January Books

Andie MacDowell in Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape (1989)

With Sundance opening this week, it seems appropriate to open this month’s overview of new and noteworthy books with Steven Soderbergh. It was, after all, his debut feature, sex, lies, and videotape (1989), that “almost singlehandedly catapulted” what was then the U.S. Film Festival “and independent filmmaking into the popular imagination,” as Marjorie Baumgarten wrote in the Austin Chronicle in 2000. And as Amy Taubin put it in 2018, sex, lies also “immediately transformed that earnest refuge from Hollywood commercialism into a magnet for Los Angeles power brokers looking for fresh talent.”

The occasion for Baumgarten’s brief piece was the publication of Soderbergh’s Getting Away With It, Or: The Further Adventures of the Luckiest Bastard You Ever Saw. The book gathers “journal entries from Soderbergh’s diary during which he juggles numerous projects, scripts, meetings, and aspirations,” all interspersed with conversations with director Richard Lester (A Hard Day’s Night).

Now Soderbergh is not only bringing a new film to Sundance—Presence, a ghost story starring Lucy Liu and Julia Fox—he’s also thinking about writing his first novel. During the pandemic lockdown, he wrote a sequel to sex, lies, and he got Andie MacDowell and Laura San Giacomo to agree to reprise their roles as sisters. “It doesn’t feel as of the moment as it did,” Soderbergh tells Variety’s Brent Lang, and that realization has him seriously considering turning the screenplay into a novel.

More than films, poems, symphonies, or paintings, novels are “the closest you can get to being inside someone’s consciousness,” Soderbergh tells New York Times Book Review editor Gilbert Cruz. Soderbergh has begun the past several years by listing everything he’s watched and read during the previous year, and in 2023, he somehow managed to work his way through more than eighty books in between directing two miniseries, Command Z and Full Circle, and a movie, Magic Mike’s Last Dance.

He reads to calm down, and some of his recent favorites include Philip Gefter’s Cocktails with George and Martha: Movies, Marriage, and the Making of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (“so good that I blurbed it”), Robert Sapolsky’s Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will, and novels by Donald E. Westlake (screenwriter William Goldman and director Peter Yates’s 1972 adaptation of The Hot Rock set the tone for the Ocean’s movies) and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (“look, there are just some people that know how to do this”).

For his first novel, Keanu Reeves is collaborating with prolific speculative-fiction writer China Miéville.The Book of Elsewhere, which will be out in July, is rooted in the world Reeves and Matt Kindt created in the BRZRKR comic book series launched in 2021 and drawn by Ron Garney. Besides the novel, the series, which tracks an immortal warrior through the ages, will also serve as the basis for a live-action adaptation and an anime series, both of which are being developed for Netflix.

Free Event

On Saturday, director Taylor Hackford and screenwriter and poet Jimmy Santiago Baca will be at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State LA to launch Blood In Blood Out, the book they’ve put together with on-set photographer Merrick Morton and artist Adan Hernández about the making of the movie Disney buried “because of its depictions of gang violence,” as Fidel Martinez explains in the Los Angeles Times. “The epic crime drama about a trio of Mexican American cousins from East Los Angeles has earned a rabid cult following among Latino audiences since its 1993 release,” notes Martinez, who talks with Hackford about working with Hat & Beard Press and organizing the free event.

Long Views

“Something in us, some dark and ultimately unfulfillable longing, is fed by images on a screen of soldiers slaughtering one another, and machines slaughtering soldiers, and cities toppling,” writes novelist John Banville in the Observer. “In his superb and masterfully engineered book,” The Fatal Alliance: A Century of War on Film, David Thomson—whom Banville considers to be “one of the finest living stylists in the English language”—is “unflinching in his contemplation of this disturbing hunger.”

Reviewing the new collection Liminal Noir in Classical World Cinema for Film International, Dávid Szőke notes that editors Elyce Rae Helford and Christopher Weedman observe that “noir cannot be confined to a specific set of films but rather represents a diverse realm of thought and emotional resonances with its visual storytelling. Liminality in this context refers to a form of ‘in-betweenness,’ capturing the discrepancies between the urban and the rural, the flights across countries and cultures, and the shifts from studio settings to on-location shoots. This idea indicates that noir is a typically post-Depression and postwar genre, delving into the states of alienation and disorientation and extending the boundaries of traditional filmic categories.”

Recommending Velvet Curtains and Gilded Frames: The Art of Early European Cinema at Silent London, Alex Barrett explains that author Vito Adriaensens “seeks to show how heavily the roots of Euro cinema were . . . entangled in other art forms and how, by associating itself with the established arts, the fledgling medium sought to legitimize itself in the eyes of its audience.”


Metrograph Journal is running an excerpt from Footlights: Critical Notebooks (1970–1982), a collection translated by Nicholas Elliott, in which Serge Daney writes about Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) and explains why, in his view, “this kind of cinema borders on the fascistizing.”

In an excerpt from The Cinema of Barbara Stanwyck: Twenty-Six Short Essays on a Working Star up at Film International, Catherine Russell writes about two films Stanwyck made with Douglas Sirk, All I Desire (1953) and There’s Always Tomorrow (1955). “Stanwyck was still strongly identified with the woman’s film of the 1930s and ’40s, despite the fact that she had diversified into several other genres by that time,” writes Russell. “In the mid-1950s, the big stars were older men and younger women; mothers were less exalted and more often demonized, and thus the genre of the woman’s film had begun to fade, so Sirk’s intervention is a darkly ironic, revisionist take on the genre.”


On the Writers on Film podcast, Sam Wasson talks with host John Bleasdale about his new book, The Path to Paradise: A Francis Ford Coppola Story, which focuses on the founding of the independent studio American Zoetrope. We took a look at early reviews back in December.


The latest extraordinary seasonal roundup from Ruben Demasure is up at Sabzian with news of new books on Chantal Akerman, Eric Rohmer, Maurice Pialat, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Sarah Maldoror, John Akomfrah, Yasujiro Ozu, Ingmar Bergman, Stan Brakhage, and many other filmmakers. At the Film Stage, Christopher Schobert has notes on new titles on the work of Todd Haynes, Steven Spielberg, and Alfred Hitchcock as well as a good handful of novels sure to appeal to movielovers.

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