In the idyllic days of the Sixties and early Seventies,before movies became just another way to make huge sums of money, they werestarting to be seen as an art form in their own right.
Fueled partly by a critical reassessment, primarily inFrance with Cahiers du Cinema, andpartly by people like Roger Corman developing a stable of actors and directorswho could work fast and cheap (“I don’t care what the movie is about, as longas you can shoot it in five days”), movies were suddenly the hot topic ofconversation.
These conversations were not about box office dollars butabout the possibilities of a medium many felt was just being fully discovered.Coincidentally or not, it was around this time that the canny American couldfind a way to see foreign films and this only pushed the conversation deeperand broader.
Below you’ll find books either about filmmakers of thatperiod, or books that came out of that critical re-discovery of films of thepast. You’ll see some familiar names and, perhaps, a few unfamiliar ones. Allare worth discovering.
by Gemma Solana and Antonio Boneau
This large format coffee table book focuses on the art ofthe credit sequence, discussing more than 1000 films and featuring 300 creditsequences. It includes a DVD containing many of the sequences referenced andtracks the history and development of credits from simply informational to anintegral part of the film experience. Conversations with designers anddirectors provide insight into how credits are conceived and built.
Here’s the opening credits to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, designed by Saul Bass:
Andrey Tarkovsky (Solaris,Stalker) brought a spiritual seeker’s eye to film combined with asingularly Russian point of view and influenced scores of filmmakers who cameafter him, including Lars von Trier and Bela Tarr. Tarkovsky saw film as Artwith a Capital A and was fearless in defending it as a medium for exploring thehuman soul and its relationship to the world around it. In this volume, hetalks about his approach and philosophy, as well as his hopes for the future offilm.
Here’s a scene from Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev. You don’t need the subtitles; you just need to knowthey’re making something.
Mindscreen: Bergman, Godard, and First-Person Film by BruceF. Kawin
It seems I occasionally have to throw an out-of-print bookinto the mix, so here’s that book. Ican’t do better than to quote from the back of the book: “If a film—which isalready both the dream of its maker and the dream of its audience—can presentitself as the dream of one of its characters, can it, finally, appear to dreamitself?”
One of the innovations of this book, which was written in1978, is that it talks about film narrative on its own terms without engagingin any literary analogues, but rather through explications in film itself. Itintroduces film narrative as a self-conscious form of storytelling. This bookchanged the way I look at narrative.
Max von Sydow plays chess with Death in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal:
Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard byRichard Brody
Arguably, Jean-Luc Godard is the most contentious figure inlate 20th Century film. Beginning as a writer, then as film criticat Cahiers du Cinema, the filmmaker,his films, and ideas about film which he decries like a Cassandra, have beenpolarizing audiences for more than fifty years. Now nearing 90, Godardcontinues to find new ways to approach the medium and new ways to rankle thosein the film world. His films are maddening, funny, pretentious, dense, andamazingly tender. This book is something like a working journal of his cinemacareer and his private life, written by a Godard scholar, and it’s fascinating.
Here’s the trailer for Godard’s Contempt and it’s not really like any movie trailer you’ve everseen:
Nearly as contentious as Godard, Stanley Kubrick completedhis last film Eyes Wide Shut justbefore his death. The media responded to Kubrick’s death with a strangelyhostile and condescending tone and his last film was roundly panned as being’arty’ and ‘out of touch’. Writer Michael Herr, author of Dispatches, who had worked with Francis Coppola on Apocalypse Now and Kubrick on Full Metal Jacket, responded to theschadenfreude of the time with two articles about his friendship and workingrelationship with Kubrick in Vanity Fairand they’re collected in this slim volume with an addendum on Eyes Wide Shut:
“Expecting sex, promised sex in writing, critics andcommentators and audiences wanted sex. They were outraged that the orgy didn’tturn out to be the Fuckorama of their not unreasonable expectations, that thestars didn’t get all the way down so we could watch. What they got instead wasan eroticism so deeply embedded in memory and imagination that the morephysical it becomes, the less erotic.”
Here’s the classic trailer for Kubrick’s The Shining:
In conversation, David Lynch is really an “Aw, shucks” kindof guy, which provides more than a few moments of cognitive dissonance as he explainsin his folksy way some of the horrific dreamlike images he’s created on film.Beginning with his art school days and his ambitions to be a painter, ChrisRodley tracks his development as a filmmaker from early American Film Institutegrants to major financial debacles like Dune, then on to Blue Velvet and beyond. Throughout, Lynch is down to earth andunpretentious while managing to be incredibly open and endearing in the sheerjoy he takes in creating.
One circle of Hell, brought to you by David Lynch:
A fascinating conversation between two filmmakers, this bookis a condensation of 55 hours of interviews between French director Truffautand film icon Hitchcock. They talk about each of his films, delving into scriptchanges, special effects, production problems, and Hitchcock’s uniqueunderstanding of suspense and film grammar. Often cited as one of the bestbooks written about filmmaking.
Philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s take on Hitchcock’s Vertigo from the film, A Pervert’s Guide to Cinema:
Here’s Nicolas Cage
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Steve Mitchell’s short story collection, The Naming of Ghosts, is published byPress 53. He has a deep belief in the primacy of doubt and an abidingconviction that great wisdom informs very bad movies. He’s co-owner ofScuppernong Books in Greensboro, NC.