into a critical engagement with the pros and cons of our justice system, particularly as pertains to juries, it’s this movie,” writes Romano.

Writing for Air Mail, Sam Kashner recommends Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa’s Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of The Sopranos and then looks back to 2012, when, for Vanity Fair, he put together his own oral history of the classic series that launched the era of prestige television. There’s a nice passage here about the late Peter Bogdanovich, who not only played Dr. Elliot Kupferberg, but also directed the sixth episode of the fifth season, Sentimental Education. Denise Kelly, the wife of Sopranos creator David Chase, told Kashner that “Peter was like a Saint Christopher medal that made David feel he was safely headed in the right direction.”

Singular Figures

Introducing their 2018 book The Cinema of Nuri Bilge Ceylan: The Global Vision of a Turkish Filmmaker, Bülent Diken, Graeme Gilloch, and Craig Hammond argue that Ceylan is “one of the most original and provocative filmmakers of the twenty-first century,” so it’s “curious” that “to date there has been relatively little attempt by film and media scholars to explore the highly distinctive style, mood, and thematic preoccupations of his films. This book seeks to remedy this unaccountable omission.” Writing for the LARB, Kaya Genç doesn’t exactly review the book, but rather, uses it as an occasion to offer his own terrifically succinct primer on Turkish cinema and Ceylan’s oeuvre.

Jonas Mekas, the filmmaker, poet, Village Voice columnist, and cofounder of Film Culture and Anthology Film Archives, was born on Christmas Eve in 1922. Jonas Mekas 100! is a yearlong celebration, a program of more than fifty events taking place around the world, and the screenings, exhibitions, and workshops are just the beginning. In AnOther Magazine, Orla Brennan notes that before he died in 2019, Mekas “secretly organized several book projects to be published after his death. The most recent of these, Letters Home, is perhaps the most personal of them all—a collection of handwritten letters the filmmaker and his brother Adolfas Mekas sent from America to their mother in Lithuania . . . For curator and writer Hans Ulrich Obrist, the book highlights the special relationship between writing and memory, as well as offering an insight into the diaristic film style Mekas became famous for.”

Writing for Socrates on the Beach, Sean Hooks draws parallels between A. S. Byatt’s 1990 novel Possession and the films of Terrence Malick. “Fomented in these two artists is a fascinating simultaneity of the foreign and the familiar, a meld of the tangible and the evanescent,” writes Hooks. “The world is viewed with curiosity, with an inextinguishable amazement. Possession’s varied dualities consistently ring Malickian chimes.”

Reviewing The Films of Albert Brooks, a “fantastic” collection of essays edited by Christian B. Long, Thomas Puhr, writing for Film International, notes that contributors collectively “consider three distinct (but intertwining) facets of his career: his idiosyncratic, trailblazing work as a standup comedian and late-night staple; his efforts behind the camera; and his continuing position as a public figure, one which has come to emblematize everything funny and problematic about the Boomer generation.”

Matthew Specktor’s Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California is “a fabulous book, beautiful, generous, somber, and wise,” writes David Thomson in the London Review of Books before walking us through chapters on Tuesday Weld, screenwriters Eleanor Perry and Carole Eastman, and directors Hal Ashby and Michael Cimino.


For the LARB, Holly Willis talks with Annabel Brady-Brown and Giovanni Marchini Camia, the founders of Fireflies Press, the publishing house behind six smartly designed issues of Fireflies Magazine; Memoria, the endlessly browsable book about the making of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s latest feature; and Decadent Editions, a series ten books about ten films, one for every year of the aughts.

In Goodbye, Dragon Inn, his book on Tsai Ming-liang’s 2003 film, Nick Pinkerton “considers a surfeit of motifs, from cruising, porn, and the erotics of the cinema to Tsai’s editing and his relationship to the artworld,” writes Willis. “What results is not only a cinephile’s dream resource for a film, but an elegiac testimony to a film’s ability to signal its moment, or rather, to foretell what is to come in the future.” With Ten Skies, a study of James Benning’s 2004 film, Erika Balsom “crafts a sequence of connected essays that discuss each shot of the film, but with a thrilling expansiveness and intentionally meandering style.” And Melissa Anderson “adopts the concept of ‘acteurism,’ a term borrowed from film critic Dave Kehr to refer to the ways in which certain actors become key points of signification marked by their sheer presence and consistency across a body of work,” in her book on David Lynch’s Inland Empire (2006).

For the New Republic, Alex Shephard talks with Adam Nayman about his new book, David Fincher: Mind Games. “I’m of the mind that brevity is where you get the sense of where an artist comes from,” says Nayman. “People have asked me, ‘What’s your favorite Fincher?’ The macro answer is obviously Zodiac. On a micro-level, you could argue that his whole career is distillable to, and does not improve upon, the Smoking Fetus PSA.

Nayman’s previous book is Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks (2020), and Hunter Harris gets him to set the two directors side by side. Twenty-odd years ago, “Anderson was so volatile and mercurial and seemed out of control; Fincher seemed completely in control,” says Nayman. “He was gonna be the new Kubrick because Fight Club is definitely the millennial Clockwork Orange. Now, much later, Anderson is the one who really seems to represent the peak of American directing. He has an affection and critical respect that Fincher's still kind of fighting for.”

On the latest episode of his Writers on Film podcast, John Bleasdale talks with Noah Isenberg about his 2017 book We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Film. Reviewing the book for the New York Times, Peter Biskind called it “a treasure trove of facts and anecdotes.”


At the Playlist, Jason Bailey recommends three books coming out in the next few weeks. Dana Stevens’s Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century is “a runaway train of a volume, energetic and joyful, bursting not only with historical and biographical context, but with the author’s palpable love of the subject. Her joy is infectious.” Next Thursday at Film at Lincoln Center, Stevens will talk about the book with Imogen Sara Smith before screenings of One Week (1920) and Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), and on January 29, Stevens will host an evening of Keaton shorts at the Museum of the Moving Image.

Isaac Butler’s The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act tracks “not only the history of Method acting, but of theater and television in their golden eras,” writes Bailey, adding that “this is an exhaustively researched and meticulously sourced volume, yet it never crushes under the weight of its material.” Written in a style that is “both thoughtfully analytical and breezily conversational,” Keith Phipps’s forthcoming book on Nicolas Cage, Age of Cage: Four Decades of Hollywood Through One Singular Career, is “a survey of a career that has often been defined by friction, counterintuitive instincts, and purposeful subversion, to say nothing of earth-shifting changes in the industry.”

Michael Mann has posted a teaser for Heat 2, the novel he’s written with Meg Gardiner that’s both a prequel and a sequel to his 1995 film starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. “It’s been my intention for a long time to do the further stories of Heat,” Mann tells Deadline’s Mike Fleming, Jr. “There was always a rich history or back-story about the events in these people’s lives before 1995 in Heat and projection of where their lives would take them after.”

Further Reading

Theresa L. Geller’s introduction to Reframing Todd Haynes: Feminism’s Indelible Mark, a collection edited by Geller and Julia Leyda, is freely available, and Literary Hub is running excerpts from Robert Gottlieb’s biography Garbo and Mel Brooks’s memoir All About Me! Critics J. M. Tyree and Morgan Meis have been corresponding throughout the pandemic and the result is Wonder, Horror, Mystery: Letters on Cinema and Religion in Malick, Von Trier, and Kieślowski, a volume that’s available as a free download from Punctum Books.

For further recommendations, see the Chicago Film Society and the always-outstanding seasonal roundup for Sabzian from Ruben Demasure.

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

You have no items in your shopping cart