February Books

James Mason in Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (1962)

This month’s overview of new and noteworthy books brings news of several promising forthcoming titles. On February 27, MIT Press and Lisson Gallery will launch Re:, a new series of readers, with a volume dedicated to the work of Garrett Bradley, whose documentary Time (2020) won a Best Director award at Sundance and was nominated for an Oscar. Devotion features conversations with Bradley and contributions from Ashley Clark, Arthur Jafa, Joy James, Tyler Mitchell, Kevin Quashie, and Claudia Rankine.

April will bring In Dreams Begin Responsibilities: A Jonathan Rosenbaum Reader, a selection spotlighting not only the renowned critic’s writing on film but also his writing on literature and jazz. Just two weeks ago, the Notebook ran Rosenbaum’s piece on Reading with Jean-Luc Godard, a collection edited by Timothy Barnard and Kevin J. Hayes that includes more than a hundred short essays on books referenced, quoted, adapted, or otherwise borrowed from in Godard’s films and writings. “Like one of Godard’s spidery, web-spinning blankets of wordplay suggesting other routes that imagination, coherence, or even ideology might take,” writes Rosenbaum, “Reading’s entries are brief interludes, fleeting fancies designed to illuminate and then, very politely, evaporate. If they stick around longer, that’s because we choose to resurrect them for future use and further collaborations.”

May will see the release of writer and archivist Amy Sall’s first book, The African Gaze: Photography, Cinema and Power. The exploration of postcolonial and contemporary work includes new writing from Mamadou Diouf, Yasmina Price, and Zoé Samudzi as well as interviews with Samuel Fosso and Souleymane Cissé.

Twentieth-Century France

In June, Indiana University Press will release The Ethnographic Optic: Jean Rouch, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and the Turn Inward in 1960s French Cinema. Laure Astourian traces a shift of focus in these filmmakers’ work from faraway places to urban culture in France, and the book features chapters zeroing in on Marker’s La Jetée (1963) and Resnais’s Muriel, or The Time of Return (1963).

Both Marker and Resnais were lifelong friends and occasional collaborators with Agnès Varda. A collection edited by Matt Severson and published in conjunction with an exhibition at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Agnès Varda: Director’s Inspiration, “conjures a word I hesitate to put down,” writes Christina Catherine Martinez in the new Bookforum, “but has been haunting my deep dives on Varda: girlishness. The brightly colored pages, scrapbook-style layout, and graphic pull quotes bring to mind It-girl tomes like Chloë Sevigny’s self-titled 2015 Rizzoli book. Women’s cultural products tend to masquerade style as unearned seriousness—it is their chief offense. Director’s Inspiration takes the opposite risk, presenting a body of work from a groundbreaking artist through the aesthetic of a mood board. It mostly works, capturing the spirit of Varda’s difficult, feminist, and paradoxically coy ethos.”

Translated by Daniella Shreir, My Cinema gathers interviews with and essays, notes, and letters by Marguerite Duras. Through the making of and writing about films, Duras “clarified the contours of her persona,” writes Isabella Trimboli in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Duras emerges here as “a self-aggrandizer of the most glorious kind, committed to the extremities of the soul, who made work out of an indomitable belief in her own subjectivity and genius. (Edmund White has written of her delight in rewatching her own films, all of which she declared to be magnificent.) My Cinema overflows with this obstinate charm. Your tolerance may depend on your limit for contradiction and scorn.”

MIT Press is running an excerpt from Science Is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painlevé in which Brigitte Berg, who coedited the volume with Andy Masaki Bellows and Marina McDougall, notes that Painlevé’s work was initially rejected by the scientific community but embraced by artists and writers. “When Painlevé’s study of skeleton shrimps and sea spiders, Caprella and Pantopoda, was screened in 1930 at the newly opened Les Miracles theater,” writes Berg, “Fernand Léger called it the most beautiful ballet he had ever seen, and Marc Chagall praised its ‘incomparable plastic wealth,’ calling it ‘genuine art, without fuss.’ Man Ray borrowed footage of starfish from Painlevé to use in his own film L’Etoile de mer, and Georges Bataille published Painlevé’s stills of crustaceans in his review Documents.


In an excerpt from Kubrick: An Odyssey up at Literary Hub, Robert P. Kolker and Nathan Abrams explain how Stanley Kubrick discovered the scary story he’d been looking for in Stephen King’s 1977 novel, The Shining. “There’s no escaping the labyrinth of Kubrickana once you enter,” warns Nicolas Rapold at Air Mail. “The spine of Kubrick: An Odyssey is his journey from oddball independent, funded by a pharmacist uncle, to oddball studio maverick with ‘complete total final annihilating artistic control’ (his words),” and “in terms of lore, the book’s contribution might be more in the how than in the what. For all the genius, Kolker and Abrams keep returning to mundane, grounding minutiae, and likewise the book’s workman-like granularity makes the director’s obsessiveness feel ordinary, too, even logical.”

“I don’t expect the authors of a family-friendly biography to go rogue and declare their dismay at the human toll paid by so many in Kubrick’s orbit,” writes Lisa Schwarzbaum in the New York Times. “But that doesn’t mean I need to spend any more time with the late Stanley Kubrick than I—a person who loves much of his work, and has no plans to lose his number or cancel him from my consciousness of great filmmakers of the twentieth century—already have.”

Burton and Taylor

If Erotic Vagrancy: Everything About Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor is “comprehensive, immersive, and kaleidoscopic until it seems almost bug-eyed,” writes James Wolcott for Air Mail, “one thing it’s not is boring. It has drive, brio, and a punchy point of view. As with his previous biographies of extraordinarily gifted ego monsters (Laurence Olivier,Peter Sellers, and Anthony Burgess among them), Roger Lewis makes no pretense of judicial biographical detachment, nor does he fawn at the altar of celebrity. He’s in there swinging, chucking around opinions, and connecting wild dots.”

After Cleopatra (1963), which Wolcott calls “the greatest publicity bonfire Hollywood had ever seen,” Burton and Taylor next reunited on the big screen in the first feature directed by Mike Nichols. Reviewing Philip Gefter’s “unapologetically obsessive” Cocktails with George and Martha: Movies, Marriage and the Making of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for the New York Times, Alexandra Jacobs notes that Gefter “has written formal biographies of the photographer Richard Avedon (Nichols’s close friend) and the curator Sam Wagstaff. This is something different: a shot glass filled with one work that, alongside contemporaneous books like Richard Yates’s novel Revolutionary Road and Betty Friedan’s polemic The Feminine Mystique, showed how the ‘cartoon versions of marriage’ long served up by American popular culture—Doris Day movies, the Cleavers, etc.—always came with a secret side of bitters.”

In the New Republic, Scott Bradfield writes that “as Gefter makes clear in his charming book, filled with enjoyable anecdotes and recollections of how Hollywood accidentally makes great movies from time to time, the saga of George and Martha isn’t really a tragedy of failure, in which a marriage falls apart; rather it’s a comedy in which the principal characters almost inevitably go upstairs to bed together in a nightly reiteration of the marriage ceremony.” IndieWire has an excerpt from Cocktails with George and Martha in which Nichols clashes with composer Alex North.

Two Novels

Working with award-winning crime writer Meg Gardiner a couple of years ago, Michael Mann completed his first novel. Heat 2 is both a prequel and a sequel to Mann’s now-classic Heat (1955), and Mann is currently writing an adaptation he intends to direct. He’s also reteamed with Gardiner on a second novel, and according to Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr., this one will focus on “an intense global manhunt launched by a renegade federal agent and a stateless operator on a vendetta.”

Reviewing Tim Parks’s new translation of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s first novel, Boys Alive (1955)—a string of stories about young men committing petty crimes and living hand-to-mouth on the streets of Rome—Jack Hanson writes in the Nation that Pasolini “sees in these boys’ chaotic existence every reason to reject the cheap optimism of bourgeois consumerism. He sees in their way of life the burning ember where human and divine meet.”

Two Events

Prior to a screening of Glory (1989) at New York’s Metrograph on Tuesday evening, director Ed Zwick presented his new memoir, Hits, Flops, and Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years in Hollywood. “Zwick writes briskly and warmly, with a clear eye to keeping things moving,” finds Rebecca Nicholson in the Guardian. “He admits early on that he is pulled between telling a good story and a desire ‘not to be excommunicated from certain Hollywood parties that I don’t care to attend anyway.’ Happily for the reader, the storytelling wins that battle.”

Vanity Fair is running an excerpt in which Zwick writes about working with Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins on Legends of the Fall (1994). Lloyd Sachs talks with Zwick for the Chicago Sun-Times, and in the Washington Post, Chris Klimek writes that this “name-dropping but also rewardingly name-naming” book is “surprisingly strong.”

On February 27, Odie Henderson will be at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago to introduce Gordon Parks Jr.’s Super Fly (1972) and to talk about his new book, Black Caesars and Foxy Cleopatras: A History of Blaxploitation Cinema. “Every genre has its Citizen Kane, that is, the greatest movie in its canon,” writes Henderson in an excerpt at RogerEbert.com. “Super Fly fits that bill for Blaxploitation.” In another excerpt at Literary Hub, Henderson tells the story of Shakespearian actor William Marshall, who played an African prince who becomes a vampire in William Crain’s Blacula (1972).


At the Film Stage, Jordan Raup chats with writer and documentary filmmaker Tony Lee Moral about his fourth book on the Master of Suspense. Raup describes Alfred Hitchcock Storyboards as a “coffee-table book” that “includes never-before-published images and incisive text putting the material in context and examining the role the pieces played in some of the most unforgettable scenes in cinema.”

Film Quarterly’s Girish Shambu calls for a reissue of Julie Dash’s 1992 book Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African American Woman’s Film. It’s “an indispensable companion to the film, and includes an introductory essay by Toni Cade Bambara, Dash’s screenplay, and (crucially) an extended conversation between Dash and the theorist and critic bell hooks.”

At Screen Slate, Sean Nam talks with Carlos Acevedo about his new book, The Devil Inside: The Dark Legacy of The Exorcist. “I’m certainly not the first person to note how conservative The Exorcist is,” says Acevedo. Novelist William Peter Blatty “was not a subtle writer, and his traditional values jump out on film, where compression gives them more power than they [have] on the page.” The “overriding message” of William Friedkin’s 1973 film is “clear: ‘Believe—or else!’ Along with that directive are a host of conservative themes about the nuclear family, materialism, and women.”

With Jason Bailey and Mike Hull, the hosts of A Very Good Year, Brian Raftery, the author of Best. Movie. Year. Ever. How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen, discusses some of his favorite twenty-five-year-old movies. Alexander Payne’s Election comes up, as does Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s landmark “found footage” horror movie, The Blair Witch Project. Raftery also has thoughts on the revived reputation of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Let’s wrap for now with notes on a few more forthcoming titles. New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum’s Cue the Sun! The Invention of Reality TV will be out on June 25. Revolution in 35mm: Political Violence and Resistance in Cinema from the Arthouse to the Grindhouse, 1960–1990, a collection edited by Andrew Nette and Samm Deighan, will arrive in August. And November will bring Box Office Poison: Hollywood’s Story in a Century of Flops, Telegraph film critic Tim Robey’s “film-by-film survey of all my favorite commercial disasters since cinema began—from Intolerance to Cats.

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