December Books

Jacques Tati at work on PlayTime (1967)

Every Friday, Le Cinéma Club makes a feature, or occasionally, a short film freely viewable on its streaming platform. The smartly curated selections are often difficult to track down otherwise, but for the holidays, the Club is presenting Frederick Wiseman’s The Store (1983), which was shot between Thanksgiving and Christmas at the main Neiman-Marcus store and corporate headquarters in Dallas. The Club also posts lists and interviews now and then, and since 2021, it’s convened at the end of each year Le Cinéma Book Club, inviting “directors, actors, cinematographers, artists, curators, writers, and friends to send a photo of a film book they love.”

Most of these photos arrive without comment, but Jerry Schatzberg—the director of such films as The Panic in Needle Park and Scarecrow and the photographer of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde album cover—offered some words on his selection. Showing us his copy of Kazan on Kazan, he notes that it’s “by Michel Ciment, the great critic and dear friend of fifty years who passed away last month.” Other submissions—recommendations, really—come from Raven Jackson, Paul Schrader, Sofia Coppola, Kelly Reichardt, Benny Safdie, Charlotte Wells, and several others.

This is also the time of year in which we began to glance ahead. One of the most anticipated books of 2024 is Shigehiko Hasumi’s Directed by Yasujiro Ozu (1983), appearing for the first time in English. Japan Society points out that Ryusuke Hamaguchi has called it “the most important book in my life.” Ryan Cook’s translation will be out in March, and while we wait, Emerson Goo has gathered links to “every piece of film criticism by Hasumi that I’ve found online, in English or translated into English.”

2024 will also see the return of Decadent Editions, the series of ten pocket-sized books on ten films made during the first decade of this still-new (but already exasperating) century. The last volume to appear was Dennis Lim’s outstanding book on Hong Sangsoo’s Tale of Cinema (2005) back in August 2022. It’s not that Fireflies Press hasn’t been busy. This year, the independent publishing house has released Whit Stillman: Not so long ago, a collection with contributions from Nick Pinkerton, Beatrice Loayza, Haden Guest, and Stillman himself, and Collected Stories, in which writers take inspiration from films by Ben Rivers.

Decadent Editions will return in March with La captive, Christine Smallwood’s study of Chantal Akerman’s 2000 adaptation of Marcel Proust’s The Prisoner, the fifth volume of In Search of Lost Time. Smallwood recently wrote for 4Columns about one of this year’s most widely lauded books, Ian Penman’s Fassbinder Thousands of Mirrors. After La captive, five more books will complete the series, and we can already begin to look forward to K. Austin Collins on Frederick Wiseman’s Domestic Violence (2001), Anwen Crawford on Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar (2002), Ed Halter on Peter Hutton’s At Sea (2007), Rebecca Harkins-Cross on Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman (2008), and J. Hoberman on Huang Weikai’s Disorder (2009).

From the French

Footlights: Critical Notebook 1970–1982, Nicholas Elliott’s translation of Serge Daney’s first book, is out this week from Semiotext(e), the publisher that gave us the Daney collection The Cinema House and the World last fall. The New Left Review is running an excerpt from Footlights, an appreciation of Jacques Tati. “Who today is able to pick up and imitate the most quotidian gestures (a waiter serving a beverage, a cop moving traffic) and at the same time incorporate these gestures in a construction as abstract as a Mondrian canvas?” asked Daney. “Tati, obviously, the last of the theorist-mimes.”

Jean Cocteau was “the teenage dandy and poetic prodigy who attended the sickbed of Marcel Proust, was a librettist for Stravinsky and Diaghilev, a novelist and autobiographer, the director of indelibly strange films, a cross-disciplinary queer artist in a lineage that includes Oscar Wilde, Andy Warhol, and Derek Jarman,” writes Brian Dillon at 4Columns. Secrets of Beauty, newly translated by Juliet Powys, gathers aphoristic notes and observations Cocteau jotted down during a long train ride from Orléans to Paris in 1945. The Paris Review has run an excerpt and brought out from behind its paywall the interview that William Fifield conducted a few months before Cocteau died in the fall of 1963.

Wasson on Coppola

Sam Wasson is the author of Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M., a book on Audrey Hepburn and her creation of Holly Golightly in Blake Edwards’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961); Fosse, a biography of Bob Fosse that the 2019 miniseries Fosse/Verdon drew on; and The Big Goodbye, the story of the making of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974). He has just published his latest work, The Path to Paradise: A Francis Ford Coppola Story. For David Kemp in the New York Times, this is “a marvel of unshowy reportage, with Wasson bringing in Coppola’s coterie of co-conspirators—among them the superhumanly accommodating Eleanor, his filmmaker daughter Sofia, the sound maestro Walter Murch and his protégé-turned-peer George Lucas—for brief hits of comment and context, never slowing the book’s momentum.”

In the Los Angeles Times, Chris Vognar finds that Wasson “captures the extreme ups and downs with a combination of precision and imagination, often bringing an appropriately gonzo tone to the story.” Literary Hub has an excerpt in which Coppola and Martin Sheen plumb the depths of the actor’s psyche in search of the soul of Benjamin Willard, the army captain who heads up the Nùng River in Apocalypse Now (1979), and Air Mail has another, longer excerpt. Wasson talks with Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and countless others about the ballsy founding of American Zoetrope, the independent studio now poised to roll out Coppola’s latest vision, Megalopolis.

American Dreams and Nightmares

Illeana Douglas is “that rare actor who is also a cinephile,” writes A. S. Hamrah at the top of his conversation with her at Screen Slate about her new book, Connecticut in the Movies: From Dream Houses to Dark Suburbia. The history of films made or set in Connecticut stretches from the silent era—D. W. Griffith shot part of Way Down East (1920) in the Nutmeg State—to such disturbing depictions of suburban living as Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011). A happier era gave us screwball comedies like Howard Hawks’s Bringing Up Baby (1938). “These ‘Country Living Comedies,’ as I call them,” says Douglas, “often share a basic plot. A cynical New Yorker is in a family that wants him to be a banker, and he's unhappy. Or he's in a marriage of convenience to a wealthy woman who wants to live in the city but he wants to break free to be an artist. Somehow he ends up in Connecticut.”

David Mamet “truly is an artist in exile now,” writes Mark Athitakis in the Washington Post. “The self-described ‘Hermit of Santa Monica,’ once celebrated for writing and/or directing films like Glengarry Glen Ross, The Verdict, and Wag the Dog, has morphed into a conservative scold in the past decade.” Everywhere an Oink Oink: An Embittered, Dyspeptic, and Accurate Report of Forty Years in Hollywood is “meant to be a humorous take on his Hollywood career,” but “it’s less funny than cantankerous, bilious and sardonically angry.”

Though she is the “organizing interest” of Yunte Huang’s Daughter of the Dragon, Anna May Wong “often disappears behind reams of epochal précis that span half a century of Chinese Exclusion Acts, California’s anti-miscegenation laws (on- and off-screen), and more than one international conflict,” writes Phoebe Chen in Bookforum. “After all, Huang’s premise is stitched into the subtitle: Anna May Wong’s Rendezvous with American History. This works because it’s all in service of Huang’s true subject, to which he always returns: the strange ambivalence that marks any racialized performer’s ascent to fame. Wong’s star image was built on endless contradictions that, at times, rattled her sense of self.”

China Then and Now

In the mid-1930s, Wong traveled to China for the first time, and Chen notes that when she arrived “in her paternal hometown of Taishan, the locals received her with disbelief: ‘Many women could not believe I really existed,’ she later relayed, ‘they had seen me on the screen but they thought I was simply a picture invented by a machine.’”

At the time, there would have been just a few hundred theaters in all of China, but when Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic in 1949, he began building, and the number of theaters grew exponentially. In the new Film Quarterly, Bruno Guaraná talks with Jie Li about her “complex and detail-oriented study,” Cinematic Guerrillas: Propaganda, Projectionists, and Audiences in Socialist China, which “indicates that, as much as cinema served the intentions of the socialist state, it could also easily project and teach tactics of resistance.”

Yangyang Cheng takes on two titles for the Los Angeles Review of Books. He finds Joshua Kurlantzick’s analysis in Beijing’s Global Media Offensive: China’s Uneven Campaign to Influence Asia and the World “strained by its sweeping scope and disjointed logic,” but he heartily recommends Michael Berry’s Jia Zhangke on Jia Zhangke: “Part autobiography, part foray into film studies, part cultural commentary, it is a richly rewarding read for anyone interested in cinema or contemporary China. The topics of discussion, like the scenes and characters in Jia’s films, are distinctly Chinese yet carry universal resonance.”

Two Novels

Writing for the New York Review of Books, Clair Wills walks us through the work of Jeremy Cooper, the author of books on antiques dealing and the Young British Artists who rose to prominence in the 1990s—as well as seven novels. Brian, the latest, is a portrait of a drab office worker who becomes a dedicated cinephile who at first watches a couple of films a week at the BFI in London, then one each and every evening, and after retirement, two films a day. “This is a novel that refuses a whole array of fictional conventions, including plot, character development, and even the idea of an inner life,” writes Wills. Brian—the protagonist, not the book—insists on maintaining an “‘aesthetic safety gap,’ the separation of cinema from everyday life. The last thing Brian wants from film is self-knowledge or personal identification.”

“Every city has its Brians,” writes Sukhdev Sandhu in 4Columns. “Every cinema has its Brians.” The novel has prompted Melissa Anderson, writing for Bookforum, to ask, “Where does cinephilia end and derangement begin, when does a putative love of movies mask darker, danker impulses? The questions are not rhetorical; with my own waxing and waning cine-gluttony, I have tried to ask them of myself, probably not as often as I should have. I wish Cooper had wrestled with them more, too.”

“Is it possible there is a literary artifact less deserving of our attention than the novelization of Porky’s II: The Next Day?” asks Sean Gill in the Evergreen Review. It is indeed possible that there may be even more than a few. After reminding us that Bob Clark’s original Porky’s (1981) “made more money at the box office than Blade Runner, The Dark Crystal, and the Best Picture–winning Chariots of Fire combined” and then inspired an Atari video game and a slew of imitators, Gill lays out the case for the sequel—or rather, Don Pendleton’s novelization thereof—as “a true classic of Florida literature” that “could provide both excitement and instruction for the cretins and hucksters in charge of America’s most confusing state.”

Last Movies

Last Movies, the monthly series running at the ICA in London through March 12, takes its name from the new book by artist Stanley Schtinter, who may be best known in the States for his recent project Important Books (or, Manifestos Read by Children). Each of the book’s chapters riffs on the juxtaposition between a famous person—Elvis Presley, for example, or Bette Davis, or Rainer Werner Fassbinder—and the last film they watched before they died. “What parallels might Kurt Cobain have drawn, for instance, between the life he was about to leave and The Piano, the last film he saw, in which a woman is sold, brutalized and deprived of her beloved musical instrument?” wonders Ryan Gilbey before he interviews Schtinter for the Guardian.

“Does The Kid (1923) by Charlie Chaplin become sadder or funnier in the knowledge that it was the last film Kafka ever saw?” asks Juliet Jacques in ArtReview.Last Movies is wry rather than morbid,” and the “highlight” of the book for Jacques is “undoubtedly the section on John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald.” That chapter is excerpted at Literary Hub, and in a recent episode of the Film Comment Podcast, Schtinter and critic Erika Balsom, who wrote the book’s foreword, discuss the project.


When writer and editor Tony Pipolo, a frequent contributor to Cineaste and Artforum and the author of Robert Bresson: A Passion for Film and The Melancholy Lens: Loss and Mourning in the American Avant-Garde, passed away in March, he left behind thousands—probably tens of thousands—of books. In Metrograph Journal, Nick Pinkerton has a delightful conversation with Pipolo’s widow, Carole, about her late husband’s bibliophilia, why he set aside a projected book on Fassbinder, and the day in San Francisco when Hitchcock took her in his arms.

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