Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (2000) edited by John Belton
Cambridge Film Handbooks, Cambridge University Press
trade paperback, 177 pages
(includes Alfred Hitchcock’s motion picture filmography, reviews of Rear Window, select bibliography, and an index)
Each volume of the Cambridge Film Handbooks series focuses on a single title*, including essays by film scholars and critics. Although I’d never previously read any of the other titles in this particular series, I’ve read similar books from various publishers. Such volumes are usually a mixed bag containing valuable information as well as an assortment of minutia, overflowing accolades for the director, and plenty of academic gasbaggery. Thankfully, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, edited by John Belton (Professor of English at Rutgers University) is an above-average collection of essays from people who know their stuff and can skillfully communicate it.
Peter Cushing: An Autobiography
Weidenfeld and Nicholson
trade paperback, 157 pages
It’s not uncommon for people coming into the library where I work to get a little confused about biographies and autobiographies. We often get requests such as “that autobiography of Alexander Hamilton that he made into a musical,” (multiple problems there) or “Leonardo da Vinci’s new autobiography by Walter Isaacson” (problems here, too). With grace and gentility, we point out that autobiographies are written by the subject themselves and biographies are penned by other people who (hopefully) did careful research and study. Memoirs (which seem to be everywhere these days) are like autobiographies, but usually focused on a specific portion of the writer’s life. Peter Cushing: An Autobiography is truly an autobiography, yet it ends well before the end of the actor’s career. At only 157 pages, the work is quite short, stopping at the death of Cushing’s wife Helen in 1971. Although he worked for 15 more years and lived until 1994, Cushing chose not to reveal anything further about himself in this volume. (A second volume, Past Forgetting: Memoirs of the Hammer Years was published in 1988.)
Noir City Annual 2015 – Eddie Muller, editor
Film Noir Foundation, 2016
Paperback, 271 pages
If you’ve ever watched one of Eddie Muller’s introductions on TCM’s Noir Alley (every Sunday at 10am EST, by the way) or FilmStruck, listened to one of his DVD commentaries, or heard him introduce a film in person, you know that Muller’s love of film noir is personal, passionate, and boundless. Now imagine a book filled with men and women just like Muller who share his passion for film noir. That’s what you get when you pick up any Noir City annual.
Black & White Cinema: A Short History – Wheeler Winston Dixon
Rutgers University Press, 2015
Paperback, 220 pages plus works cited, index
“To shoot a film is to organize an entire universe.” – Ingmar Bergman
So here’s an entire book about a method of photographing movies that’s been largely unused and ignored for at least 50 years. No one shoots movies in black-and-white anymore and if you say, “Hey, wait a minute! Nebraska and The Artist were filmed in black-and-white,” you’re wrong. (They were filmed in color and desaturated to black-and-white. Read the book to find out more.) Even if you wanted to shoot a film in black-and-white, the film stock is scarce and costly. Color has ruled at the movies for decades. So why should you care about a book on black-and-white cinema?
Because that’s where the magic is.
The deeper you immerse yourself into any subject, the more you discover you don’t know about that subject. I’ve been watching movies for most of my life and have occasionally picked up books about them, but such books were never a serious focus. During the past few years, I’ve been very aware that there’s so much about film that I don’t know. I’ve started reading more these past few years and this year I read several books on film. None of them were a waste of time and several of them were very good. I’d like to share with you my favorite books on movies I read in 2016 (although only a few of them were actually published in 2016).
Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of Film Noir (2000) Arthur Lyons
Da Capo Press
Trade paperback, 224 pages
Some of the best film noir movies are lean, no-nonsense productions that get you in and out usually in under 90 minutes. Death on the Cheap takes a similar approach, giving readers a quick but thorough history of film noir before tackling the rise and fall of B movies.
Classics of the Silent Screen: A Pictorial History (1959) Joe Franklin
The Citadel Press
Hardcover, 249 pages
Writer Joe Franklin (1926-2015) was listed in the Guinness World Records as “the longest running continuous on-air TV talk show host,” beating Johnny Carson’s run by more than a decade. Franklin hosted a TV show on New York station WABC-TV called “Joe Franklin’s Memory Lane.” After that, he hosted a radio show on WOR-AM. Franklin certainly knew his stuff as well as a lot of people, having guests on his shows such as Charlie Chaplin, John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and many, many others. Franklin also knew an awful lot about silent movies. This wonderful book covers the silent era’s 50 greatest films and 75 greatest actors as chosen by Franklin. Whether you’re a silent screen expert or a novice, Classics of the Silent Screen is indispensable.