December Books

Andy Warhol

As much as we hate to open on a sour note, there’s no getting around the biggest story from the literary front since last month’s roundup on new and noteworthy titles. On December 7, Penske Media Corporation, which already owns ARTnews and Art in America, announced that it had acquired Artforum. Five days later, word came from Bookforum, Artforum’s sister publication, that its current issue is its last. A “vital bellwether of book culture has been lost,” writes Kyle Chayka for the New Yorker, adding that the “loss of Bookforum’s lightly worn seriousness, its nurturing of personal style, and its tolerance for polemic leaves behind a more staid literary life.”

As Kate Dwyer and Elizabeth A. Harris write in the New York Times, the end of Bookforum’s twenty-eight-year run deals “a significant blow to literary journalism, which has been vastly diminished in recent years.” Dwyer and Harris note that while such high-profile publications as Astra Magazine and the Washington Post Magazine have folded, “‘little’ magazines—independent and noncommercial journals, often with readership in the low four figures—are experiencing a renaissance, with the recent launching of many new publications such as The Drift and Forever Magazine.

Film criticism has been experiencing a similar shift. The current online offerings from Film Comment are often outstanding, but the weekly feed doesn’t approach the depth and range of the printed bimonthly that was suspended in 2020. Writing about Sight and Sound’s decennial “Greatest Films of All Time” poll for the Baffler, James Wham suggests that “if the magazine once lent legitimacy to the poll, it seems now the inverse is true.” Smartly edited and sharply designed smaller publications, though, are finding their readers. MUBI has launched its biannual Notebook Magazine, the first issue of Outskirts appeared this summer, and Another Gaze is five issues into a run that began in 2018.

Illustrious titles of the past, in the meantime, have been revived online. Movie, which founder Ian Cameron edited from 1962 to 2000, returned in 2010 as Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism. The editors are currently rolling out a tenth issue that features a dossier on British critic V. F. Perkins, articles on Sidney Lumet and Aki Kaurismäki, and a roundtable discussion of the history and future of the journal. Film Criticism, the third oldest academic film journal in the U.S., has just published its second online issue of the year, featuring essays on Lana and Lily Wachowski and John Carpenter—and book reviews.

In David Lynch: Blurred Boundaries, Anne Jerslev takes on the oeuvre as “an intermedial totality rather than a portfolio of individual works,” writes Martha Nochimson. M. Sellers Johnson finds Caetlin Benson-Allott’s The Stuff of Spectatorship: Material Cultures of Film and Television to be “an enjoyable, even provocative read, as she examines subjects of curated media culture surrounding streaming services and television channels like TCM, cannabis culture, alcohol’s illicit history and growth as a concession, and apparent racial disparities in panicked reactions to theater violence.” In The Cinema of Sofia Coppola: Fashion, Culture, Celebrity, Suzanne Ferriss “demonstrates how Coppola artfully transforms style itself into substance, engaging with plentitude as a means to inform the audience of ‘the sensory pleasures (and dangers) of consumption,’” writes Cassie Pontone.

In 1984, Andy Warhol was creating his moving image works on video, and he decided to put the hundreds of films he’d made previously, most of them shot on 16 mm, into the hands of the Museum of Modern Art. MoMA then teamed up with the Whitney Museum of American Art to launch the Andy Warhol Film Project. Adjunct curator Callie Angell began researching and cataloguing in 1991, and fifteen years later, she produced Andy Warhol Screen Tests: The Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné Vol 1. Now editor John Hanhardt and contributors Bruce Jenkins and Tom Kalin have completed The Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné 1963–1965, and for John G. Hanhardt, a third volume is “keenly anticipated.”

Warhol “consistently subverted the medium’s formal constrictions,” writes Iain Marcks in his review of the second volume for American Cinematographer. “By filming at one speed and projecting at another, he bends time; with his static camera he expands the concept of filmic space; through silence, he compels the audience to watch more closely. Even the films that possess a ‘traditional’ narrative seem to operate on a kind of spontaneous, mystifying logic.”

On Directors

In Bong Joon Ho: Dissident Cinema, Karen Han “pinpoints not only artistic tics and influences, but also the historical, political, and cultural contexts that could go unnoticed by American eyes,” writes Melissa León in the New York Times. Harrison Blackman, writing for the Brooklyn Rail, calls the book “a compelling appraisal and appreciation of Bong’s body of work” and notes that “the interview with Tilda Swinton is a treasure.”

Vulture is running an excerpt from that interview. Bong “really encourages us to just go there and to not second-guess even the most surreal ideas,” says Swinton, who played Minister Mason, a sort of enforcer, in Snowpiercer (2013) and a pair of contrasting twins in Okja (2017). All three characters are “pretty out there,” says Swinton, “pretty grotesque—and burlesque, even. So we have plans to make something more naturalistic, and maybe a little less fanning the flames.” Han discusses her book with Isaac Butler, her cohost on the Working podcast, and she talks about her favorite films from 2003 on another fine podcast, A Very Good Year.

Charles Elton’s “biographical method is mostly muckraking, and he’s good at it,” writes Adam Nayman in the Nation. Cimino: The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate, and the Price of a Vision, Elton’s book on Michael Cimino, the director reputed to have brought an end to the New Hollywood era with his costly Heaven’s Gate (1980), is “written neither from the perspective of an acolyte nor of a devil’s advocate (or even, really, a movie lover); it’s sprawling and granular, structured around on-the-record testimonies about an artist who, as he got older, did his best to live a hidden, private life. ‘I Googled myself one time,’ Cimino told his friend, the novelist F. X. Feeney. ‘I don’t know most of the people I’ve been.’”

In the latest episode of his Writers on Film podcast, John Bleasdale spends nearly an hour and a half talking with Walter Chaw about his new book, A Walter Hill Film. The book features an introduction by James Ellroy and a foreword by screenwriter Larry Gross, who worked with Hill on the screenplays for 48 Hrs. (1982) and Streets of Fire (1984).

European Modernists

An excellent companion volume to Pier Paolo Pasolini: Writing on Burning Paper, the collection released last month by Fireflies Press, would be La rabbia / Anger, Cristina Viti’s new translation of the blend of poetry and prose that Pasolini wrote for the 1963 documentary commissioned by producer Gastone Ferranti. Tenement Press has posted an excerpt from Roberto Chiesi’s introduction, and Literary Hub is running two short poems.

In 1903, poet and writer Katherine Mansfield moved from New Zealand to London at the age of nineteen and wound up mingling with the likes of Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence. She was also fascinated by movies, and as Claire Harman notes in a delightful piece for the Literary Review, she not only incorporated such cinematic techniques into her short stories as flashbacks and fade-outs but also appeared in at least two now-lost films as an extra. She was planning to write “cinema plays,” and Harman suggests that, if she hadn’t died in 1923 at the age of thirty-four, she might have eventually followed her friend Aldous Huxley to Hollywood.

For the Los Angeles Review of Books, Jamie Hood writes about My Life as a Godard Movie, Joanna Walsh’s “evocative exploration of Godard’s films.” The book’s “insistent scrutiny of how we identify ourselves in the art objects we love” reminds Hood “that art—in any case, when it is good art—is principally a manner of communication, of brokering some stuttering connection against this grain of contemporary dislocatedness, situating wonder where perhaps there had been none.” You can read an excerpt from the book now at 3:AM Magazine.

In Theory

In the new Film Quarterly, Bruno Guaraná talks with Jean Ma, who contends in her new book, At the Edges of Sleep: Moving Images and Somnolent Spectators, “not only that somnolence is a part of spectatorship, but that film theory should take it seriously and wrestle with it—and, finally, that it may even be a desirable form of spectatorship.”

For Film International, Dávid Szőke reviews Fate in Film: A Deterministic Approach to Cinema, in which Thomas M. Puhr “concentrates on the cinematic narrative of predestination.” Puhr “examines three essential aspects of determinism in film: how movies capture fear from the uncanny in their visual narrative, how their use of still imagery represents deterministic concepts, and how our fascination toward the aesthetic of violence and predestination on film inspires filmic representations.”

Complicated Actors

Burt Kearns’s Lawrence Tierney: Hollywood's Real-Life Tough Guy “takes full measure of the prolific character actor, whose bumpy six-decade career was marked by bouts of erratic behavior, pugnacious on-set antics, and alcohol abuse,” writes Donald Liebenson for Tierney, who played gangsters and killers in the 1940s and later clashed with Quentin Tarantino and Jerry Seinfeld, “was the real deal, who walked the walk and talked the talk, often to his detriment.”

The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man has come up in the past two monthly roundups, but we really do have to recommend Simon Callow’s piece for the New York Review of Books on the memoir that has been put together fourteen years after Paul Newman’s death. For one thing, Callow and Newman appeared together in James Ivory’s Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990), though, as Callow explains, Newman made himself pretty much unknowable on the set. “There is a curious sense throughout the memoir of Newman having chosen the wrong career,” writes Callow. “As an account of the inner life and struggles of an altogether exceptional human being, it belongs with the best of memoirs, theatrical or otherwise. The only quibble might be with the title: there was nothing in the least ordinary about Paul Newman.”

Two Long Tales

A couple of other books we’ve taken a look at before are still on the table. In the New York Times, Lisa Schwarzbaum calls Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson’s Hollywood: The Oral History “a fat, showbiz-nerd-satisfying tome with something for every showbiz-nerd taste: on-set stories, technical details, funny anecdotes about actors, the echoes of studio executives kvetching and various people complaining about critics.” For the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, the book “makes clear that the shimmering masterpieces and the schlock disasters often rose from the same system and the same people, one after another.” Wasson writes about the evolution of Hollywood as a community for Alta Journal, and Air Mail is running an excerpt from The Oral History.

Writing for Reverse Shot, Gavin Smith finds that Cinema Speculation, Quentin Tarantino’s blend of film criticism and autobiography, “just about holds together thanks to its sheer freewheeling enthusiasm and shoot-from-the-hip attitude, dispensing opinions by the yard, almost all of them hyperbolic.” Caitlin Quinlan, writing for Art Review, is pretty much on the same page. “In line with the traditions of Cahiers, which reportedly assigned films to writers based on who was most ‘enthusiastic’ about them, enthusiasm is Tarantino’s modus operandi when discussing his chosen films,” she writes. “But in doing so, he unwittingly leans into a tiresome trend within contemporary criticism which favors sentiment over thorough analysis, hyperbole over considered thinking.”


Director Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3, Coco) was thirteen when he first saw Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). It “penetrated my psyche in a way I had never experienced, and it was intoxicating,” he writes in an excerpt from the book he’s put together for Taschen. A limited edition of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining slated for a February release will likely be followed by a more affordable volume.

For the past eleven years, Unkrich has been posting Shining ephemera at The Overlook Hotel, and in the excerpt up at the Guardian—where you’ll also find previously unpublished photos from Kubrick’s set—he writes about the fun he had working on the book: “Spending a day reminiscing with Shelley Duvall at a Red Lobster restaurant in Texas, getting a bit drunk with the twins Lisa and Louise Burns at a pub in London, and sharing a meal with Christiane Kubrick in Childwickbury’s kitchen while sitting at the same table at which Jack sat and typed in The Shining. It’s the book I long wished had been in the world, and now it is.” Unkrich recently spoke with Script Apart host Al Horner, too, about a few ideas Kubrick dreamed up and then tossed aside when he was writing the screenplay.

Talking to Forgotten Hollywood host Doug Hess, attorney Jason Isralowitz calls Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956) “one of the greatest films about criminal justice that’s ever been made.” Henry Fonda plays Christopher “Manny” Balestrero, a real-life musician in Queens falsely accused in 1953 of robbing an insurance company. In Nothing to Fear: Alfred Hitchcock and The Wrong Man, out next month, Isralowitz tells two stories, one about a miscarriage of justice with severe consequences and other about the making of what Film Forum’s Bruce Goldstein calls “Hitchcock’s most underappreciated movie.”

Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) is one of the many films—including Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 (2004) and David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007)—whose jumps in time ignite the passages set next to screen shots and stills in Masha Tupitsyn’s forthcoming book, Time Tells, Vol. 1. The Film Desk offers a generous sampling of pages that give us an idea of how Tupitsyn’s work will be laid out when the book is released next month.


In 1983, Iranian authorities banned personal use of any and all video technologies, and the ban stuck until 1994. Blake Atwood, the author of Underground: The Secret Life of Videocassettes in Iran, tells MIT Press Reader editors that what he finds “really fascinating about the video ban in Iran is how spectacularly it fails. During the decade-long ban, the circulation of movies on video doesn’t only continue; it grows by leaps and bounds. An entire underworld of videocassettes emerges. An underground rental industry forms . . . One thing I really wanted to emphasize in my chapter about video dealers is the important role they played as cultural intermediaries. They were cultural workers.”

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