cover image Best American Movie 1999

Best American Movie 1999

. St. Martin's Griffin, $14.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-312-24493-4

E.L. Doctorow suggests in this fine volume that ""film de-literates thought."" If that's true, then this collection goes a long way toward ""re-literating"" us. Bogdanovich has succeeded in bringing together an astonishingly wide array of page-turning articles about the movies, ranging from the analytical to the exultant, on subjects both historical and contemporary--a breadth that sometimes comes across as a hodgepodge, as there's little explanation of how these essays work in relation to one another. But this liability takes nothing from the writing. There are appreciations and retrospectives, analyses of contemporary films (such as David Denby's essay tackling L.A. Confidential and the '90s film audience) and extensive readings of classics (including a wonderful critique of The Searchers by Geoffrey O'Brien). Some essays are more broadly theoretical, analyzing, for instance, the meanings of star power, directorial styles and the relationship between film and other arts. Some venture into the elegiac, including Rex Reed's tribute to actress, author and fashion voice extraordinaire Kay Thompson and Bruce Wagner's wistful musings on silent-screen legend Billie Dove. In these essays, as with many of the most effective here, the authors find ways to weave deeply personal narratives into far-reaching analyses, demonstrating the cinema's role at the cultural and emotional center of the American century. There are some regrettable gaps: despite one or two essays on race and gender, Bogdanovich has shied away from political readings of film, and there is a strangely disproportionate amount of testosterone, both in terms of subject matter and authors (22 out of 26 are men). Given the many excellent female voices excluded, and the recent strides made by women in the film industry, that's a glaring flaw in this otherwise fine book. (Nov.)