The Best of 2016 Lists

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This time of year you can count on holiday shopping madness, eating too much and a proliferation of “Best of the Year” lists. I try to limit myself on the first two items  (usually without success with either) but go nuts with my “Best of” lists.

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During the next few weeks, I’ll be posting sporadically with several “Best of” lists that I hope you’ll enjoy. My first list should be a Best Books on Movies list. These won’t be books to movies, but rather books about movies, some new, some old. (I also look forward to reading your “Best of” lists.) See you then…

Photos: Lisa Renee Jones, Stumptown Blogger

The Twilight Zone Companion (1982/1992) Marc Scott Zicree

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The Twilight Zone Companion, Second Edition (1982/1992) Marc Scott Zicree
Silman-James Press
Trade paperback, 466 pages
ISBN 1879505096
$15.95

When the first edition of The Twilight Zone Companion was published in late 1982, I bought a copy and immediately wore it out. At the time, WGN in Chicago was airing reruns of The Twilight Zone every night and I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss a single episode. Zicree’s book was invaluable. So how well does it hold up in 2015?

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

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Gun Crazy: The Origin of American Outlaw Cinema (2015) Eddie Muller
Black Pool Productions
Trade paperback, 192 pages
ISBN 9780692260265
$25.00

The Saturday Evening Post may just possibly be the unlikeliest place to give birth to one of the all-time classics of film noir, but that’s where Eddie Muller’s Gun Crazy: The Origin of American Outlaw Cinema begins.

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

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Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (1990/2013 reissue) Stephen Rebello
Soft Skull Press
Trade paperback, 288 pages
ISBN 9781593765118
$16.95

Originally published in 1990 (reissued to coincide with the release of the 2013 film Hitchcock), Rebello’s treatment of the making of Psycho (1960) succeeds in delivering an amazing amount of the behind-the-scenes stories of the film, but offers only a glimpse into the mind of Hitchcock himself. Of course to expect a complete account of Hitchcock in a 288-page book primarily devoted to one work would be foolhardy. Even if we had an Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of __________ book for every movie the director made, I’m still not sure we would really know the man. But perhaps the best way to know the director is to examine him through the films he made, and on that basis alone, Rebello’s work is essential reading.

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

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Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir (1998) Eddie Muller
St. Martin’s Griffin
Trade Paperback, 206 pages
ISBN 0312180764
$29.99

Just say the name Eddie Muller and you’ve got my undivided attention. I think my first contact with Muller’s name was from listening to one of his DVD commentaries (which you can find here). Later I learned that he has written several books (fiction and non-fiction) on noir, so I sought out Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir and was not disappointed in the least.

Dark City stands both as a great introduction to film noir and an excellent resource for those who are already noir fans. Muller’s writing style recalls the hard-boiled prose style of Cain, Hammett, Chandler and many others, which makes the book all the more enjoyable, but the main selling points are Muller’s knowledge of noir and how he conveys it.

Novelist James Ellroy didn’t call Muller “The Czar of Noir” for nothing. Muller knows this stuff inside and out, backwards, sideways, through a strainer, meat grinder, you name it. Rather than presenting us with a long, boring history of noir, Muller jumps right in, giving readers the essential aspects of noir in chapters such as “The Precinct,” “Shamus Flats,” “Vixenville,” “Blind Alley,” “The Psych Ward,” and more. Each chapter includes what makes each theme important to noir and discusses films which represent those themes.

Yet knowing about the films means little without an examination of the times and conditions under which they were made and this is where Muller outdoes himself. Dark City is a study of American culture and life in the 1940s and 50s as well as a look at it’s noir offerings. Frequent excursions about the stars, directors, writers, and cinematographers aren’t really excursions at all, but rather essential information in helping us understand what makes film noir. And the photos? Stunning. Very highly recommended.

5/5

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I’m following this book with another from Muller, which I hope to start today, the recently released Gun Crazy: The Origin of American Outlaw Cinema. This book is not available on Amazon, but you can order it exclusively from Black Pool Productions.

(Photos: Eddie Muller)