“There’s a sense now that a memoir that used to be a first window of the confessional is now step ninety in a perpetual exposure,” media scholar Robert Thompson tells the Guardian’s Edward Helmore. Always-on social media combined with slowing, post-pandemic sales, notes Helmore, have put the celebrity memoir in “a tough spot.”
Enter Barbra Streisand, who spent ten years working on My Name Is Barbra. Arriving on November 7, it’s “992 pages of startling honesty and self-reflection, deadpan parenthetical asides (including a running bit about how much she loves going to the dentist), encyclopedic recall of onstage outfits, and rigorous analyses of her films, many of which she rewatched for the first time in decades,” writes Radhika Jones in a profile for Vanity Fair. My Name Is Barbra is “at once a vital account of an American icon and a deeply personal and dishy stream of consciousness.”
Vanity Fair is also running a long excerpt in which Streisand looks back on the making of Sydney Pollack’s The Way We Were (1973), starring Streisand as a fiery Jewish activist and Robert Redford as an apolitical WASP. Streisand recalls her shock at the discovery that Pollack had cut what she considered to be two crucial scenes. “This was the moment when I thought, That’s it,” she writes. “I had always had creative control of my albums, my TV specials, and my concerts. Now I realized, I have to be more in control of my films as well. I have to direct.” With Yentl (1983), Streisand became the first woman to write, produce, direct, and star in a major studio film. And those scenes cut from The Way We Were? They’re back in the newly rereleased version.
Lives Told by Others
Madonna, too, reached a moment when she decided that “I have to be a director. I feel like I’m constantly being double-crossed.” She’d come off well in Susan Seidelman’s Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) and Penny Marshall A League of Their Own (1992), but her time on the set of Abel Ferrara’s Dangerous Game (1933) ticked her off. As Michelle Orange points out in the New Yorker, though, neither Filth and Wisdom (2008) nor W.E. (2011), the two films Madonna has directed to date, have “found much of an audience.”
With Madonna: A Rebel Life, Mary Gabriel, whose Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, “has brought her cultural historian’s eye to a project of apparent reclamation,” writes Orange. “Light on author interviews and other new source material, the biography is a towering work of assemblage, a guided tour through the origins and the creative life of ‘the enigma called Madonna,’ with a view to solidifying her status as a leading artist of her time. That there exists some doubt about this forms a subtext of the book.”
Erotic Vagrancy: Everything About Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor “surely contains more than you could ever wish to know,” writes Anthony Quinn for the Guardian. Roger Lewis’s book is “fearless, funny, provocative, acute, insistent. But oh, it’s exhausting too . . . And then, on page 595, comes a startling reversal: ‘I absolutely refuse to disapprove of them,’ writes Lewis, having covered a few thousand acres of prose not just disapproving but dismantling them. He has charted an odyssey of moronic, near-barbaric misbehavior to make even the most liberal-minded reader go all pursed and Protestant, only to rehabilitate them as ‘joyously vulgar.’”
For the Los Angeles Times,Chris Vognar talks with Foster Hirsch about the most recent of his many books, Hollywood and the Movies of the Fifties, “a study that manages to be both personal and comprehensive.” Vognar notes that the book “covers a lot of ground, including the competing widescreen formats of the era (VistaVision! WarnerSuperScope! Eidophor!); the industry’s awkward but often affecting approach to issues of race and homosexuality; the death of the studio system; and the Hollywood Blacklist. But the book is most valuable as a subjective chronicle of what it was like to go to the movies at a time when the industry’s popularity was imperiled and it pulled out all the stops to keep its product relevant.”
High Fidelity (2000), Stephen Frears’s adaptation of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel, “has a fiercely devoted cult following who get this movie to their very souls, which is what compelled Chicago native and writer Andrew Buss to revisit the film on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary and write an oral history on the making of the film and its cultural legacy for Consequence of Sound,” writes Donald Liebenson, who talks with Buss for the Chicago Reader about expanding the project into a book, Top Five: How High Fidelity Found Its Rhythm and Became a Cult Movie Classic. In January, John Cusack, who plays heartbroken record store owner and list-maker Rob Gordon, will host a screening at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre.
Liebenson also talks with directors Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker for the Washington Post about Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True Story of Airplane!, “a wildly entertaining oral history that chronicles how this outlier got off the ground and changed comedy. In interviews conducted by Will Harris, the trio, along with the cast, crew, former studio executives, and admirers such as Adam McKay, Bill Hader, and South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone, reflect on the film’s bumpy history and its legacy.”
For Air Mail, Josh Karp interviews the directors as well, noting that David Letterman once remarked that “film comedy became different” after Airplane! “In fact, a writer for National Lampoon once told me that one of the magazine’s founders, Doug Kenney, who cowrote Animal House and Caddyshack, left a screening profoundly depressed by the fear that he’d just spent eighty-eight minutes watching American comedy pass him by.”
Varieties of Film Criticism
The sheer gumption and remarkable effort that revived the imperiled Edinburgh International Film Festival last summer has carried over into a new collection of inspired writing from nine Scottish writers on films in the EIFF 2023 program. Edited by Michael Pattison, From Troubled Dreams Under a Glare of Sky gathers texts that “encompass dreams and awakenings, the fatigue of cultural production, queerness and transness, Blackness and sacred spaces, and depictions of the immigrant. Each text creates space to understand, to make sense of what is on screen and what is out of frame.”
Today in Brooklyn, Alison Willmore will chat with Matt Singer about his new book, Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel and Ebert Changed Movies Forever. “There’s simply no one better-suited to write about Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert’s adventures in television than Matt,” writes Scott Tobias, introducing his interview with Singer for the Reveal. Opposable Thumbs “springs from his own history as a film writer, from his obsession with Siskel & Ebert as an adolescent growing up in New Jersey to his appearances much later hosting segments for Ebert Presents.”
Matt Fagerholm talks with Singer for RogerEbert.com, and reviewing the “engaging” book for the Washington Post,Louis Bayard notes that “Siskel was urban and Yale, Ebert was Urbana and the University of Illinois. But their rivalry, I think, had all to do with the roughhousing Chicago newspaper culture of the early 1970s, which had not changed much from the Roaring Twenties free-for-all immortalized in The Front Page.”
On November 4, New York’s Light Industry,Nitehawk Cinema, and Spectacle Theater will copresent Last Movies, a full day of screenings of the last films seen by such luminaries as Franz Kafka, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Bette Davis before they died. The latest project from artist Stanley Schtinter, Last Movies is also a book that reveals “an eccentric, tenacious, sometimes obsessive approach to writing film history,” as Sukhdev Sandhu writes in Prospect. “Last Movies could be a morbid, ghoulish project. Schtinter renders it with poetry, glee, humor.”
In 1968, Anthony Foutz, who had worked as an assistant director for Gillo Pontecorvo, Orson Welles, and Marco Ferreri, collaborated on a screenplay with Sam Shepard that was meant to be a vehicle for the Rolling Stones. The project eventually evolved into Saturation 70, the story of a Victorian star child (Julian Jones-Leitch, the five-year-old son of Brian Jones) who falls through a wormhole into a dystopian Los Angeles. With the help of aliens played by Gram Parsons, Michelle Phillips, and other scenesters, the boy heads off on a quest made spectacular by Douglas Trumbull’s special effects. Much of the film was shot, but after funding fell through, the project was abandoned. Writer and filmmaker Chris Campion aims to tell the full story in Saturation 70.