I’m overdue with a new film book survey, and with the holidays upon us I’m trying my best to catch up. If you sense some redundancy in my descriptions of the following titles, it’s because they are all elaborate, beautifully printed coffee-table books, any one of which would make a fine gift. I haven’t had a chance to sit down and read the texts—with the exception of the Snow White and Gershwin titles—so these are first impressions, rather than reviews. There are more to come… stay tuned.
THE FAIREST ONE OF ALL: THE MAKING OF WALT DISNEY’S SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS by J.B. Kaufman; Foreword by Diane Disney Miller (Walt Disney Family Foundation Press)
Having read much of this book in manuscript form and having provided a quote for its dust jacket, I can only elaborate on my feelings now that I’ve seen the finished product, an extraordinarily beautiful volume. It’s fair to call this the definitive study of Walt Disney’s landmark animated feature, not only because Kaufman, a meticulous film historian, has dug deeper (and longer) than anyone else into that history, but because he’s made connections few others have pursued: the origins of the fairy tale, the impact that the 1916 silent feature had on Walt Disney (even locating a photo of it star, Marguerite Clark, visiting Walt in the 1940s), the genesis of each sequence in the picture, the merchandising it generated, its continuing success in theatrical reissues, and the reuse of the Dwarfs in a handful of wartime short subjects. Kaufman even breaks down the personnel responsible for every segment of the film, as no one has before. This oversized volume is lavishly produced and is a credit to the Walt Disney Family Foundation, which sponsored and published it.
Laid out as a handsome coffee-table book, this survey of Clint Eastwood’s work behind the camera draws on interviews with many longtime members of his team as well as actors who have worked with him over the years. In his foreword, Steven Spielberg remembers meeting him when they were just getting started as directors at Universal Pictures. “I think the reason we hit it off is that we were both techies,” Spielberg writes. “We couldn’t’ stop talking about cameras, lenses, film stock, and the stories we were hoping to tell someday.” Dozens of colleagues sing his praises as author Goldman paints a picture of how Eastwood approaches his work, with a minimum of fuss and a well-earned reputation for loyalty to the people around him. Great behind-the-scenes pictures, production designs, and other illustrations chronicle how films like Unforgiven, The Bridges of Madison County and Flags of Our Fathers came about. This is not what one would call a critical study, as never is heard a discouraging word, but it is a valuable picture-and-text summary of a remarkable (and durable) career.
VARIETY: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE WORLD FROM THE MOST IMPORTANT MAGAZINE IN HOLLYWOOD by Tim Gray; Foreword by Martin Scorsese; Introduction by Brian Gott (Rizzoli)
There’s nothing I enjoy more than poring over old movie trade papers. Every incidental item catches my eye and makes me want to read even more. Now, Variety editor Tim Gray has brought order and purpose to what is normally (for me) a random pursuit. In this hefty, oversized volume, he has traced 20th (and early 21st) century history through the eyes of the Show Business Bible, through a running narrative, with frequent quotes from relevant news stories, and reproductions of now-historic front pages. From the flu epidemic of 1918 to the coming of talkies, from the formation of trade unions in the 1930s to the Red Scare of the 1940s and early '50s, the invasion of TV, the revolution of home video, the era of special effects and blockbusters, and more. For browsing or reading, this book is hard to resist.
Robert McKimson is the least celebrated of the directors responsible for the golden age of Warner Bros. cartoons, although he was widely considered to be the studio’s finest animator before he moved into the director’s chair. This book explores his surprisingly rich career as well as those of his talented brothers, who not only made their mark at Warners but at Western Publishing, where they produced scores of memorable comics and coloring books. With an abundance of rarely-seen original artwork and keen-eyed observations by such latter-day animation masters as John Kricfalusi and Darrell Van Citters, this stacks up as a must-have for animation buffs.
Here is another beautiful coffee-table book, produced in cooperation with the Library of Congress, celebrating the preeminent female star (and producer) of the silent film era, Mary Pickford. Exquisite and rare photographs from Pickford’s archives at the Library and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and photos of her costumes now held by the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, punctuate a collection of essays on various aspects of Pickford’s career by editor Schmidt, Pickford biographer Eileen Whitfield, Molly Haskell, Kevin Brownlow, Edward Wagenknecht, Robert Cushman, and James Card, among others. I haven’t had time to dive into this book as yet, but it certainly is inviting.
For those who can’t, and don’t want to, forget the landmark TV miniseries based on Larry McMurtry’s novel Lonesome Dove, this oversized coffee-table tome should be especially welcome. It amounts to an illustrated oral history of the project, with remarks from the producers, director, writer, stars and costars, and many of the behind-the-scenes personnel, as well as notable friends and admirers. Illustrations include revealing behind-the-scenes pictures, beautiful photographs redolent of the Old West the filmmakers managed to recreate, and amusing artifacts including Polaroid shots taken for costume or continuity purposes. As for the lasting impact of the project, author McMurtry has the last word: “We still don’t know that it is a classic. It hasn’t been long enough to make that assessment. I’ve said to myself several times that it is the Gone with the Wind of the West. That means making a judgment about both books. Gone with the Wind is not a despicable book. It is also not a great book. And that is what I feel about Lonesome Dove.”
THE ART OF BOB PEAK by Thomas Peak (Peak Books)
Gifted artist Bob Peak was well established in the world of illustration and commercial art before he was recruited by Hollywood to create posters and advertising campaigns for such films as West Side Story, My Fair Lady, Camelot, Apocalypse Now, and Star Trek. This huge, generously illustrated volume, a labor of love by his son Tom, covers Peak’s entire career, from fashion art to magazine ads, but gives proper attention to his movie output and offers preliminary artwork as well as the finished pieces. You can order this one directly from the publisher HERE.
Michael Feinstein is not just a great entertainer but a dedicated musicologist. This book allows him to trace the careers of George and Ira Gershwin and discuss some of their greatest songs, which he also performs on an accompanying CD. Few people have as great a storehouse of information about these musical giants, and Feinstein delights in revealing details that should please—and enlighten—any aficionado of popular music. He also incorporates his own experiences, working for Ira in his later years, then spending the rest of his life performing their songs. He even debates the issue of what is more important: being true to the original tempo and harmonic structure of a song or making it relevant to a modern audience. The lively, highly personal text is illustrated with wonderful photos and Gershwin memorabilia.