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.)
As the years pile up, we sometimes need something a little extra to make those birthdays a bit easier to swallow. As always, I’m celebrating my birthday this year with some movie-related festivities and fun. Feel free to steal one or all of my ideas and please, share your own!
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.