Monday, September 9, 2019

Books For Film Buffs

By Laurie Allee

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Cinephile Reading...

I had such a lovely response from readers who enjoyed The Movies Books Make in Your Head.  I appreciate the enthusiastic welcome!  I love getting email from fellow bookworms (and film lovers) so please continue to reach out with your thoughts and recommendations.  (And make sure to let me know if you want to be included in my upcoming Book Club!)  

Since several of you mentioned loving books about films, I thought I'd put together a list of a few of my favorites you might not have read.  (My film bookshelf has a lot more, so be sure to check it out.)

Bookworms and film buffs tend to get along really well.  (Except for the fact that those pesky filmmakers often ruin a great book ... but that's the subject of another essay.)  Below, you'll find my picks for those who love to read about movies almost as much as they like to watch them:

If you've explored my Library shelves, you've probably seen me glowingly rave about Zeroville by Steve Erickson.  This novel is one of my favorite books of the last 20 years, and I keep giving away copies to my friends and family. 

I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked it up.  I'm even more uncertain about how to describe it.  I'll try:

It's a book about a young architecture student named Vikar who lives/eats/breathes movies to the point of being called "cineautistic" by his friends.  He has a tattoo of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor emblazoned on his bald head.  He shows up in Hollywood in the summer of 1969, is mistaken for a member of the Manson family, becomes a film editor  and connects with a legendary ghost, a mysterious actress, her daughter and any number of Los Angeles locals who seem to be more interested in the music made on Sunset Boulevard than the films made nearby.  Vikar eventually stumbles upon a secret film contained within the reels of every film ever made.

That doesn't even begin to cover it.

I rarely love a book as much as I love this one.  (The scene of a would-be burglar ranting about cinema will make every film nerd roar with simpatico laughter -- I mean seriously, the dude is right.)

Listen to Bronson Pinchot's masterful narration in the audiobook, if possible.

The Making of the African Queen or How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and almost lost my mind by Katharine Hepburn is one of my absolute favorite movie memoirs.

This is exactly the kind of chatty insider story you'd hope to get from the great Kate.  Her writing style is conversational and always witty.  I loved reading about how she and Lauren Bacall kept up with Bogie and Huston in an era dominated by men.   This was a truly collaborative project executed in a setting that would make most participants run screaming for a Four Seasons suite or a ticket home.  

Hepburn is cynical, enthusiastic, nostalgic, professional and wickedly funny.

Would you believe there was a time when women actually had power in Hollywood?  No, this next book isn't from an alt-history sci-fi universe.  In Without Lying Down author and historian Cari Beauchamp brilliantly chronicles the story of Frances Marion  her many (many!) female colleagues who influenced filmmaking from 1912 through the 1940s.  Did you know that Frances Marion was the highest paid screenwriter of three decades?  That she produced 200 films and won Academy Awards? I didn't know either until I read this fascinating film and social history.

My daughter wants to be a filmmaker, and I am thrilled to be able to tell her she'll stand on the shoulders of trailblazing, powerful women.

(I hear the audio version of this is great, too.)

True Crime fans will love Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood.   Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime as well as worthy placement on the New York Times Bestseller list, this book has been described as The Day of the Locust meets Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil with a bit of Devil in White City thrown into the mix.  I don't usually care about crime scandal stories, but I was hooked from the opening pages.

Author William J. Mann creates an epic depiction of 1920s Hollywood using a wealth of source materials including recently released FBI files.  He focuses on the trials and travails of three gorgeous, ambitious, drug-addled actresses, the moguls who control them, the thugs who threaten them and the spin doctors desperate to control the narrative.   If you think the 1960s were wild, Hollywood in the 1920s will blow your mind.

This is a gripping true story, told by a master storyteller who managed to solve a crime that had baffled detectives and historians for almost 100 years.

(Definitely check out the audio for this one!)

The next suggestion deserves a prominent place in every film buff's library.  Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood's Golden Age  is the most comprehensive book of cinematic knowledge and history that I own.

This huge volume includes interviews with master filmmakers from the American Film Institute's forty-year series of seminars.  Wish you'd been able to attend every one?  Now, you can have the next best thing.

In it you will find legendary filmmakers explaining it all in their own words.  Read interviews with directors, cinematographers, producers and screenwriters from the pioneering first days of celluloid through Hollywood's golden age.  (Who is included?  Well... how about King Vidor, Howard Hawks, Fritz Lang, Hal Wallis, Ray Bradbury, Frank Capra, Ingmar Bergman and Jean Renoir just for starters?)  There are some great stories, valuable advice and more than a few inside jokes.  I consider this book film school in a single volume. (Although I recently discovered Volume 2: Conversations at the American Film Institute with the Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation.  It's a companion to the first volume, focusing on filmmaking since the 1950s with voices including Truffaut, Pollack, Lynch, Scorsese and Spielberg.  It is currently on my To Be Read pile.  I'll get back to you when I finish it!)

Rather read about films instead of filmmakers?  In my opinion there is no finer film critic than Anthony Lane.  My favorite collection is his 2002 compilation of New Yorker reviews Nobody's PerfectLane writes about movies for people who adore movies.  He is witty, relatable and thoughtful with a ridiculously expansive knowledge of many, many things.

This book also includes several of his pieces on books (yay!) and a few more essays about people.  But what you'll love most are his movie reviews. This volume offers commentaries on films as far apart as Forrest Gump and Showgirls, treating all with equal parts respect, curiosity and brilliant analysis.   I love the way Lane can make me think about films I'd forgotten -- and a few I never bothered to think about at all.  He wanders all over the intellectual landscape without ever becoming snobbish or pedantic.  Plus his writing is just so good.

Happy cinema reading, bookworms and filmbugs!

And don't forget to watch my original video at the top of this post.  It's obvious THIS bookworm is also a filmbug...

(Since you're all so great, here's a bonus.)

For more great film books, click here.