Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Favorite Film Books from 2000 (Contentville) by Tosh Berman


French New Wave, by Jean Douchet

When I die, I want to be buried with Jean Douchet's French New Wave. The fact that yours truly will one day be in a coffin means that I need a good (long) book to read and to look at -- and this is the book. It is a treat for both the eyes, with ravishing film stills and layout of text, and for the intellect, with penetrating thoughts on the importance of the French 'New Wave' in cinema history. This seductively well-illustrated book takes one back to when films were fresh and exciting. All the major heroes are here: Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and others. Included are the original reviews by the Cahiers du Cinéma group, plus the original film bills from the ever influential Cinémathéque Française: First they were critics, the first to look at the importance of cinema and the first to
value the films for their directors instead of their stars, studios, or box-office stature. Later, they made films -- cheap, inventive, and still fresh and beautiful as the first sunlight.

City of Nets, by Otto Friedrich

In the years between 1939 to 1949, Los Angeles was the cultural capital of the world, in part due to men like Hitler, who were discouraging certain types of artists from working in their version of a new Germany. So Hollywood became host to cultural German legends like Bertolt Brecht, Igor Stravinsky, Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Alfred Doblin, Arnold Schoenberg, Ernst Lubitsch, Fritz Lang, and Peter Lorre, among others. On the American side, we had Nathanael West, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and others writing for the film factory. And for the conservative-minded studio heads, the one thing almost as bad as the Nazis were the Hollywood workers' unions. No problem though, when one had the HUAC to label the working stiffs as communists. In addition, there's Charlie Chaplin getting kicked out of the United States for political and sexual reasons, and Errol Flynn's infamous two-way mirrors in the walls and ceilings of his love pad. The result is a book that exposes Hollywood as a cultural landscape with a rather devilish personality.

Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon, by Kenneth Anger

It's not the stories themselves, but how Kenneth Anger tells the stories. On the surface this book is a diatribe against the Hollywood system, but underneath it is a love letter to the city and its famous citizens. One can
spend a lifetime proving or disproving the gossip, but what's the point?  Anger (also a brilliant filmmaker) has written a beautiful book about Hollywood's real greatness: the sleaze, drugs, death, and sexual excess.
What's distinctive about Hollywood is the image, and Anger focuses fully on it. All the great gossip is here: Fatty Arbuckle's rape trial, Chaplin's affairs with (much) younger girls, Erich Von Strohiem's on-the-set staged
orgies, and so forth. In addition to the stories, Anger uses great photographs of the stars at their low points. This book exposes the soul of Hollywood in poetic terms

The Parade's Gone By, by Kevin Brownlow

The best history of the American silent-movie era. British film historian Brownlow interviewed not only the stars of these films, but their technicians, stuntmen, cameramen, and others who made silent films an art form when the cinema medium was still young. Brownlow spoke to many screen legends while they were still kicking, so one is able to hear the voices of Buster Keaton, Howard Hawks, Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, and King Vidor.
He was also wise in his choice to let many of the participants speak for themselves about their early cinematic experiences. An essential book for silent-film lovers, as well as those who are interested in the culture of
cinema production in the early twentieth century.

Eros in Hell, by Jack Hunter

What's cinema without sleaze? The history of film always had an element of sordidness, and the B-movie studios in Japan have produced their own bizarre quantity of off-the-wall cinema. Jack Hunter's Eros in Hell goes into the
murky world of mondo Japanese films and their filmmakers. Here we have interviews with filmmakers like Koji Wakamatsu (Go, Go, Second Time Virgin) and Takao Nakano (described here as the Ed Wood of Japan). There is also Seijun Suzuki (the Sam Fuller of Japan), Hisayasu Sato (mixture of porno and avant-garde leanings), and the legendary Nagisa Oshima (Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence). Not only is this book jam-packed with information and fantastic still photos, but it also gives a general overview on what is and was happening in Japanese cinema besides the Kurosawa-Ozu filmmakers. An essential book on underground Japanese cinema and its culture.

Godard on Godard: Critical Writings, by Jean-Luc Godard

Godard has always been a god to me. His films are frequently cited in essays about the nature and culture of the cinema. Godard began his career by writing about film for the French magazine Cahiers du Cinéma, and his style
of writing is very much fan-like in its exuberance, especially with respect to his appreciation of films that were not getting proper critical attention, such as the works of Nicholas Ray, Frank Tashlin, and Fritz Lang.  It is somewhat like the writings of a punk-rock fan who wrote about his heroes and then decided to form his own accomplished band; Godard's writings led to his own classic films. So this book is not only an essential look at a filmmaker, but also at a man who loves films with all his heart.

Film Encyclopedia, by Ephraim Katz

I have a testing method for encyclopedias. What I do is look up something totally cryptic, and if it's listed in the book, that's the one to get! Infilm encyclopedias, I always look up Lois Weber, an early female director
who started making films in 1912. Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia not only has a nice mention of Weber but also Alice Guy-Blaché (another early filmmaker), my second obscure choice. Everyone is in this book, from Sacha Guitry (look him up if you don't know who he is) to Zsa Zsa Gabor to totally obscure actress Anne Jackson, who made three or four films, but is married to Eli Wallach. Who is she? Is this information important? Yes it is, because if you read this book from beginning to end you'll be the master of movie knowledge. Which could mean that you become the biggest bore on the block, or one who really appreciates a complete knowledge of world cinema.  

Hitchcock by Truffaut, by Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut

The ultimate book on one filmmaker by another famous filmmaker. Okay, there aren't that many books by directors talking about their peers, although Paul Schrader's Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer comes to mind.  That is a rare and great example, but the Hitchcock book has to be the best example of a great filmmaker talking about his trade, the art of making movies. Truffaut goes one-on-one to nail all the important questions aboutHitchcock's work. In other words, its like sitting at a bar between two film giants in conversation. Truffaut reviews every detail obsessively, and Hitchcock, with great humor, discusses his entire career. This book is for both the fans and aspiring filmmakers seeking inspiration -- this book doesn't let anyone down.

LuLu in Hollywood, by Louise Brooks

The late Louise Brooks was a stunning beauty who along with Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo was one of the great seducers on the silver screen. Not only did she invent the helmet bob haircut of the twenties, but she was also one of the best understated film essayists in cinema. Brooks refused to be compromised by the Hollywood system.  She was eventually blacklisted and condemned to live her life in obscurity. From the shadows came Lulu in Hollywood, a book that touches on old Hollywood, Brooks's experiences working with German great Georg Wilhelm Pabst (Pandora's Box), and unusually positive insights into stars such as W.C. Fields and Humphrey Bogart. Her chapter on Marion Davies (an underrated comedy actress and mistress to William Randolph Hearst) is touching and gives Davies credit as a human being as well as an artist. Brooks is an icon that didn't disappoint. It's not a film library if it doesn't include Lulu in Hollywood.

Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood Jr., by Rudolph Grey

This oral history on the "Titan of Bad", Ed Wood, wonderfully captures the underbelly of Hollywood. It's all in here -- the dreams, the sweat, weird characters (shades of Nathanael West), the early porno industry, and cross-dressing galore. Ed Wood was a filmmaker, scriptwriter, pornographer, drunk, novelist (Death of a Transvestite is a must-read), and, according to this book, a decent guy. What is heartbreaking about his life is his ongoing struggle to make something against all odds, with a lack of money and, according to some, a lack of talent. But that doesn't matter in Hollywood.  Nightmare of Ecstasy is essential for anyone who has an interest in making a film or wants to create anything important in their life.

Tosh Berman, 2000 for Contentville
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