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"I got hooked on movies at an early age... and I am still a child before a moving image," wrote the late film critic Pauline Kael in Hooked , her 11th book. She's not the only one. Movies are magical and mysterious, and the American fascination with them persists. "It's as true now as it was in the 1930s: America has a love affair with the movies," says Justin, Charles & Co. publisher Stephen Hull.
Indeed, while box-office receipts are down, Americans' curiosity about all aspects of filmmaking seems to be increasing. Esther Margolis, president and publisher of Newmarket Press, reports that the film industry enjoys increasingly greater status as "the subject of cocktail talk." She points to the media attention now lavished on the business: "The New York Daily News reports the grosses from the weekend on page two on Mondays."
"Magazines like Entertainment Weekly have made us more sophisticated about the business of entertainment," agrees Da Capo senior publicity director Lissa Warren.
As a result, publishers are offering an abundance of titles nowadays that list, dissect, explicate and provide back stories to movies and the business of making them. And there's a new depth and diversity in today's movie-related books. As Simon & Schuster editor Sydny Miner puts it, "While titillating gossip and tell-all are always appealing, film buffs are also interested in what happened behind the scenes of their favorite movies."
With the number of readers minuscule compared to the number of movie viewers, there's also a bit of if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em at work, posits Heather Drucker, publicity manager of Kodansha America, which last month published a revised paperback edition of Donald Richie's A Hundred Years of Japanese Film . "To stay fresh and vibrant in an extremely competitive field," says Drucker, "book publishing often takes its cue from one of its direct competitors—the film industry."
Below are some of the notable new books about movies and their creation. They are loosely organized by subject, but given how rich this category has become, such books are often hard to pin down—which seems appropriate, after all, when the subject is film. As the eminently quotable Kael put it, "Movies seem to me the most mysteriously great of all art forms. We can respond to them at so many levels that it's a thrilling, open experience." Reading about movies ought to be equally transformative.
Hooray for Hollywood
This trio of books celebrating Tinseltown walk a fine line in their dual appeal to those who are just plain star-struck and those studying to join the biz. As Margolis at Newmarket notes, "There are so many film studies courses now, not just on the two coasts. We know there's a growing need for books for people studying film; we can see it from the orders for our script books."
Those who'd prefer being in front of the camera to studying about it might do well to check out How to Be a Hollywood Star: Your Guide to Living the Fabulous Life (Three Rivers, Feb.). Stephen J. Williams's tips for celebrity wannabes include the best angle at which to shoot homemade sex tapes and what to pack for that all-important junket in rehab. According to his self-described "pop culture junkie" editor, publishing manager Carrie Thornton, "The funniest part of the book is the level of neuroses that really does exist: the armored cars and the shirts that hide concealed weapons."
St. Martin's senior editor Marc Resnick describes long-time Hollywood producer Edward S. Feldman, whose credits include The Truman Show and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? , as "a warm and funny guy who has his head on straight." As an example, Resnick recounts a story from Feldman's memoir, Tell Me How You Love the Picture: A Hollywood Life (Dec.), written with Tom Barton. When Feldman told Steve McQueen that he couldn't ride his motorcycle during the making of a film, McQueen replied, "Ed, there's two things I like in life. My bike and my balls." He didn't ride the bike.
A chance meeting at a party led Pantheon editorial director Dan Frank to greenlight Rutgers philosophy professor Colin McGinn's idea to use philosophy and psychology to explain the hold that motion pictures have on us. Frank calls The Power of Movies: How Screen and Mind Interact (Dec.) "a wonderfully intriguing look at what our minds are doing in the dark as you sit there watching the images on the screen." McGinn compares the way dreams unreel in our heads with the tricks used by cinematographers.
Private Lives Made Public
Before Page Six or jossip.com, there was Louella Parsons. As Samantha Barbas explains in the Parsons biography The First Lady of Hollywood ,out this month from the University of California Press, Parsons was the top movie gossip columnist in the first half of the 20th century, with more than 40,000,000 readers.
"She knew where the bodies were buried. She was the spider in the center of the web," says acquisitions editor Mary Francis. But Parsons was more than a mere columnist—she was also a working single mother who was intensely interested in politics and freely reported on the leanings of the stars. "Who knew," asks Francis, "that Ginger Rogers was a raving Republican?"
Charlotte Chandler's The Girl Who Walked Home Alone paints a portrait of one of the great stars of the Parsons era, Bette Davis. As she did for her Groucho Marx biography Hello, I Must Be Going (Viking, 1979), Chandler relied mainly on tapes made by the star over the course of several years. The result, says Bob Bender, senior editor at Simon & Schuster, which will publish the biography in March (when it will be featured Vanity Fair 's Hollywood issue), is that much of the material is "in Bette Davis's own voice." That voice reveals that Davis enjoyed being the subject of so many female impersonators and once performed for Chandler "an impersonation for you of an impersonator doing me," which consisted of the actress taking a comically protracted drag on a cigarette.
Davis succeeded despite not being conventionally beautiful, but another star whose looks have been much discussed is the subject of a September Crown/Harmony title: Suzanne Finstad's Warren Beatty: A Private Man. Beatty is more than just a pretty face, however—his interest in politics predates his celebrity, and at six he fantasized about becoming president. After relationships with Joan Collins (who, according to Finstad, dumped Beatty because he "wasn't husband material"), Natalie Wood and Julie Christie, he was regarded as more of a player than a pol.
A ladykiller of a different sort engages in monkey business in Ray Morton's King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon , a December paperback from Applause. The title is a "biography" of the great ape's incarnations in seven films—ranging from the 1933 original (to be issued on DVD this month for the first time) to the latest remake, set for a December 14 release. The Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings ) epic is clocking in at three hours and $32 million over budget, according to the New York Times , and is considered a make-or-break release for Universal Studios. Other highlights of Morton's book include the 1976 "camp extravaganza" Queen Kong (a musical) and a look at the merchandise (such as "genuine hair of King Kong" with certificate of authenticity) generated by the phenomenon.
Home Sweet Home Theater
Living rooms, evidently, are vying with the neighborhood multiplex as Entertainment Central. According to Time Out Guides marketing/publicity manager Rosella Albanese, "Between high-tech home theater systems, on-demand movie channels, DVD sales and rental sites like Netflix, it's clear that a big movie trend is to watch them at home."
As a result, Albanese adds, "Film books have been grabbing more coffee-table space these days."
To assist home viewers, this month Rough Guides is launching what reference director Andrew Lockett describes as a series with "defiantly broad coverage for the Internet and DVD generation." Each title (Lloyd Hughes's The Rough Guide to Gangster Movies ,John Scalzi's ...Sci-Fi Movies, Alan Jones's ...Horror Movies and Bob McCabe's ...Comedy Movies ) lists the 50 top films in the genre, with brief encapsulations of hundreds more. The thorough discussions include tidbits such as the National Federation of the Blind's protest against the big-screen version of Mr. Magoo in 1997. "They were right of course: there wasn't anything even remotely funny about the movie," writes McCabe. Titles on chick flicks and indies are due in 2006.
James Berardinelli's ReelViews 2, just out from Justin, Charles & Co., is also aimed squarely at the home audience. Publisher Stephen Hull calls it "a basic guidebook for people who are trying to answer the burning question, 'What do I want to see tonight?' " ReelViews 2 is the first in projected biannual updates of ReelViews ,published in 2003. The new edition has 150 new titles (and 150 lesser titles have been cut). The films, treated to 400-word reviews, represent new DVD releases from the last 15 years.
Reaching back farther is The Stewardess Is Flying the Plane!: American Films of the 1970s (Bulfinch) by film scholar Ron Hogan (who is also a PW contributor). Editor Karyn Gerhard, who names Paper Moon, The Sting and Slap Shot as some of her favorites from the period, says the title "contextualizes all of the almost 700 movies within what was going on in the 1970s. The overpopulation scare was shown in movies like Soylent Green and Logan's Run, and a lot of the female roles were coming out of the women's movement—even Kansas City Bomber with Raquel Welch."
Welch may be rehabilitated by Stewardess for her role in that roller-derby drama, but is evidently not up to the high standards set by The Film Snob's Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Filmological Knowledge by David Kamp with Lawrence Levi (Broadway Books, Feb. 2006). Maybe, from Welch's point of view, that's a good thing. Consider the typically snarky entry for Jaglom, Henry: "Rumpledly handsome, staggeringly self-indulgent filmmaker whose chattery, mostly improvised comedies, such as Always (1985), Eating (1990), and Festival in Cannes (2002), bear the imprimaturs of both 1970s psychotherapy and 1950s coffeehouse philosophizing" or "Third row, the. The only appropriate place for a true cinephile to sit, as per the dictum of the late Snob overlord and belle-lettrist Susan Sontag." Finding the best seat in the house is one problem home viewers don't have to consider.
Beyond the Multiplex
Forget Baby Jane. Ever wonder what happened to Vivien Leigh, Anthony Perkins or Rudolph Valentino? Care to know how Trigger got hired? These books answer those questions and describe how film shapes, and is shaped by, history.
"I like to buy film books that can cross over to other areas," says University Press of Kentucky film editor and marketing director Leila Salisbury, who plans to promote Robert F. McLaughlin and Sally E. Perry's We'll Always Have the Movies: American Cinema During World War II to both history buffs and fans of movies made in the late '30s and the '40s. The authors argue that films like Casablanca weren't propaganda; they both reflected and contributed to American culture during the war.
"There are so many nuggets that bring the horses and people to life," says Bow Tie Press editor Jarelle S. Stein of Hollywood Hoofbeats: Trails Blazed Across the Silver Screen (Oct.) by Petrine Day Mitchum (yes, Robert Mitchum's daughter) with Audrey Pavia. "I laughed when I read that Dale Evans had to rein Buttermilk back at times because he was actually faster off the mark than Trigger—and that was a big no-no in a Roy Rogers movie." Mitchum also reveals the secret of riding through glass windows: they're made of candy.
Finally—in more ways than one—comes an illustrated guide to those who inadvertently heeded the advice that "dying young is a great career move." Cut! Hollywood Murders, Accidents, andOther Tragedies (Barron's, Nov.) chronicles the careers—and deaths—of celebrities like Bruce Lee (given an analgesic from which he never woke up) and Jayne Mansfield (scalped in a car accident).