AM Buffalo


Give the gift of books about movies

Posted at 8:47 AM, Dec 09, 2014

Martin Scorsese, who wrote the foreword for the first title listed here, once famously said that movies "fulfill a spiritual need that people have to share a common memory."

Books about movies meet that need, too, though on more intimate terrain — a living room, a library, a cafe, a bed.

What better time than right now to riffle the pages of the latest film-centric compendiums, coffee-table tomes, bios, memoirs, and art- and photography-driven collections available at your local bookstore (assuming you still have one) or online?

Among the worthy contenders:

"Altman" Kathryn Reed Altman and GiuliaD'AgnoloVallan (Abrams, $40).

Scorsese, in his introduction to this massive "visual biography" of director Robert Altman, singles out 1971's McCabe & Mrs. Miller, starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie, as "one of the most beautiful American films ever made." Compiled by Altman's widow along with film critic Vallan, "Altman takes a chronological view, from M*A*S*H in 1970 to Prairie Home Companion in 2006, with additional commentary from an Altmanesque cast of characters including E.L. Doctorow, Lily Tomlin, Alan Rudolph, and Kurt Vonnegut. The breadth and invention of the late, great director is rightly celebrated.

"Bruce Dern: A Memoir" With Christopher Fryer and Robert Crane (Kentucky Press, $19.95).

The veteran actor and late-career Oscar nominee (for last year's gem, Nebraska) rambles through his life, dropping amusing, illuminating, and occasionally heartrending anecdotes along the way. From his days at the University of Pennsylvania (track team, journalism school, film club) to the Actors Studio in New York and then on to L.A. and endeavors as wildly diverse as The Trip (1967), The King of Marvin Gardens and Silent Running (both 1972), Black Sunday (1977), and That Championship Season (1982), Dern has kind words, and not-so-kind, to say about the characters he played and the collaborators he played with. Originally published in 2007, this new paperback edition sadly stops with Dern's work on 2003's Monster — Charlize Theron's Aileen Wuornos serial-killer bio. That leaves a lot of film (and HBO's Big Love) out of the equation — including Nebraska — but shouldn't stop devotees from joining Dern for the ride.

"Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life" Peter Ackroyd (Doubleday, $25.95).

A resonating biography of the iconic star, from the Little Tramp's silent-era debut to the scandals that sent Chaplin packing (to Switzerland in the early 1950s), and all the landmark films and follies along the way. Ackroyd's book is less comprehensive than other Chaplin bios, but in its concision, bigger moments — and themes — emerge.

"Gone With the Wind: The Great American Movie, 75 Years Later" The editors of Life (Life, $27.95).

Packed with photographs, studio documents, and illustrations — on set, off set, behind the scenes, production and costume designs — the Life magazine coffee tabler looks at the famed Clark Gable/Vivien Leigh romance, released in 1939, from every which way. Olivia de Havilland, the last surviving key cast member, offers her take in a new interview; Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Wesley Morris examines the racial politics of the plantation-era South (as filtered through '30s Hollywood); Southern scribes Pat Conroy and Rick Bragg provide new insights; and the path from Margaret Mitchell's bestseller to David O. Selznick's budget-busting behemoth is retraced in juicy detail. Frankly, you should give a damn.

"Hollywood Frame by Frame: The Unseen Silver Screen in Contact Sheets, 1951-1997" Karina Longworth (Princeton Architectural Press, $30).

In analog days, when photographers had to develop actual film to see what they'd shot, contact sheets were the way to capture one or more strips of a developed roll — a series or sequence of shots, there to peruse. The best of the images would be culled for production stills for publicity and promotion. Film critic and historian Longworth had the brilliant idea to compile contact sheets from some of the key movies of the second half of the last century. Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, James Dean in Giant, Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits, posed and candid shots from A Place in the Sun and The African Queen, Rear Window, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Graduate, Dirty Harry, and — from "The Last Days of Celluloid" — Fatal Attraction, The Grifters, and The Silence of the Lambs. In all, 70 movies are revisited via the photographers' lenses, with Longworth providing accounts of the respective titles' production history. Unique, informative, surprising.

"Separate Cinema: The First 100 Years of Black Poster Art" John Duke Kisch (Reel Art Press, $75).

One of the most beautiful and historically significant books of the year, culled from Kisch's vast archive of posters commemorating the films — from the silents through blaxploitation to right now — made for and marketed to black audiences. With a foreword by Henry Louis Gates and an afterword by Spike Lee, the text is substantive, but the dazzling visuals are what speak volumes about the pain, pride, and passion of a race often exiled from, or marginalized by, the mainstream (read "white") movie industry.

"The Ultimate Woody Allen Film Companion" Jason Bailey (Quarto, $30).

From What's Up, Tiger Lily? in 1966 to Blue Jasmine in 2013, Flavorwire film editor Bailey examines Allen's directorial efforts, offering production and plot overviews, but also analysis of the motifs and themes evident in the Woodman's oeuvre. The only problem with a book like this is that its subject, just turned 79, is so industrious it's already out of date: This summer's Magic in the Moonlight is absent, and Untitled Woody Allen Project 2015 (with Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone) is already in the can.

"What I Love About Movies" Edited by David Jenkins and Adam Woodward (Opus, $36.95).

The question "What do you love about movies?" was posed to 50 actors, actresses, and directors, and the answers are revealing — if not also in need of rigorous editing. (The "wells," "ers," "ums," and "kindas" run rampant.) Still, Wes Anderson's many-questions comeback is a trip; Alfonso Cuaron'shaikulike response is beautiful, Quentin Tarantino's is typically self-serving, the Coen brothers' funny, and Michael Fassbender's, Helen Mirren's, and Jake Gyllenhaal's pointed and passionate. Packaged with mini-bios of the interviewees, and illustrations by a wide assortment of artists.

"World Gone Wild: A Survivor's Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies" david j. moore (Schiffer Books, $34.99).

It begins with Aachi & Ssipak, a "bizarre South Korean animated movie" from 2006. It ends, a deliriously obsessive 300-plus pages later, with ZPG: Zero Population Growth, a futuristic dystopian thriller from 1971 starring Geraldine Chaplin and Oliver Reed that the author promises is "so much more compelling than Children of Men." If anyone can make that statement and get away with it, it's the lower-case-insistent moore, whose sweeping knowledge of, and affection for, screendom's doom-laden genre (and its multiple subgenres) hits you like a blazing fireball.

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