New And Notable Film Books

New And Notable Film Books

This column
is at least a month overdue, and I find myself unable to keep up with the
steady stream of film books that arrive on my doorstep. I already have another
column’s worth of titles which I promise to write about within the next few
weeks. Meanwhile, here’s a current smorgasbord of worthy new volumes, from the
mainstream to the obscure.

MOVING INNOVATION: A HISTORY OF COMPUTER ANIMATION by Tom
Sito 
(The MIT Press)
  

I can’t think
of anyone better suited to tell the whole story of computer animation than
Sito, a working animator and world-class animation historian. Anyone who thinks
that a book of this sort starts out with the early success of Pixar has much to
learn. Sito traces the artistic ancestors of today’s CGI wizards—experimental,
avant-garde filmmakers like Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye, and Mary Ellen Bute—and
shows how their pioneering work led people like John Whitney to try making
films with a computer as his primary tool. His chapter headings give an idea of
the ground he covers in this important work: Analog Dreams: Bohemians, Beatniks, and the Whitneys, Spook Work: The
Government and the Military, Academia, Xerox PARC and Corporate Culture, Motion
Picture Visual Effects and
Tron, and Motion Capture: The Uncanny Hybrid, to
name just a few. Fully notated, with a glossary and even a “cast of characters”
rundown, this book will likely stand as the definitive history of computer
animation for many years to come.

 

COLLEEN MOORE: A BIOGRAPHY OF THE SILENT FILM STAR by Jeff
Codor
i; Forewords by Joseph Yranski and Judith Hargrave Coleman (McFarland)

 

Colleen Moore
is perhaps the most underrated of great silent-film stars. Buffs know her well,
and those who attend silent-film festivals have seen restorations of numerous
starring vehicles from the 1920s. But outside of Moore’s own, breezy
autobiography Silent Star, little has
been written about her. Codori has done prodigious research into her life and
career, although his emphasis is definitely on the latter; little is said about
Moore’s long life after retiring from the screen in the 1930s. (Her
stepdaughter does provide a warm introduction, however.) Any fan, or potential
fan, will learn much from this detailed examination of a leading light of the
silent era.


 

ROMAN POLANSKI: A RETROSPECTIVE by James Greenberg; foreword
by Roman Polanski (Abrams)

Roman
Polanski has always been good copy. Of the violence in Macbeth, he once said, “You have to show violence the way it is. If
you don’t show it  realistically, that’s
immoral and harmful. If you don’t upset people, that’s obscenity.” Now, as the
notorious filmmaker turns 80, Greenberg presents a thorough and highly readable
survey of his life and career, abetted by numerous (and candid) interviews.
Beautifully designed and printed, as one would expect from an Abrams coffee
table book, this volume even includes a brief foreword by the director himself,
who says, “Why do I go on doing it? Simply because I enjoy it, and because I’m
still learning about directing.”

 


JOHN GILBERT: THE LAST OF THE SILENT FILM STARS by Eve
Golden
 (University Press of Kentucky)

 

With much
experience writing about vintage show business, Golden has crafted a
long-overdue biography of John Gilbert. She wastes no time in telling the true
story of his notorious talkie debut, in His
Romantic Night
. While The New York
Times
reported some female audience members giggling at his repeated
protestations of love, and others thought the film ludicrous, there is little
evidence that anyone found his voice high-pitched or unappealing. How and why
the myth of Gilbert’s voice became accepted as truth. Gilbert’s real-life story
is interesting enough without exaggerations and embellishments. Golden has done
her homework, watched all of Gilbert’s surviving films, and even obtained the
blessing of Gilbert’s daughter Leatrice Fountain, who until now has been the
primary keeper of her father’s flame.

 

ALLAN DWAN AND THE RISE AND DECLINE OF THE HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
by Frederic Lombardi  (McFarland)

 

One can
question whether the durable and prolific Allan Dwan was an auteur or merely a
first-rate journeyman. Lombardi chooses the former and makes his case in great
detail here. No one will ever match the author for exhaustiveness as he
explores Dwan’s long career, from the earliest days of silents through his
heyday with Douglas Fairbanks and Gloria Swanson right up to the 1950s. Every
film is examined in depth, with contemporary press coverage and reviews filling
in the gaps where the movies no longer survive. Dwan has never had a more
diligent champion than Lombardi.

THE PRICE OF FEAR: THE FILM CAREER OF VINCENT PRICE IN HIS
OWN WORDS
by Joel Eisner; foreword by Peter Cushing (Black Bed Sheet Books)

 

I don’t know
that there is anything new to be gleaned from this volume, but it’s fun to
spend time with all the same, from the late Peter Cushing’s genteel remembrance
to the chapter-by-chapter survey of Vincent Price’s lengthy career, spiced with
comments from a wide range of interviews he (and his colleagues) gave over the
years. Price was never dull, and spending time with him is always rewarding.

 

LOS FELIZ AND THE SILENT FILM ERA: THE HEART OF LOS ANGELES
CINEMA
1908 to 1930 by Donald Seligman (The Los Feliz Improvement Association)

 

Here is one
of the most unusual books I’ve come across in a long time, sponsored by a
venerable neighborhood association in a historic (but often overlooked) part of
Los Angeles. Los Feliz was home to a wide variety of famous figures in the film
industry, including Cecil B. DeMille and Charlie Chaplin in their early years,
and local historian Seligman has undertaken the task of chronicling every
resident from such mighty names as these to a number of forgotten silent
players, charting the location of their homes and including maps and (where possible)
current photographs. He is more conversant with the area and its history than
some of the people he profiles, and relies too often on such sources as
Wikipedia and imdb; this leads to broad and overly-vague  summaries of certain careers (from Billy Bletcher
to Edgar Kennedy). Still, the book holds a certain fascination for its sheer
range of information and detail. Do you want the exact addresses where Oliver
Hardy lived? Have you ever been curious about what Helen Jerome Eddy’s house
looks like today? Click HERE to purchase a copy.  

ANIMATING YOUR CAREER by Steve Hickner; foreword by Don Hahn
(Brigantine Media)

 

An
experienced animation producer and director who has worked for Disney and
DreamWorks Animation, among others, Hickner here offers simple,
straightforward, and sound advice about launching and building a career. His
chapter headings (and subheads) pretty well tell the story: Never Turn Down a Combat Mission, Getting
the Breaks—and Making Them Happen, Do it Now—Not Later, Breaking Through and
Moving Up, Traits to Avoid
, to name a few. These are not empty platitudes:
he backs up each idea with anecdotes drawn from his own experiences and
explores the all-important qualities of leadership, communication, and
motivation that propel any successful career.

 

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Comments

Norm

I wonder if doping a minor for forced sex counts as "showing violence like it is" quoting Roman Polanski. He must have been dropped on his head…

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