Cinema Books For The New Year

Reading & Writing

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There are lots of new cinema books out at the moment, although it seems the taste for tell-all biographies (once the genre’s main staple) is dying out, to be replaced by old-school coffee table volumes. Here are a few you may be interested in.

In ‘Rosebud Sleds And Horses’ Heads’ Scott Jordan Harris explores film’s most evocative objects. It’s a nice idea and the text is pithy, but the items feel random. You could argue that ‘2001’s totem is the gleaming red eye of HAL 9000 rather than the Monolith, or that Marty McFly’s DeLorean or even his pants are more key to ‘Back To The Future’ than his hoverboard.

Philip Ziegler’s ‘Olivier’ is as elegant and robust as the man himself. Sir Laurence took delight in professionalism, fired people with grace, charmed co-stars with ferocity and scaled Shakespeare to a height that Kenneth Branagh, who cruelly mimicked him in ‘My Week With Marilyn’, could never manage. Superbly insightful.

‘Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations’ were transcribed late at night with film hack Peter Evans. They’re bitchy, drunken, bawdy, slangily Runyonesque, and arrive too late to shock, but still entertain.

A trio from the ladies; reading Patsy Kensit’s listless ‘Absolute Beginner’ is like having tepid tea slowly poured into your lap. The story of how she worked with frozen peas and Elizabeth Taylor is wilfully without any insight at all. She used to live in my building, and notably leaves out her brief marriage to my neighbour here on her downward spiral as a serial bride in the music industry. For effortless class and graceful, grounded writing try Anjelica Huston’s ‘A Story Lately Told’; you can’t help liking her. ‘Joan Collins: Passion For Life’ digs beneath the glitter to the sequins, being a scrapbook of cheesecake, sequins, husbands, sequins and boyfriends. Did I mention sequins? Collins lists the things she loves, from art deco furniture to ormolu credenzas. 5-A fabulous.

Mark Kermode’s populist ‘Hatchet Job’ avoids the trainspotty airlessness of film criticism by pulling focus on the reviewers. Yes, it’s myopic and combative but he’s a film critic; it comes with the job, a career choice that’s redundant now anyone can do it.

In ‘Moments That Made The Movies’ David Thomson finally has fun. The stills are luminous and there are left-field surprises with ‘Infamous’, the other Truman Capote film, turning up, and the critically dismissed ‘Burn Before Reading’. My heart sank when I saw old warhorses like ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘Casablanca’ dragged out again but even here, the prose in unexpectedly bracing.

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You have to love ‘Offbeat’, Julian Upton’s perverse guide to British cinema’s strangest films because it disinters Peter Cushing’s ghastly low-point ‘Corruption’ and lists ‘The Impersonator’, in which (spoiler alert) the killer is a pantomime dame. Behind You! ‘Gothic; The Dark Heart of Film’ is a compendium of fine prose and photography that’s better than the season it accompanied, thanks to erudite contributions from Anne Billson, Kim Newman and Stephen Volk.

Joe Moran exposes our love/hate relationship with British television in the splendid ‘Armchair Nation’, studding a scholarly overview with nostalgic recollections. Noel Coward moaned that TV was ‘a hideous and horrid invention’. Illustrating the plunge from early highbrow content is the story of two Covent Garden porters overheard arguing about Caravaggio.

George Tiffin’s ‘All The Best Lines’ is exactly that; a hefty cut-and-paste quote-book that’s a charmer to read and a bugger to lift. ‘The Wes Anderson Collection’ draws back the curtain on the gloriously oddball director, but why aren’t there musical cutouts and pop-ups? The in-depth interviews make explicit Anderson’s Hal Ashby influence and will send you back to the films.

I was surprised to find myself in ‘Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities’. The fantasy director’s notebooks and acquisitions included one of my own novels. Now I know why it didn’t get made. A stunningly realized volume with a pleasing Eastern European vibe, only missing the monsters from ‘Pacific Rim’.

Everyone knows that DC’s movies are square and Marvel’s are cool, so ‘The Marvel Encyclopedia’ is an essential purchase for the lycra-loving man-child in your family. How else will they ever remember the names of all the X-Men?

 

2 comments on “Cinema Books For The New Year”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    Good point that the red eye of Hal (that’s sounds like an ancient Egypt novel) was the totem of ‘2001’, but MGM was fully behind the Monolith. They gave away Monolith earrings, pendants and chains, rings, money clips, tie clips, cufflinks and buttonhole dingers. No salt and pepper shakers though.
    In less than 48 hours, we will be well beyond 1984 and 2001. Anybody want to run with that thought?

  2. andrea yang says:

    Have you seen a copy of the Historical Dictionary of British Cinema by Alan Burton and Steve Chibnall? – To pricey for my library but well reviewed.

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