Asheville Movies Volume I: The Silent Era – Frank Thompson
Men With Wings Press, 2017
Trade paperback, 104 pages with photographs, notes (bibliography), people index, film title index
Even with the current technological potential to make movies practically anywhere in the world, when we think of motion pictures in general, we often think of those shot in Hollywood and New York. Sure, you might see an occasional American movie filmed in San Francisco, Chicago, maybe the South or the Southwest, or even New England, but we’ve come to believe that the bulk of American films are produced in New York or L.A.
Here comes Frank Thompson to turn your world upside down.
Design for Dying: A Lillian Frost & Edith Head Novel – Renee Patrick
Forge Books, 2016
Hardcover, 317 pages
Like many young women in Los Angeles in 1937, Lillian Frost wanted to make it big in the movies. Yet like so many others, she didn’t, finding work instead as a salesgirl at an upscale department store. But Lillian’s roommate Ruby seemed to be on the right track, going to the right parties and getting lots of attention, that is, until she wound up murdered. Not only that, but Ruby was found wearing a gown stolen from the Paramount wardrobe department, a gown designed by Hollywood wardrobe icon Edith Head.
Although respected and recognized in 1937, Edith Head was not yet a Hollywood household name and her eight Oscars for costume design were all in the future. So how in the world can Head and a young salesgirl join forces to uncover a murderer?
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.
Robert Mitchum: “Baby, I Don’t Care” – Lee Server
St. Martin’s Griffin, originally published in 2001
paperback, 608 pages
When Robert Mitchum walked onto a movie set, you never knew what was going to happen. He might develop an affable relationship with his director (as he did with Raoul Walsh in Pursued) or he might not (as with David Lean in Ryan’s Daughter). When Joseph von Sternberg banned food and drink on the set of Macao, Mitchum “began bringing in bags of food and coffee, and handing them out to one and all.” (p. 218) He also urinated on David O. Selznick’s carpet.
In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City – Imogen Sara Smith
McFarland Press, 2011, 255 pages
Trade paperback, $45
The term “film noir” conjures up certain images, styles, stories, language, and certainly locations. For good or for ill, our visual thoughts about film noir often emerge from images of detectives in trench coats, seductive femmes fatales, and the darkened streets and alleys of cities. Yet film noir cannot be bound by cities, which is the starting point for Imogen Sara Smith’s excellent book In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City.
Smith explores just what noir is in the book’s masterful introduction, perhaps the best summation of film noir I’ve come across. Although many film noir movies are set in the city, Smith asks “…is film noir really inseparable from the city? (p.4)” Can noir’s plot elements, narrative and visual styles, and what I would call “worldview” (cynicism, pessimism, disillusionment, etc.) exist beyond the city limits?
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).