Best of Movies 2015: Books on Movies

I didn’t read as many books on movies as I would’ve like this year, but I did run across a few that I read for the first time and some for the second. I hope you’ll find some good reading here:

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Lynch on Lynch (Directors on Directors series, 1997/2005 revised) David Lynch, Chris Rodley

I read the revised 2005 edition of this book which covers all of Lynch’s feature film work (and the TV show Twin Peaks) except Inland Empire (2006). These interviews conducted by Chris Rodley shed much light on Lynch and his concepts of filmmaking, but don’t expect the director to tell you what any of his work actually means. If you understand (and appreciate) that going in – and if you enjoy Lynch’s work – you’re going to get a lot out of this book.

Lynch discusses much of the behind-the-scenes stories of him films, from their conception to their reception, much of it filtered through his philosophy and worldview, which are best discovered through the book. Is Lynch a man of contradictions? Yes and no. Even though he doesn’t explain everything in his films, are we convinced that Lynch himself knows them inside and out? Read the book. Even if you’re only a casual fan of Lynch’s films, you’ll discover much treasure here.

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Blackout: World War II and the Origins of Film Noir (2005) Sheri Chinen Biesen

Many people carry misconceptions about exactly when and how film noir came into being. Biesen explores those misconceptions and gives readers a fascinating look at the development of film noir and American culture. Read more here.

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Gun Crazy: The Origins of American Outlaw Cinema (2015) Eddie Muller

Any book by Eddie Muller is guaranteed to be both informative and entertaining, and Gun Crazy certainly achieves that in each aspect. Worth reading for the story of the King Brothers alone. More here.

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Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir (1998) Eddie Muller

More Muller, this an earlier work that stands as a great introduction to film noir for anyone who wants to understand it. Read more right here.

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Blue Velvet (BFI Modern Classics, 1997) Michael Atkinson

An excellent examination and analysis of Lynch’s disturbing masterpiece. The BFI Modern Classics books are excellent, but short, always leaving you wanting more.

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Hollywood Frame by Frame: The Unseen Silver Screen in Contact Sheets, 1951-1997 (2014) Karina Longworth

If you’re a fan of classic films, you’ll want to seriously consider Hollywood Frame by Frame, but you should also subscribe to Longworth’s excellent audio program You Must Remember This, a podcast “exploring the secret and/or forgotten histories of 20th Century Hollywood.” Read more here.

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The Twilight Zone Companion (1982, second edition 1992) Marc Scott Zicree (2x)

Although not a perfect book, The Twilight Zone Companion is an excellent resource for anyone interested in the show or television history. More about the book here.

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Ebert’s Essentials: 27 Movies from the Dark Side (2012) Roger Ebert

You’ll find lots of compilations culled from Roger Ebert’s reviews over the years, made available in eBook formats. This is one such compilation of film noir titles, some that you’d expect (The Maltese Falcon, The Third Man) and others you might not (Pale Flower, Blood Simple). A quick, fun read.

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Trumbo (1977) Bruce Cook

Reissued to coincide with the release of the film Trumbo, Cook’s biography focuses on his life and work with a particular focus on his role as a blacklisted screenwriter. I enjoyed the book, but it suffers from being written too soon (one year) after Trumbo’s death, relying a bit too much on interviews rather than research. Still worth a read.

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A Short Guide to Writing About Film (Short Guides series, 2006) Timothy Corrigan

A newer 9th edition is out now, rather than the 6th that I read, although it probably wouldn’t make much difference. This is primarily a textbook for college students forced to write something in their film classes, but it does offer a helpful tidbit here and there. I’m sure there are much better books on this subject out there.

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Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (1990/2013) Stephen Rebello

Another book reissued to coincide to cash in on a newly-released (at the time) Sacha Gervasi film Hitchcock, which gets a tie-in introduction that you can (and should) skip. The book is good for what it is, but I wish it had delved a bit deeper. Some important writers and commentators cite the film as responsible for closing the door on film noir, but this wasn’t addressed at all. Still enjoyable and informative.

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The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock (1983) Donald Spoto (2x)

More books on Hitchcock are certainly welcome. I first read this book in college (when I should’ve been studying), but remembered little of it. Although I still have about 150 page to go in this 600+ page book, I can highly recommend it, especially to those who have seen a few Hitchcock films and want to learn more. You will, however, read several spoilers, so be warned. The book works best as a look into the darkness of Hitchcock’s psyche without getting technical.

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And while we’re talking about Hitchcock, one of the best ways to discover him (apart from his films, of course) is to listen to The Adventures of Alfred Hitchcock, a three part podcast from Attaboy Clarence: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Think of it as one long audiobook. This is excellent stuff, as are all of the Attaboy Clarence podcasts.

So… Let me know what movie books you enjoyed this year. Load ’em up in the comments section. I’ll look forward to reading them in 2016.

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