August Books

Josephine Baker

With its latest newsletter, the New York Review of Books launches a series showcasing writing on cinema that has appeared in the pages of the NYRB, beginning with Robert Brustein’s 1964 review of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and spanning nearly six decades to Simon Callow’s piece in the current issue on Isaac Butler’s The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act. From Susan Sontag on Leni Riefenstahl to Alberto Moravia on Federico Fellini, Elizabeth Hardwick on Gimme Shelter (1970), and Ellen Willis on Easy Rider (1969), this is a rich source of suggestions for late summer reading, and we look forward to future guides.

This month also finds us anticipating a good number of forthcoming books. Paul Cronin, who has made a series of excellent documentaries on Amos Vogel, Haskell Wexler, and Peter Whitehead, has also edited collections of writing on Vogel, Abbas Kiarostami, and Alexander Mackendrick and collected his conversations with Werner Herzog in A Guide for the Perplexed (2014). Cronin is currently working on another Herzog project due next year as well as a monograph on director Paul Williams (Out of It, The Revolutionary), whose own memoir, Harvard, Hollywood, Hitmen, and Holy Men, will be out in February.

Critic Joseph Gelmis’s The Film Director as Superstar, a 1970 collection of interviews with sixteen filmmakers including Kubrick, John Cassavetes, Francis Ford Coppola, and Miloš Forman, will soon be reissued with a new introduction by Steven Soderbergh. Cronin and Gelmis are collaborating on a book project to mark the occasion, Recognizing Excellence: Interviews, Reviews and Articles, 1964–1993.

Next month will see the release of The Cinema House and the World: The Cahiers du Cinema Years, 1962–1981, a collection of writing by the renowned critic Serge Daney translated by Christine Pichini and introduced by A. S. Hamrah. September will also bring Over Time, a book from artists and filmmakers James Benning and Sharon Lockhart that pairs images with what publisher Inventory Press describes as “a collaborative, almost stream-of-consciousness text.”

In November, City Lights will publish Lady Director: Adventures in Hollywood, Television and Beyond, a memoir from Joyce Chopra, who started out making documentaries before directing her first fictional feature. Smooth Talk (1985) gave us a breakout performance from a young Laura Dern and The Lemon Sisters (1990) focuses on three lifelong friends played by Diane Keaton, Carol Kane, and Kathryn Grody.

Adam Hart, the author of Monstrous Forms: Moving Image Horror Across Media, is currently at work on two new books, Raising the Dead: The Work of George A. Romero and The Living Camera: The History, Theory, and Politics of Handheld Cinematography. Both should be out next year from Oxford University Press.

Three Remarkable Women

The extraordinary life stories of three women are told in the past couple of issues of the New Yorker. Damien Lewis’s deeply researched Agent Josephine: American Beauty, French Hero, British Spy gives Lauren Michele Jackson an opportunity to retrace the path of dancer, singer, and all-round entertainer Josephine Baker from a poor neighborhood in St. Louis to her early triumphs on Broadway before she left the States for Paris. She took France, and by extension, all of Europe by storm in the 1920s, all the while remaining “at once inescapable and elusive,” as Jackson puts it. “The shifting myth was mirrored in the ethnic promiscuity of her on-screen roles: the tropical daughter of a colonial official, possibly Spanish, in La sirène des tropiques (1927), a Tunisian Eliza Doolittle, in Princesse Tam-Tam (1935).” When the Nazis came marching in, she became “a spy in the most literal sense. There was, after all, little that La Bakaire didn’t understand about resistance.”

Kristin Marguerite Doidge’s Nora Ephron: A Biography is “warm, dutiful, and at times illuminating,” writes Rachel Syme. “It’s also, I’m sorry to say, often bland, and deeply in thrall to Ephron mythologies: the plucky gal Friday who worked her way from the Newsweek typing pool to a sprawling apartment in the Apthorp, the jilted wife who got her revenge in the pages of a soapy novel, the woman director holding her own with the big boys.” In Syme’s version, the acts of reading and writing are the keys to unlocking Ephron’s films.

Now ninety-four, Nancy Olson Livingston is the last surviving member of the cast of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950). She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Betty Schaefer, a novice screenwriter and the love interest of William Holden’s Joe Gillis. Dana Goodyear recently met Livingston to talk about her new memoir, A Front Row Seat: An Intimate Look at Broadway, Hollywood, and the Age of Glamour, and her marriages to lyricist and librettist Alan Jay Lerner—who dedicated My Fair Lady to her—and Alan Livingston, the president of Capitol Records who signed the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and the Band. The Livingstons threw a party for the Beatles in 1965. “McCartney charmed; Lennon didn’t try,” writes Goodyear. “‘John was so difficult,’ Livingston said. He was standing alone by the pool when she approached to offer him a drink. ‘Leave me alone,’ he said. Distressed, Livingston asked Gene Kelly to intercede. ‘He did, and the two of them hit it off, and then John was the last to leave.’”

On the Side of Art

In Mercury Pictures Presents, the new novel from Anthony Marra (A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, The Tsar of Love and Techno), Maria Lagana is an associate producer at a Hollywood studio on the verge of going under until, in 1941, the government decides that it could play a useful role in the war effort. Maria, in the meantime, is trying to communicate with her movie-loving father, who’s been sentenced to internal exile in Mussolini’s Italy.

“That Marra’s novel doesn’t square into being either a portrait of Fascist horror or a rambunctious tale of immigrants propping up a studio during what might remain even now Hollywood’s most tumultuous decade ever, but rather remains something of both,” writes Matthew Specktor in the New York Times, “is its ultimate strength: its way of asserting itself, without ever needing to declare itself, on the side of art.” Profiling Marra for the NYT, Sarah Lyall notes: “It is a feature of reading Marra that you come to love his characters and care about their fates, even as you find that they’re expendable.”

Critical Reading

Two years ago, Sam Wasson, the author of books on Audrey Hepburn, Bob Fosse, and the making of Chinatown, cofounded Felix Farmer Press with producer Brandon Millan. So far, they’ve produced two gorgeously designed volumes, Bruce Wagner’s novel The Marvel Universe: Origin Stories and Richard Schickel’s The Famous Mr. Fairbanks. First published in 1973 as His Picture in the Papers, Schickel’s book on Douglas Fairbanks and the culture of celebrity in the 1920s features an introduction by Jeanine Basinger as well as previously unpublished correspondence between Schickel and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Chris Yogerst notes that Wasson told him that he was “enthusiastic to ‘endorse Schickel as a film historian’; most people know him as a critic for Time magazine, yet his work as a historian remains underestimated.” In another piece for the LARB, Yogerst reviews Road Trip to Nowhere: Hollywood Encounters the Counterculture, in which Jon Lewis “shows in great detail how some of the top echelon of the so-called New Hollywood were living their lives as if they were characters in a noir crime novel from the 1930s.”

Edited by Mark Webber, The Afterimage Reader gathers some of the most vital writing that appeared in the British journal during its thirteen-issue run from 1970 to 1987. “One of the most important aspects of Afterimage, yielding arguably its most enduring legacy,” writes Jonathan Mackris for Film Comment, “was the priority given to translating and publishing original writing by filmmakers, including Julio García Espinosa’s ‘For an Imperfect Cinema,’ Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino’s ‘Towards a Third Cinema,’ and Jean Epstein’s ‘On Certain Characteristics of Photogénie,’ all of which made their English-language debuts in the journal. Equally important are the journal’s interviews, which introduced readers to a wide range of filmmakers—everyone from Philippe Garrel to Michael Snow, Klaus Wyborny to Glauber Rocha, Hollis Frampton to Derek Jarman.”

Writing in the London Review of Books about Rob Young’s The Magic Box: Viewing Britain through the Rectangular Window, a “hefty survey of occult British film and television,” Jonathan Coe suggests that Offbeat: British Cinema’s Curiosities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems, edited by Julian Upton, is “a useful supplement” in that “the contributors are even more assiduous explorers of the British cinematic barrel, sometimes getting perilously close to the bottom but not quite scraping it.”

Directors’ Paths

In Jonas Mekas, Shiver of Memory, writer and filmmaker Peter Delpeut, a former curator and deputy director of what is now the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, searches for answers to some of the questions Michael Casper raised in a 2018 piece for the New York Review of Books. In writing or making films about his experiences during the Second World War, “why,” wonders Delpeut in an excerpt at Literary Hub, “does Mekas seem to systematically avoid one event in the anecdotes he so often recites: the fate of his neighbors—the Lithuanian Jews?”

An updated second edition of Lester D. Friedman’s Citizen Spielberg is out, and for Deborah Sutherland, writing in Bright Lights Film Journal, one of the book’s “great strengths” is that “in his mission to champion Spielberg as a sophisticated artist whose films have evolved far more than many critics appreciate, Friedman still makes room for some of the more justified criticisms that have been lobbed at his work, particularly as they concern race and gender.”

Back in the LARB, Matthew Sorrento recommends A Lot Can Happen in the Middle of Nowhere: The Untold Story of the Making of Fargo by Todd Melby, “an ideal journalist for this particular undertaking,” and Joseph McBride’s The Whole Durn Human Comedy: Life According to the Coen Brothers, “a lively study that avoids the trendiness of many books on the subject (why try to match wits with the Coens?).”

More for Your Eyes and Ears

Last month, Paul Thomas Anderson spent an hour with George Stevens Jr. talking about the San Fernando Valley, the Directors Guild of America, and Stevens’s new book, My Place in the Sun: Life in the Golden Age of Hollywood and Washington. Listen in at the DGA. Robert Bellissimo talks with Patricia White about her new study of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), and Jeremy Richey is in the Projection Booth discussing Sylvia Kristel: From Emmanuelle to Chabrol.

The Film Stage’s Christopher Schobert, in the meantime, has posted his latest round of book recommendations, which include Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner’s Heat 2 and new studies of three Davids, Cronenberg, Fincher, and Lynch. Leonard Maltin’s picks range from books on silent comedians Laurel and Hardy to the editors at Pixar.

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

You have no items in your shopping cart