Lost in the Movies: May 2009

Reading the Movies

A list of the movie books which had the greatest impact on me.

Not so long ago, I moved into a new neighborhood. Before even attempting to settle in, I paid a visit to the local library which, despite its grand exterior, was fairly nondescript within. This was particularly true of the nonfiction section, located downstairs. Endless shelves of books stretched across a close-quartered white-walled basement, completely unadorned and giving off the aura of an abandoned filing room located deep in the bowels of some God-forsaken bureaucracy. There were no labels, cards, or indicators on any of these shelves so I had to scan the stacks by eye to find the movie section.

When I tracked it down (it was one of the first stacks, mid-row, between the circus and television) I was in for a thrilling surprise. Hidden away in this library was a treasury of great seventies film-book classics, many out of print. Consequently, over the past few months, I have read I Lost It at the Movies by Pauline Kael, The Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Book by Arlene Croce, Godard by Richard Roud, Confessions of a Cultist by Andrew Sarris, Signs and Meaning in the Cinema by Peter Wollen, The Primal Screen by Sarris, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang by Kael; at present, I have delved into three more film texts: Politics and Cinema by Sarris, Going Steady by Kael, and The Japanese Film by Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Richie.

I mention this not only to illustrate my passion for reading about the movies, but also to demonstrate that I am only just discovering many seminal texts of the cinema, and that the list which follows is not to be mistaken for a primer on essential reading. I make no claims for the greatness of the following ten books. Nor are they necessarily my favorites; indeed, some have outlived their purpose and I haven't looked at them in years. Many titles are obscure, so fame is not a criterion either. What all these books do have in common is their influence...on me. These are the books that informed me, excited me, provoked me, the ones that introduced me to The Wolf Man and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Taxi Driver and Celine and Julie Go Boating and Le Vent d'Est.

Beyond these ten, I will deliver honorable mention to another fifteen books which were not quite as crucial to my development. Nonetheless, they are highly noteworthy and in some cases, may have been even more constant companions than those titles in the top ten. I will (briefly) tell you why...and then the ball is yours. Run with it. I would love for everyone reading this list to compose their own personal top ten. There are no rules in how you chose to play this game, no guidelines save one:

RULE #1:

Just a small matter (but one which was sadly neglected the last time I tried this!).

Also one very strong recommendation - please tag five more people so that we can keep this going.

The rest is up to you.

Here is my own list, titles followed by the stories of how we met...

The Great Movies

Penned by William Bayer, an independent filmmaker and writer on cinema, this lavishly-illustrated, thought-provoking coffee table book, composed of sixty films divided into twelve categories, is by all accounts currently out of print, and long ago forgotten. Or rather, long ago forgotten by most people (if they ever even made its acquaintance), but not by me. Somehow this book, published ten years before my birth, came into my possession in early childhood (I believe my father purchased it before I, along with my cinephilia, came onto the scene). It has had an inordinate influence on how I look at movies to this day. I still own it and have reproduced many of its pages in this post, as a tribute to all those glorious but long-neglected celebrations of the movies - the books which served to engage our curiosity, to focus our eye, to sharpen our intellect, and most of all to fire our imagination so that sights unseen became holy grails. A follow-up post will examine the many books that served this purpose for me, and then I will pass the baton on to my readers, but for now...The Great Movies.

Wonders in the Dark

Lately, while distracted from my own blog, I've become a regular contributor to the commentary on Wonders in the Dark, a great blog run by Allan Fish and friend-of-The Dancing Image Sam Juliano. At this moment, Allan is knee-deep (or deeper) in a long series exploring what he considers to be the greatest films of every decade since the thirties. If you're a movie buff of my sort, who loves list and countdowns, this is definitely for you. Until now, there has not been a collection of all the posts in this series stored in one location, so I've taken it upon myself to gather all the information here. What follows is a complete list of the entire countdown, with links to every post in question.

This list will be regularly updated as Allan continues his epic journey through the years. Feel free to drop by and leave comments, even on old posts; one of the best things about this excellent blog is the lively (to put it mildly) discussion every topic engenders, sometimes straying far away from the movie at hand. For example, 2001 has led to a debate on the value of canons, Viridiana a discussion on the intertwining of ethics and aesthetics in art, and The Young Girls of Rochefort a questioning of the merits of American cinema in the 60s and Allan's views thereof. The list follows the jump and can also be found here. (updated until its conclusion in 2010)

Fred and Ginger

Several months ago, I scoured the web for every Astaire-Rogers dance I could find. Sure enough, I tracked them all down but within days of posting the videos were disappearing one by one. I resolved to restore these myself, by selecting the scenes I wanted, paring them down to the essentials, and posting them in the place of those deleted You Tube clips. Now the job is done, so I invite you all to revisit (or just plain visit) the Astaire-Rogers ouevre. If you don't feel you have enough time to watch very many, at least treat yourself to "Night and Day" - it's the third clip down, and is one of the sublime moments in musicals - indeed, in movies.

In other news, someone beat me to the punch and posted the 1987 Rankin-Bass Wind in the Willows on You Tube. For those curious enough to see the movie I discussed in February, you can watch the whole thing here. I will probably be putting up my own version eventually - the VHS tape which is missing a few scenes but contains all kinds of goodies in addition to the film itself, from claymation commercials to Donahue and Ralph Nader jamming with Muppets to TV cameos by Keenan Wynn and James Earl Jones.

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