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At the Movies — With a Book

posted on November 7, 2013 at 12:13 am by Brad Craft
Read the Book, see the Movie

Read the Book, see the Movie

Time again for a perennial display favorite, celebrating the journey from book to film.  As you can see in the photo above, there has been a bumper crop of new movie-adaptations this year.  As you can also see from the sign and or the caption on the photo above, we suggest the order in which these things might best be done, but it’s not like it’s a hard and fast rule.

Two you should know.

Two you should know.

A perfect example of why one really ought to read the book first?   J. R. R. Tolkien‘s classic, The Hobbit. One of the great pleasures (think nerd) of watching Peter Jackson‘s ongoing film trilogy of same, is parsing what is or is not actually taken from the novel.

On the other hand, movies can bring less familiar classics back to our attention, such as 12 Years a Slave, by Solomon Northrup, just reissued by Penguin, in time for the release of the new film adaptation, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Moments That Made the Movies, by David Thomson

Moments That Made the Movies, by David Thomson

What makes this display particularly exciting though is the excuse it provides to include the latest title from the best living American film critic, David Thomson, of the New Republic.  If you are a film fan and you don’t know this man’s name already, it’s time you did. Through regular reviews and now a whole series of serious and very entertaining books, Thomson has created a body of critical work as likely to last as any film writing of the last century.

In his latest, Moments That Made the Movies — a truly gorgeous object, full of the most glorious color and black and white movie images — Thomson selects and analyzes pivotal scenes, masterful shots, and some of the greatest acting in the whole history of the movies; from the silent era down to the modern day.  Some the reader will recognize instantly, others may be unfamiliar, but Thomson’s witty and wise dissections can only make the reader want to see these films again or for the first time.

Now’s as good a time as any to read a great book, see a good movie, and or read a great film critic.  (Then head over to the greatest video store on the West Coast, and possibly in the country, if not the world, Scarecrow Video, and support a truly remarkable institution.  Bring a list, or browse the aisles, or ask the staff for recommendations.  There really is no greater resource for film anywhere in the world.  We love them.)

Hooray for Hollywood!

posted on October 4, 2013 at 9:46 pm by Dan Doody

I love books. And movies. And books about movies, well don’t get me started—those are like the literary equivalent of Reese’s peanut butter cups. For me, one of the most fascinating periods of history is the Golden Age of Hollywood, from the 1920s till the early 1950s, the era of the Studio System and such moguls as Irving Thalberg and Samuel Goldwyn. The former served as inspiration for the main character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished final novel The Last Tycoon; the latter is the subject of A. Scott Berg’s second biography, Goldwyn, an insightful and comprehensive portrait of one of the most powerful Hollywood figures to rule a studio. (And thanks to Mr. Berg’s recent stop at Town Hall for his new, and impressive biography on Woodrow Wilson, the University Book Store has signed copies of both Wilson and Goldwyn.)

 

The Studio System excelled at doing two things: producing films with astonishing efficiency (at its peak, Goldwyn’s studio MGM produced 52 features a year, one for every week) and promoting its stars into pop culture icons. One of the most iconic stars ever to emerge from Hollywood was Elizabeth Taylor, the subject of M. G. Lord’s The Accidental Feminist: How Elizabeth Taylor Raised Our Consciousness and We Were Too Distracted By Her Beauty to Notice. Lord’s award winning book recounts how Taylor—in such films as BUtterfield 8, Suddenly, Last Summer, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf—was able to subtly embodied the ideas of postwar feminism through her performances and also discusses her lasting legacy as an AIDS activist. For those wanting further evidence of Lord’s thesis, University Book Store has a compilation of four Elizabeth Taylor films, which includes her Academy Award-winning turn in BUtterfield 8.

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One can hardly mention Elizabeth Taylor without conjuring up the specter of Richard Burton. Their romance and marriage defined Celebrity in the 1960s and early 70s. Last year, The Richard Burton Diaries were published and is now available in paperback and offers invaluable insight into one of the screen’s master thespians.

 

The 60s and 70s were a turbulent time for the movies. Television had chipped away at the once powerful studios, leaving them shells of their former selves. Mick Harris’s Pictures at a Revolution recounts how the Hollywood reinvented itself for the modern era. Along similar lines, Jason Zinoman’s Shock Value examines the indelible mark horror films—from Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist to Alien—made on cinema in the 70s and 80s.

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The best contemporary writer on the movies and Hollywood is David Thomson, whose The New Biographical Dictionary of Film is a witty, engaging, and entertaining reference to nearly every major figure in cinema. His most recent book, The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies, comes out in paperback next month. Thomson explores how the movies first entranced America and what it means now that the silver screen is shrinking and shrinking to the point where we can (and sometimes, do) watch a movie on an iPhone. New Yorker film critic David Denby’s book, Do The Movies Have a Future?, furthers the discussion started by Thomson and will also be released in paperback later this month.

 

Of course, The New Yorker‘s most famous film critic was the formidable and influential Pauline Kael, the subject of Brian Kellow’s Pauline Kael: A Life In The Dark. She is also the only film critic to have a selection of her reviews published in the prestigious Library of America series. In Life Itself, Roger Ebert’s wonderful memoir, the critic shares how much cinema shaped his life. Both works show, in turn, how Kael’s and Ebert’s criticism shaped the movies we know and love today.

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Finally, the fall season always heralds a new slate of literary adaptations, and this year is no different. Among the films based on books that you’ll be hearing about include 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, already touted as a Best Picture favorite; The Invisible Woman, based on Claire Tomalin’s account of Charles Dickens and his mistress Nelly Ternan, starring and directed by Ralph Fiennes; Horns by Joe Hill, which stars Daniel Radcliffe, who also portrays Beat poet Allen Ginsburg in Kill Your Darlings; and Life of Crime, an adaptation of The Switch by the late, great Elmore Leonard.

As always, we recommend reading the book before seeing the film.

–Dan