The Best Books About Film

Discuss films and filmmakers of the 20th century (and even a little of the 19th century). Threads may contain spoilers.
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#51 Post by Godot » Thu Aug 25, 2005 8:57 pm

Could anyone comments on these books?

A Long Hard Look at Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho
The Durgnat book is wonderful, sadly finished as he neared death. It's his overview of the film and various theories, approaches, other critics, production stories, shot-by-shot analysis, and psychological meanings. Whether you enjoy it may depend on what you are looking for in a book about Psycho, and how familiar you are with Durgnat's style. If you've read his early work (of which I highly recommend Durgnat on Film and Eros in the Cinema), you'll know what this book is like: impressions, emotional arguments, insight, literary asides, and the occasional frame-by-frame observations. For fans of the film, it's a delight. But if you're looking for a more formal and literary/psychological/sociological analysis, pick up Robin Wood's book on Hitchcock's Films (and/or ...Revisited). Wood and Durgnat were an interesting pair of critics, working for different journals from the beginning, writing with directly conflicting styles while often having the same conclusion about the value of films. They both loved Hitchcock, for very different reasons, and Durgnat's collection of Hitch articles (gathered in The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock) could hardly be more different than Wood's seminal film-by-film analysis. Both keyed on the voyeuristic aspects of Hitchcock's late work, the audience participation, but their methods of analysis were polar opposites. Where Wood is cool, focused, intellectual and precise, Durgnat was vibrant, tangential and sloppy (his errors in simple scene details are infamous among other critics); at a time when there was no easy way to review old films, Durgnat was more off-the-cuff, which may irritate some readers. But reading Durgnat on Psycho is like reading Wood on Rio Bravo, reflecting personally on a film they can "watch" in their heads over and over, with their own peculiar take on what the film means and how it works.

The Robello book is completely different, more concerned with the production of the film. As such, it's like Dan Auiler's great Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic, going through the preparation, contributors, actors, filming details, editing, post-production, marketing, and reception of the film. It is certainly valuable for it's collection of information (especially straightening out the erroneous claims that Saul Bass "directed" the shower scene; he was specially hired by Hitch to storyboard that one scene, and did so to match Hitch's description of what he wanted, then Hitch filmed those storyboards very closely), how Hitchcock worked with writers and source novels, etc. But don't expect much analysis.

By the way, my choice for best analysis of Psycho is James Naremore's excellent entry in the Indiana University Press "Filmguide" series from 1973 (which also featured grad student David Bordwell on Passion of Joan of Arc and Gerald Mast on Rules of the Game); it's long out-of-print, but readily available in the usual used internet sites. If you've enjoyed Naremore's great noir compendium (More Than Night: Film Noir in It's Contexts), you may find it interesting to read his early critical effort, which is a bit more formal and dry.

And for a good Hitchcock overview, my recommendation is Focus on Hitchcock (edited by Albert LaValley), which features exerpts from many of the key '60's critics and their often groundbreaking evaluations: Sarris' entry on AH from American Cinema, Wood's great defense of AH as artist ("Why We Should Take Hitchcock Seriously"), Durgnat's early essays on Psycho, Leo Braudy's critique of the Truffaut interview, and a Bordwell-like storyboard of the NxNW cropduster scene breaking down the duration of each shot that impressed me greatly as a teen learning to appreciate how film works.

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#52 Post by Cinephrenic » Sat Sep 03, 2005 10:05 pm

BFI's Film Classics Series just announced two new books:
Los Olvidados
Mark Polizzotti

Paperback: £9.99

Los Olvidados (1950) established Luis Bunuel's reputation as a world-class director. Set in the slums of Mexico City, it follows the crime-filled and violent lives of group of juvenile delinquents. The film exhibits some of Bunuel's recognisable themes of love's yearnings, social injustice, and surrealism, but with a layer of compassion that sets it apart from many of his other films. In 2003, Los Olvidados was inducted into UNESCO's Memory of the World programme, which preserves documentary heritage of world significance.

Mark Polizzotti explores the historical context, aesthetic importance and biographical significance of the film, providing the first complete overview of Los Olvidados in English. He also presents an introduction to the Mexican film industry and places Bunuel and his films within it.

While many critics have taken Los Olvidados as a film about urban poverty, Mark Polizzotti sees it as a much more personal and mysterious statement about yearning, loss, and the need for redemption. By taking the notion of hunger as its structural principle, he explores the themes of love, betrayal, desire, and death that make the film such a powerful statement more than fifty years after its release.

96 pages, Illustrated
Published March 2006
Paperback ISBN: 1844571211
Modern Times
Joan Mellen

Paperback: £9.99

Modern Times (1936) was Charlie Chaplin's last full-length silent film, and also his last appearance as the Tramp, probably the most recognizable figure in film history. Social and political concerns had often featured in Chaplin's films, but in Modern Times they culminate in a protest against conditions during the Great Depression.

Joan Mellen situates Modern Times within the context of Chaplin's life and his work, exploring its history and influences as well as its ongoing appeal. She explores how the film's themes of oppression, industrialization and dehumanization are embodied in the little tramp's struggle to survive in the modern world. Joan Mellen dedicates the final chapter of the book to the fascinating details of the FBI's file on Chaplin, which was opened in 1922 and maintained until long after his death.

96 pages, Illustrated
Published March 2006
Paperback ISBN: 184457122X

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#53 Post by subliminac » Sun Sep 11, 2005 9:36 pm

Does anyone have any suggestions as to good books on Antonioni?
The best...

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#54 Post by backstreetsbackalright » Sun Sep 11, 2005 11:01 pm

This one's very good to have around also, consisting mainly of pieces by Antonioni on each of his films. That, and a bunch of interviews. It appears that it's OOP, unfortunately. Alotta libraries will have it, tho.

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#55 Post by redbill » Mon Sep 12, 2005 9:11 am

Can someone suggest a good Truffaut book? Ideally an equal mix of his life/bio and his films. thanks.

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#56 Post by Jean-Luc Garbo » Mon Sep 12, 2005 2:16 pm

There's the Serge Tobianna book on Truffaut. It's really good on the films and has a lot of biographical detail. I forget who the co-author is, but one of them is a Cahiers contributor.

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#57 Post by ellipsis7 » Mon Sep 12, 2005 2:51 pm

For Antonioni:

THE ARCHITECTURE OF VISION mentioned (along with its companion volume UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Sam Rohdie/ANTONIONI (bfi OOP)

There are excellent pictures and some reasonable text in -
Seymour Chapman & Paul Duncan (Ed.) MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI (Taschen)

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#58 Post by BrightEyes23 » Mon Sep 12, 2005 10:13 pm

Any good books out there on Pasolini??

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#59 Post by lord_clyde » Mon Sep 12, 2005 10:13 pm

I would recommend John Pierson's "Spike, Mike, Slackers, and Dykes" a pretty informative, and funny guided tour of independent film from 1984's "Stranger than Paradise" up to "Clerks". I haven't finished it yet but I'm enjoying it so far.

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#60 Post by ellipsis7 » Tue Sep 13, 2005 4:11 am

Any good books out there on Pasolini??
Sam Rohdie's THE PASSION OF PIER PALO PASOLINI (bfi) is pretty good...

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#61 Post by leo goldsmith » Tue Sep 13, 2005 12:14 pm

Pier Paolo Pasolini: Contemporary Perspectives, ed. by Patrick Rumble and Bart Testa is very good, with an essay by Rumble on the Trilogy of Life that is a nice taste of his full-length book on those films. Also, reading Pasolini's essays on linguistics, politics, and cinema is an interesting way into his films.

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#62 Post by ellipsis7 » Thu Sep 15, 2005 3:45 am

Just reading my way through the new bfi book THE CINEMA OF MICHAEL POWELL - International Perspectives on an English Filmmaker, ed. Ian Christie and Andrew Moor. Really excellent lively stuff.

The first collection of essays on Powell putting him into critical context, two of them pay substantial acknowledgement to sources in CC commentaries, notably on IKWIG and PEEPING TOM... Indeed Laura Mulvey's essay states it is based on her piece on the PT disc (originally laserdisc)...

So it seems commentary tracks are becoming well established as a channel of primary publication...

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#63 Post by King of Kong » Sun Sep 18, 2005 12:29 am

can anyone tell me how Kieslowski on Kieslowski is? Or if there are any other books recommended on him?
I haven't read Kieslowski on Kieslowski, but Joseph G. Kickasola's The Films of Krzysztof Kieslowski: The Liminal Image is a remarkably thorough study, and then there's Annette Insdorf's Double Lives, Second Chances, which is a nice introductory work, but it's not very substantial.

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#64 Post by Kudzu » Mon Sep 19, 2005 12:14 am

BrightEyes23 wrote:Any good books out there on Pasolini??
I'd highly recommend the biography that Barth David Schwartz did, Pasolini Requiem. It covers everything from an extensive forensic study of his death to how his poetry collided with his films to his complex relationships with Ninetto Davoli and Maria Callas. It's a long read but well worth the effort.

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#65 Post by Cobalt60 » Mon Sep 19, 2005 3:25 pm

Can anyone recommend a decent book on Preston Sturges. I've seen Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges and Between Flops in used book stores and I know there are several others. Are any of them any good?

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#66 Post by Jean-Luc Garbo » Mon Sep 19, 2005 3:27 pm

"Kieslowski on Kieslowski" is essential! He goes into illuminating detail about his films. My favorite comment is his love of Tarkovsky. It's a great addition to one's Kieslowski library as well a document from the man himself.

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#67 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Wed Sep 21, 2005 4:26 pm

SncDthMnky wrote:I recently read Woody Allen on Woody Allen, which was superb. not much in terms of the actual technicality of filmmaking, but loads and loads of tidbits about storytelling.
Is this a good book to start on early Woody Allen, pre-'90s? What other books are good ones to pick up about his career up to that point?

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#68 Post by Galen Young » Thu Sep 22, 2005 12:13 am

Fletch F. Fletch wrote:Is this a good book to start on early Woody Allen, pre-'90s? What other books are good ones to pick up about his career up to that point?
For coverage of the classic "earlier, funnier ones", there is an early book by Eric Lax called On Being Funny: Woody Allen and Comedy. Written in 1975 it covers his standup years all the way up to Love & Death. It's still pretty easy to find at used bookstores I think. (by the same guy who later wrote that decent biography of Woody in 1991.)(I also really like the Woody bits in Ralph Rosenblum's great bio book When the Shooting Stops...)

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#69 Post by Gordon » Mon Sep 26, 2005 7:14 pm

Amos Vogel's legendary, Film As a Subversive Art should be out now, but seems to have been delayed:

Amazon USA

Amazon UK


A landmark text on what Cinema is, or can be.

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#70 Post by milk114 » Tue Sep 27, 2005 1:20 am

Quick question for everyone:

If I wanted to "get into" a new filmmaker do you think it is better to watch her/his film without any contextualization, get somewhat familiar with his/her oeuvre while viewing the films or read as much as possible before sitting down and watching (i like to read standing up). -or- is there such thing as too much contextualization/criticism?

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#71 Post by redbill » Tue Sep 27, 2005 10:00 am

What I do is get a book about a filmmaker and read up to the point of the next movie I want to watch. Then I watch the movie, and then read about that specific movie. I've found if I read first, it spoils the movie, and I end up going back to read that chapter anyway. Then after I read, I'll listen to the commentary, and watch it again if I liked it.

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#72 Post by exte » Wed Sep 28, 2005 12:01 pm

I would go to, first, actually. I fine pick what films I'll see when it comes to encountering a new director - start with the best, most acclaimed, and see if the hype is worth it. Then, if I'm really struck by the work, I watch more and begin to read up about them, using the same process by going to amazon, finding the best books about the directors, and then using Inter Library Loan to read them free... Some of my favorites from this process include Jane Campion and The Piano, Terry Gilliam, Kurosawa, of course... Sorry if I digressed too far off topic. Good luck, though!

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#73 Post by ezmbmh » Thu Sep 29, 2005 3:39 pm

Can anyone comment on Sarris's The John Ford Movie Mystery?

Just hauled myself through Laura Mulvey's BFI book on Kane. She clearly knows her stuff but the language is so jargon-loaded and self-referential it's like having your teeth filed. Example: "Like a version of the old, Wittingtonesque folk-tale of trans-class mobility, it is a story-cum-icon of American mythology."

I guess I'll take her word for it[/u]

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#74 Post by ellipsis7 » Thu Sep 29, 2005 3:45 pm

Sarris' The John Ford Movie Mystery is a fine piece of movie criticism written in accessible language, to form a provoking study of the complexities, contradictions, and controversiality of one of America's greatest film directors (and cranky obtuse Irish son of a gun)... Written in 1976 it comes in at just under 200 pages and is OOP, I'm almost sure...

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#75 Post by Subbuteo » Thu Sep 29, 2005 6:06 pm

Science Is Fiction: The Films of Jean Painleve

Okay this isn't your average treatise on an auteur, what you get instead is a beautifully designed book, with divine images and stills from his many films coupled with a wonderful narrative offering another means of examining art, science, and nature.
Highly recommended to those with a penchant for natural history and the surreal.

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