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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swingo
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#26 Post by swingo » Thu Jun 16, 2005 5:12 pm

I for one, always go back to "L'Homme a la Camera" by Néstor Almendros, one of the greatest DP's of all time. and for Cinema History in Spanish,I found excellent the Román Gubern's "Historia Del Cine", very concise thoughtful book.

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Gregory
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#27 Post by Gregory » Thu Jun 16, 2005 6:10 pm

After lavishing such praise on Wood, I want to point out that having a favorite anything can be limiting. I'm very skeptical of gurus and idols, so I'd never want to be a Wood acolyte. I couldn't be one anyway because I disagree with him about many of the things he writes and believes. Furthermore, there are many films I love, even entire traditions of film and regions of the film-producing world that I am fascinated by but in which he has expressed no interest or appreciation.
Anyway, I don't like to read any analysis of a film until I've seen it and thought it through for myself. I also seek out as many differing analyses as I can and read them charitably. Still, having done all that and in spite of the differences I've cited, I usually find myself not only agreeing with Wood's views but feeling in some ways an affinity for the way he thinks and writes. In other ways, again, we differ quite a bit.

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#28 Post by zedz » Thu Jun 16, 2005 6:24 pm

Gregory wrote:However, it seems to me that in the last couple of decades, there has been a huge gulf between the two areas of writing. This is part of a more general trend toward specialization and esotericism in the Anglo-American humanities and social sciences, which in my view was largely a result of the vast influences of continental theory.
I think that the primary function of far too much literary and film theory nowadays is not to illuminate the ostensible object of study, but to perpetuate the theory (and, moreover, to perpetuate the academic careers fuelled by the theory).

For me, theory ceases to be of any interest once it ceases to operate as a useful tool for understanding actual works. Partly that's to do with the conceptual content, but partly that's to do with language - if the vocabulary of the theory has become so esoteric that its meaning can no longer be communicated to the uninitiated, the chances of it actually being able to perform its supposed explicatory function is remote. Of course, the use of exclusionary language is another tried-and-true strategy for perpetuating academic careers.

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duane hall
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#29 Post by duane hall » Thu Jun 16, 2005 6:50 pm

No worries, Gregory. I'm sure none of us equated your enthusiasm for Wood with unconditional fanboyishness. What's most important, of course, is not that we agree with everything a critic purports, but that the writing encourages and deepens our engagement with the medium or specific work. And that idea certainly came across in your post.

And Zedz, that was an eloquent of summation of what's been on more than a few of our minds.

I don't mean to sound like a cheerleader, I'm just encouraged by a kind of synergy of sensibility I've felt recently among some of my friends and now here with some of you in this thread.

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#30 Post by Blissful Sinner » Fri Jun 17, 2005 11:14 am

I agree that filmmaker's offer the best insight into the nature of their craft. My favorite books about film are...

The Conversations - by Micheal Ondadtje
This book is a series of interviews conducted by Micheal Ondaatje (author of the English Patient) with legendary editor/sound designer Walter Murch. This book is great because Walter Murch is such an interesting individual. He has so many theories about film and about sound and explains how and why he made some of the choices he's done throughout his career. Plenty of great anecdotes and just a very enjoyable read.

Stanley Kubrick Interviews
This book is probably the best book I've ever read about Kubrick. It is just a collection of interviews that he has done throughout his career, but it really gives you an insight into one of cinema's most enigmatic figures.

On Directing Film - David Mamet
This is a very quick read, but very insightful in regards to shooting according to "the cut". This book was written right after Mamet finished House of Games and I'm sure that a lot of the ideas that Mamet was developing in the book would later be renounced or altered as he progessed as a filmmaker.

These are a few reccomendations. As stated previously in the thread the filmmaker on filmmaker series is also excellent. [/u]

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Jean-Luc Garbo
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#31 Post by Jean-Luc Garbo » Sat Jun 18, 2005 10:39 pm

The book by Almendros is such a treasure! I read it a few years ago and it was such a delight. The chapters on Rohmer were my favorites. The making of Days Of Heaven was fun to read from Almendros' viewpoint. It's a crime the book is out of print. The Faber series can't be recommended highly enough. Their David Lynch book is a treasure.

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#32 Post by Poncho Punch » Sun Jun 19, 2005 1:06 am

So I take it nobody's familiar with the Woo book I mentioned? You know, when I revived this thread.

In any case, it's published by McFarland, apparently a North Carolina-based group, though I gather the author was at the University of North Dakota when he wrote it. The bookstore I saw it at had a used copy for $20 and listed the publisher's price as $45, so I don't rightly know what to make of that. Any help at all would be appreciated.

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#33 Post by davida2 » Sun Jun 19, 2005 8:05 pm

I was exposed to a fair amount of 'continental theory' in college, and given the continued evolution of theory, I still have trouble articulating a lot of it. My significant other (J) is a film academic-in training (Ph.D studies), and is well-versed in it, though also rather ambivalent. In any case, I can vouch for the fact that a rigorous obscurantism, developed for career preservation reasons, is thoroughly in place. J's insistence upon blending psychoanalytic and structuralist theory with other approaches, and in attempting to look beyond the canon for objects of study meets with some resistance; such an approach - upon evaluation - is taken as a challenge by some academic higher-ups. This would imply that at least certain academics' work isn't as valuable as they think it is. Time will ultimately tell - I do feel that certain forms of theory have their value, but I am suspicious of the institutionalism of theory as a thing unto itself.
goofbutton wrote:As much as I read film criticism (and I try to read every bit I can find, in newspapers, academic journals, books of all sorts, etc.) I find the best - or most interesting - evaluation of films always comes from other filmmakers. They might not always be able to articulate why they like a certain film or director, but it's always a real incentive to watch or re-watch something if I find out it's highly thought of by someone whose work I already admire.
I agree - to the degree that I've had some contact with theory, I can't claim to be any sort of expert with it, and I think criticism absolutely must communicate smart (not impenetrable) interpretations with a wider film community; a community that would hopefully expand in an intelligent fashion. Whatever I've gotten from theory has definitely been equalled or surpassed by reading filmmakers own writings or, in some instances, biographies - my understanding of Kurosawa, Ozu, Satyajit Ray, Fellini, Godard, Scorsese and others was greatly broadened by reading some of their own analysis of their own work, and works they cite as influences. Any of my knowledge of techniques, and of how to examine films in social context, aesthetically or technically has usually come from this kind of investigation.

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#34 Post by leo goldsmith » Sun Jun 19, 2005 8:27 pm

davida2 wrote:Whatever I've gotten from theory has definitely been equalled or surpassed by reading filmmakers own writings or, in some instances, biographies - my understanding of Kurosawa, Ozu, Satyajit Ray, Fellini, Godard, Scorsese and others was greatly broadened by reading some of their own analysis of their own work, and works they cite as influences. Any of my knowledge of techniques, and of how to examine films in social context, aesthetically or technically has usually come from this kind of investigation.
I agree with you, but for a very specific reason. Most film theories, as sexy or intellectually engaging as they can be, rest on very basic and rather flimsy assumptions: films are like dreams, cinema is like a language, the camera is like the eye, the camera is like a prosthesis of the eye, and so on. If one is skeptical about film theories in general, they only really make sense as metaphors by which particular filmmakers live. So, if Eisenstein believes that the essence of cinema is montage, this may be illuminating for the viewer of Eisenstein's films, but it is not something that the viewer has to actually believe. (By the way, I realize this is an absurd reduction, but hopefully you get the point.)

However, I think it's important that one regard theory not only as a means of explicating individual works, but also as an autonomous entity that needs to be challenged and appraised on its own merits. It seems to me that, while many don't like the idea of theories of film being separate from film itself, this is precisely what makes a theory a theory: it is a (usually very broad) statement about cinema's ontology, its effects on the spectator, its place in society, and its inherent ways of conveying meaning. The practice of applying theories of film to individual works in order to "prove" something about one or the other is, it seems to me, rather more dubious, or even detrimental, than simply approaching the assumptions and generalities of a theory on its own terms and by its own logic.

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Gregory
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#35 Post by Gregory » Sun Jun 19, 2005 8:34 pm

Reading filmmakers' writings about their own work can be illuminating in many cases but not in others. For example, some -- possibly even most -- of the great auteurs of Classic Hollywood were willing or able to say very little that really showed the true depth of what they were doing. Even with directors who make detailed explorations of their own work, their writings should only form part of an analysis of their work and its significance because, in my view, one is never in the best position to explore and assess one's own achievements.

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#36 Post by Jean-Luc Garbo » Mon Jun 20, 2005 3:10 pm

I was reading about Sturges in Sarris' "You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet" and had forgotten how much I'd enjoyed the book. I'd recommend this one as a valuable guide to old Hollywood.

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#37 Post by Jem » Thu Jun 23, 2005 8:19 pm

Andrei Tarkovsky
Sculpting In Time (Reflections on the Cinema)

Faber & Faber, Revised edition 1989, English translation
of "Sapetschatljonnoje Wremja", ISBN 0-571-15135-3.
Also: Univ of Texas Pr; ISBN: 0292776241
[NOTE that the first AMERICAN - not this one - edition states:
"This translation originally published in slightly
different form in Great Britain by Bodley Head, Ltd.,
London in 1986."

Also...if you want something broader, the ultimate film list book:
"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" by Steven Jay Schneider
is great. (+ the cover is hilarious)

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#38 Post by Poncho Punch » Tue Jul 12, 2005 6:52 pm

Should I pick up Thinking In Pictures or Sayles On Sayles? I have not seen Matewan yet, is the former book written with the understanding that readers have viewed the film?

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#39 Post by Cinéslob » Tue Jul 12, 2005 7:50 pm

Jem wrote:Also...if you want something broader, the ultimate film list book: "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" by Steven Jay Schneider is great. (+ the cover is hilarious)
Aye, a pretty good 'bedside table' book that. However, the omission and inclusion of a few films judged to be the 1001 best of cinema certainly had me rolling my eyes on occasion. Then again, 'tis the nature of the beast...

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#40 Post by Godot » Thu Jul 14, 2005 3:57 pm

Steven H wrote:David Desser's Eros Plus Massacre is flat out *great*. Interesting commentary on the Japanese New Wave (and when it strays from that topic it's just as interesting.)
Thanks for the tip on this. I took it out from my local library and have been enjoying it a great deal. I'm interesting in reading more about Seijun Suzuki; Desser covers his works for about 10 pages. The first book that introduced me to Suzuki (Asian Pop Cinema (Lee Server, 1999)) devotes a scant four pages to him, though it has terrific images from the films (as well as stills from Kwaidan, Sword of Doom, and Irma Vep that intrigued me before I'd ever heard of the movies). I know there's a retrospective booklet long out of print (Branded to Thrill (Field, Rayns, BFI, 1995) ... does anyone in the forum have a copy?), and I found a few other books that list him as a subject:

The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film (Mes, Sharp, 2004)
The Yakuza Movie Book: a Guide to Japanese Gangster Films (Shilling, 2003)

Has anyone on the forum read these books, and can offer an opinion of them? (They're not available in my library system, otherwise I'd explore them myself.)

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Gordon
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#41 Post by Gordon » Fri Jul 15, 2005 11:59 am

A few random recommendations:

Films and Feelings by Raymond Durgnat (1967, M.I.T. Press)

His views on This Island Earth and how Cinema relates to Mythology are fascinating. Durgnat's book analysis on Psycho is also superb.

World Film Directors: 1890-1945, edited by John Wakeman

World Film Directors: 1945-1985, edited by John Wakeman

I dot own Vol 2 yet, but Vol 1 is an awesome resource, with entries on every major director who was born before 1925 and many now-forgotten masters of Cinema. Everyone should own these. I'd better go order Vol 2.

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#42 Post by Steven H » Mon Aug 08, 2005 1:05 pm

Godot wrote:The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film (Mes, Sharp, 2004) The Yakuza Movie Book: a Guide to Japanese Gangster Films (Shilling, 2003)

Has anyone on the forum read these books, and can offer an opinion of them? (They're not available in my library system, otherwise I'd explore them myself.)
I have not read them, but I'm not sure how far back the Sharp (who I usually enjoy reading) book goes, and I've continually found myself at odds with Schilling's takes on films (can't give any specific examples though.)

Your best bet is probably the Rayns book. He's consistently interesting. Then again, I'm just going by my familiarity with the writers, I haven't read these books. Not much help.

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#43 Post by Faux Hulot » Mon Aug 08, 2005 4:31 pm

One of my favorite underrated books is When The Shooting Stops, The Cutting Begins by film editor Ralph Rosenbloom. Among his numerous credits are Annie Hall and The Producers, and he has some great anecdotes about how he allegedly rescued them from the realms of the unwatchable. Yet, he never comes across as self-serving or egotistical, just full of smart and wryly funny insights into the editing process.

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#44 Post by Cinesimilitude » Mon Aug 08, 2005 9:07 pm

I am currently Reading Syd Field's "The Screenwriter's Problem Solver". It's quite good, but it's more for people interested in american filmmaking. it's very formulaic.

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.

the third one i'm going to recommend is one of my favorite books, "The Art of Editing: The Conversations with Walter Murch". Written by Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient) it is the transcripts of 5 conversations between the writer and editor and is ALWAYS interesting. any fan of Apocalypse Now, The Godfather trilogy, and The Conversation (all films edited by Murch) will find this extremely informative. and the best part of all, Is the conversation in which he discusses recutting Orson Welles' Touch of Evil, according to the memo he wrote to the studio as he sat and watched the studio controlled version ONLY ONE TIME. Welles wrote about 58 pages of notes while watching the film once, and there are excerpts of that memo in this book. it's fascinating to read about. definitely worth the cover price.

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#45 Post by Blissful Sinner » Mon Aug 08, 2005 11:21 pm

I'm currently reading Herzog on Herzog and it has to be one of the best books I've ever read. But everyone's love and admiration for the world's greatest filmmaker has been said elsewhere.

I'm curious what are all of the faber Filmmaker on Filmmaker books? If someone has a link or could list them all that would be great. It is really a great series and one that I want to investigate further.

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#46 Post by dekadetia » Tue Aug 09, 2005 8:17 am

Blissful Sinner wrote:What are all of the faber Filmmaker on Filmmaker books?
Since ff provide no convenient list that I can see, I compiled this from the first page of Trier on von Trier and their website. They claim 25 titles to date, so this should be everything.

Faber and Faber's Directors on Directing series:
Woody Allen on Woody Allen, Almodóvar on Almodóvar, Altman on Altman, Burton on Burton, Cassavetes on Cassavetes, Cronenberg on Cronenberg, de Toth on de Toth, Fellini on Fellini, Gilliam on Gilliam, Hawks on Hawks, Herzog on Herzog, Hitchcock on Hitchcock, Kieslowski on Kieslowski, Levinson on Levinson, Loach on Loach, Baz Luhrmann on Baz Luhrmann, Lynch on Lynch, Malle on Malle, Minghella on Minghella, Potter on Potter, Sayles on Sayles, Schrader on Schrader, Scorsese on Scorsese, Sirk on Sirk and Trier on von Trier.

I read Trier on von Trier just recently. The book is true to its title, Trier on von Trier -- Lars Trier comes off as a forthcoming, friendly, nonconfrontational individual discussing Lars von Trier, his notoriously difficult and confrontational directorial personality. It's a very complete assessment -- there is even a chapter discussing Psychomobile #1 - The World Clock, an absurdly Rube Goldbergian art/performance exhibit von Trier devised that I had never heard of before (the making of which is now apparently documented in a doc called The Exhibited). Lesser films (at least in von Trier's opinion) like Medea are explored as fully as Breaking the Waves or Dogville. His manifestos are reprinted here to supplement the interviews, as well -- many will have read these before, but it's nice to have them in one place, and interesting to read them in short succession.
Last edited by dekadetia on Tue Aug 09, 2005 10:15 am, edited 4 times in total.

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#47 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Tue Aug 09, 2005 12:46 pm

Blissful Sinner wrote:Stanley Kubrick Interviews
This book is probably the best book I've ever read about Kubrick. It is just a collection of interviews that he has done throughout his career, but it really gives you an insight into one of cinema's most enigmatic figures.
You should really read Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by Vincent Lobrutto which is the best biography I've read on the man and provides a much more comprehensive look at his life (esp. before he became a filmmaker) and his movies. Lobrutto basically interviewed everyone he could who had worked with Kubrick who was still alive. It's a fantastic read.

For all your Bava fans, Tim Lucas has posted an update for his upcoming Mario Bava tome. He's posted 4 pages from his Danger: Diabolik chapter. Man, it looks nice!

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#48 Post by dekadetia » Tue Aug 09, 2005 3:15 pm

My god... Seems like it had to be about seven years ago that VW started to take preorders for this -- I know I was still in high school, anyway. Good to see it's finally coming together.

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#49 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Tue Aug 09, 2005 4:23 pm

dekadetia wrote:My god... Seems like it had to be about seven years ago that VW started to take preorders for this -- I know I was still in high school, anyway. Good to see it's finally coming together.
I know! I pre-ordered it years ago and totally forgot about it. Every once in awhile something will jog my memory and I'll check the Video Watchdog site to see what's going on with the book.

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#50 Post by ftsoh » Thu Aug 25, 2005 12:28 pm

Could anyone comments on these books?

A Long Hard Look at Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho

The Cinema Book

Also, is there any good book that cover the history of American censorship?

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