May Books

Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal in David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007)

As we did in March, we begin this month’s roundup on noteworthy books with news of forthcoming titles. May 23 will see the release of The Afterimage Reader, an anthology from the Visible Press, an independent imprint that has brought us collections of writings by filmmakers Gregory J. Markopoulos and Thom Andersen. Between 1970 and 1987, the British journal Afterimage published thirteen issues, and the Reader includes contributions from filmmakers (Jean Epstein, Jean-Luc Godard, Derek Jarman) and scholars (Noël Burch, B. Ruby Rich, Peter Wollen) as well as interviews (Hollis Frampton, Raúl Ruiz). The book features a foreword by Simon Field, a producer who has worked closely with Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and an afterword by film historian Ian Christie—both Field and Christie were coeditors and publishers of Afterimage.

Moving on to June 7—and a sequel. Alexander Payne’s Election (1999) gave us Reese Witherspoon’s indelible performance as Tracy Flick, an overachieving high schooler running for student body president. Election is an adaptation Tom Perrotta’s second novel—the rights had been snapped up two years before it was published—and now, Perrotta has written Tracy Flick Can’t Win, a novel set about twenty years after that fateful election. “The new book is harsher than the earlier one, reflecting the uglier tenor of our times,” writes Judith Shulevitz in the Atlantic.Tracy Flick Can’t Win is frankly didactic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Satire has always had an admonitory function, and besides, some people are so obnoxious that a writer has to slow-walk the reader through their awfulness. Plus, Perrotta has what it takes to revisit the past without being predictable.”

Back in 2020, when the world shut down, Werner Herzog spent his time in quarantine finishing two documentaries—The Fire Within: A Requiem for Katia and Maurice Krafft, a tribute to the French volcanologists who are also the subjects of Sara Dosa’s Fire of Love; and Theater of Thought, which delves into neurotechnology and artificial intelligence—and writing two books. The Twilight World will be out on June 14. It’s a partially fictionalized retelling of the story of Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese lieutenant who carried on fighting the Second World War alone on Lubang Island in the Philippines decades after Japan surrendered. Herzog tells Michael LaPointe in the New Yorker that the second book is “some sort of memoir, but not in terms of an autobiography. Only part of it is about my life. It’s really about the origins of ideas.”

Kyle Stevens, who edits theNew Review of Film and Television Studies, is currently working on The Oxford Handbook of Film Theory, which should be out in the late summer or fall. Stevens has given us a sneak peek at the table of contents, which teases essays by Tom Gunning, Maggie Hennefeld, Noah Isenberg, David Gerstner, Adrian Martin, and more than two dozen further contributors.

January will bring Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and the Poetics of Murder, the new book from David Bordwell, who suggests that it turns his previous book, Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Changed Movie Storytelling, “inside out. The earlier book put movies at the center while showing how filmmakers borrowed from mysteries in other media. The new one puts fiction, theater, radio, and even comic books at the center, discussing how mystery conventions developed–and showed up in films as well. The two books complement each other, I guess, although the historical sweep of the new one runs from the 1910s to the present.”

Sofia Coppola: Interviews, a collection edited by Amy N. Monaghan, will arrive in February, and while we wait, we’ll have Hannah Strong’s Sofia Coppola: Forever Young,which will be released tomorrow. On the latest episode of The Cinematologists, Neil Fox talks with Strong about Coppola’s career and signature style as well as Strong’s deeply personal connection to her work.

Hong Sangsoo and Tale of Cinema

With the Hong Sangsoo retrospective that wrapped at Film at Lincoln Center last week, Dennis Lim has ended his outstanding run as FLC’s year-round programmer. As the series wound down, he took part in a live conversation about his new book, Tale of Cinema, taking questions from Film Comment contributors about Hong’s 2005 film and the oeuvre overall. The magazine has posted an excerpt in which Lim writes that with the retrospective—and by extension, the book—he “hoped that it would at minimum convey two things about Hong’s work—firstly, that its meaning and pleasures are cumulative (a single movie gives little sense of his project), and secondly, that his is an unfixed body of work, prismatic and modular.”

Hong took part in four Q&As during the retrospective, and the New Yorker has published an edited transcript of the final talk in which Lim asked Hong about the classes he teaches, why he left the theater for filmmaking, his love for the work of Cézanne and Bresson, and the impossibility of grasping reality with language. “Life, phenomena, whatever—it’s always a billion times more complex and mysterious than anything we come up with in a logical sentence,” says Hong. Retrospective attendees and Fireflies Press subscribers already have their copies, but Tale of Cinema will arrive in bookstores in August. Reviewing this latest volume in Fireflies’ series of Decadent Editions, Chuck Bowen writes at Slant that “Lim shares with Hong an exacting imagination that’s both erudite and tactile.”

Three Poets

In 1963, poet Forugh Farrokhzad completed her documentary shot at a rural leper colony, The House Is Black, “presaging in twenty-two minutes the entirety of the Iranian new wave and the international quasi-genre of ‘poetic nonfiction,’” as Michael Atkinson wrote in the Village Voice in 2005. He also notes that Abbas Kiarostami’s The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) “owes its title and climactic verse to Farrokhzad.” Let Us Believe in the Beginning of the Cold Season is a new collection of Farrokhzad’s poetry translated by Elizabeth T. Gray Jr. “Choosing a representative sample of forty poems, Gray has made stark, astringent, and visually striking versions that sit comfortably in their new language, as few earlier attempts have,” writes Ratik Asokan at 4Columns.

Peter Bouscheljong has posted an excerpt from the 2018 translation of Georges Didi-Huberman’s 2009 book Survival of the Fireflies in which the scholar traces the trajectory of an idea from hope to despair through two writings by Pier Paolo Pasolini, a 1941 letter and a 1975 article entitled “Disappearance of the Fireflies.” “It’s necessary to understand,” wrote Didi-Huberman, “that the improbable, minuscule splendor of fireflies, in Pasolini’s eyes—eyes skilled in the contemplation of a face or the selection of just the right movements of his friends’ and actors’ bodies—is a metaphor for nothing other than humanity in its essence, humanity reduced to the simplest of its powers: to send us a sign in the night.”

In an excerpt from Keats: A Brief Life in Nine Poems and One Epitaph up at Literary Hub, Lucasta Miller writes an appreciation of Bright Star (2009), in which Ben Whishaw plays the poet and Abbie Cornish portrays Fanny Brawne, the young woman he fell in love with. The film is “right to champion Fanny as more than a shallow flirt and its visual beauty is to die for,” writes Miller. “But even Jane Campion’s uniquely exquisite filmic imagination can’t in the end register the full literary, historico-cultural or psychological complexity of Keats.”

Four Filmmakers

A clip lasting less than two seconds from Roundhay Garden Scene (1888) is the sole surviving record of what many regard to be the first motion picture ever made. It was shot in England by the Frenchman Louis Le Prince, and Paul Fischer tells his story in The Man Who Invented Motion Pictures: A True Tale of Obsession, Murder, and the Movies. “And as the subtitle breathlessly implies,” writes Leah Greenblatt in the New York Times, “there will be blood—‘a ghost story, a family saga, and an unsolved mystery’—unfurled with all the cliffhangers and red herrings of a scripted melodrama.”

Billy Wilder was a feisty newspaperman in Vienna and Berlin before he emigrated to Hollywood, and he “never fully let go of either the pleasure or the pain of his cultural heritage,” writes Noah Isenberg in the Nation. Reviewing Billy Wilder: Dancing on the Edge, Isenberg notes that prolific author Joseph McBride is “especially keen on retiring the once pervasive idea of Wilder as a cynic. To that end, he recasts him as ‘a closet romantic beneath his veneer of hard-boiled realism’—an argument that he returns to several times throughout the book—declaring it to be the filmmaker’s dominant narrative tone and existential mode.”

Reviewing Cimino: The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate, and the Price of a Vision for Air Mail, Bruce Handy finds that Charles Elton “has ably sifted through the lies, evasions, busted budgets, broken friendships, damaged careers, and lurid press clips that the filmmaker left in his wake across his quarter century in Hollywood. The result is riveting, and yet the protagonist remains frustratingly opaque, not unlike his two biggest pictures.”

For Bright Lights Film Journal, Thomas Puhr reviews David Fincher’s Zodiac: Cinema of Investigation and (Mis)Interpretation, a collection edited by Matthew Sorrento and David Ryan. Puhr suggests that what makes Zodiac (2007) “so alluring is its unique position as a literary adaptation, a piece of narrative nonfiction (one based on a still-unsolved case, no less), a self-reflective critique of news and multimedia, and a relatively early exemplar of what digital cameras can do in the right hands. The book mines these and many other critical avenues—from game theory, to death metal—with somewhat inconsistent, but never dull, results.”


On the New York Times’s Still Processing podcast, Wesley Morris and Isaac Butler, the author of The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act, play audio clips of some of their favorite moments of method acting in contemporary cinema. Morris also talks with Alex Pappademas about his new book, Keanu Reeves: Most Triumphant: The Movies and Meaning of an Irrepressible Icon, and about how the actor tends to play characters that start out as empty vessels that need filling up or filling in.

Mark Rozzo joins Air Mail editors Ashley Baker and Michael Hainey to chat about Everybody Thought We Were Crazy: Dennis Hopper, Brooke Hayward, and 1960s Los Angeles. Hopper and Hayward, the daughter of producer Leland Hayward and actress Margaret Sullavan, married in 1961, collected art, and raised three children in a house that reminded Andy Warhol of an amusement park. The marriage fell apart eight years later when Hopper set out on the drug-fueled journey that led to the making of Easy Rider (1969). “Rozzo makes each world, each character, and each reality both shocking and believable, both ridiculous and sublime,” writes Meredith Maran in the Washington Post. Literary Hub, the New Yorker, and Vanity Fair are running excerpts from the book.

Recent episodes of John Bleasdale’s Writers on Film podcast include conversations with Michel Ciment, the editor of Positif and the author of books on Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, Jane Campion, and Fritz Lang; Leon Hunt, whose latest book is Mario Bava: The Artisan as Italian Horror Auteur;George Stevens Jr., who also talks with Projection Booth host Mike White about My Place in the Sun: Life in the Golden Age of Hollywood and Washington;Matthew Page, whose contribution to the series of BFI Film Guides is 100 Bible Films; and Keith Phipps, whose first book is Age of Cage: Four Decades of Hollywood Through One Singular Career. Phipps has also recently joined Slate’s Dana Stevens to discuss Tom Gormican’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, in which Nicolas Cage plays Nick Cage.

For further recommendations, see Christopher Schobert’s latest roundup at the Film Stage. You’ll find Age of Cage right at the top.

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