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New and Notable Books December—PART TWO (2014)

New and Notable Books December—PART TWO (2014)

Herewith, another installment of my
periodic book survey, derived from skimming or browsing the books at hand. They
all pique my curiosity and I hope to read them cover-to-cover at my leisure. In
the meantime, I’m happy to bring them to your attention, as so few specialty
books are publicized in the mainstream media. Any one of these would make a
suitable Chanukah or Christmas gift—even for yourself.

MARC DAVIS: WALT DISNEY’S RENAISSANCE MAN (Disney Editions)

Walt Disney
wasn’t known for paying compliments, but he once said of Marc Davis, “Marc can
do story, he can do character, he can design shows for me. All I have to do is
tell him what I want and it’s there! He’s my Renaissance man.” His
accomplishments in animation (bringing to life such characters as Tinker Bell,
Maleficent, and Cruela De Vil), theme parks (where he made memorable
contributions to Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted
Mansion), and fine art (for his own satisfaction) are celebrated in a series of
essays by colleagues, protégés, and admirers including Glen Keane, Andreas
Deja, Pete Docter, Bob Kurtz, Marty Sklar, Charles Solomon, Don Hahn, Paula
Sigman Lowery, Mindy Johnson, John Canemaker, and Randy Haberkamp in this
handsome volume filled with beautiful and never-before-published artwork.

 

LADY IN THE DARK: IRIS BARRY AND THE ART OF FILM by Robert
Sitton (Columbia University Press)

This book
somehow eluded my attention when it was published in the spring: it is a
full-fledged biography of the woman who changed the course of American film
culture by founding the film department of the Museum of Modern Art in 1935. Her
early work acquiring, screening, and preserving the work of film pioneers—when
many of them were still alive—continues to exert a powerful influence on all of
us today. Yet little is known about Barry herself, a British-born,
self-educated intellectual, or her life before and after her years at MoMA.
Sitton’s work has received eloquent endorsements from Kevin Brownlow, Richard
Schickel, and Peter Bogdanovich, which makes me eager to dive into this book
over the holidays.

 

DANGEROUS RHYTHM: WHY MOVIE MUSICALS MATTER by Richard
Barrios (Oxford University Press)

I am also
remiss in not covering this exceptional book, which I read in manuscript form
and endorse on its back cover! Somehow I failed to acknowledge its actual
publication, and it’s high time I did. Barrios knows the musical genre inside
and out, from its beginnings to its current incarnations; his knowledge is
matched by a wit and intelligence one doesn’t often find in scholarly writing.
In his introduction he asks, “Why do some musicals made more than eight decades
ago still enchant while others made very recently were stale before they
opened? Why do musicals remain prone to sudden bouts of cluelessness, even
repellence…and yet continue to be important and special to so many people?
There are always answers, even as they often come in odd and nonstandard ways.
This book, in considering these issues, celebrates and questions musicals in
the light of their achievements and failures, their relevance and
expendability, their pertinence, and OK, their impertinence.” If you love
musicals, I think you will share my enthusiasm for Barrios’ expansive
exploration of the genre, from the earliest days of talkies through the
emergence of television’s Glee.

 

A COMEDIAN SEES THE WORLD by Charlie Chaplin, edited by Lisa
Stein Haven (University of Missouri)

Following the
debut of City Lights, Charlie Chaplin
embarked on a lengthy world tour, during which he met notable figures ranging
from Winston Churchill to Mahatma Gandhi. He later published his observations
in a series of byline articles for Women’s
Home Companion
magazine in 1933-34. Those essays have now been collected
for the first time, introduced and annotated by Lisa Stein Haven, who brought
us a welcome biography of Charlie’s half-brother Syd several years ago. This is
a valuable addition to the ever-expanding library of Chapliniana.

 

BRUCE DERN: A MEMOIR by Bruce Dern with Christopher Fryer
and Robert Crane (University Press of Kentucky)

This
autobiography was first published in 2007 under the title “Things I’e Said, But
Probably Shouldn’t Have: An Unrepentant Memoir.” In the wake of Bruce Dern’s
Oscar-nominated performance in Nebraska
it has been reissued, unaltered, in paperback form. As I wrote at the time of
its original publication, “This book, adapted from a series of taped
conversations, is provocative, personal, and highly readable. Dern has the
insecurities and sensitivities of any actor but also expresses great confidence
(bordering on arrogance) about his particular approach to his craft, which was
honed at The Actors Studio. He remembers every slight, every setback, and every
moment when he felt he achieved a transcendent feeling of truth he seeks in
playing a scene. Not every director and fellow actor appreciates his
methodology; those who do come in for praise, and those who don’t are either
condemned or dismissed.” 
One thing is
for sure: Dern is never dull, on screen or in the pages of this entertaining
book. How much of it one can take as gospel is a matter of conjecture. (Even
the authors admit, in an early footnote, “In… most of the conversations in this
book, you will notice that everyone sounds a little like Bruce Dern. While
these represent the gist of the conversations as he recalls them, no one is
claiming these are the exact words.”) His vivid descriptions of working with
everyone from Jack Nicholson to Alfred Hitchcock, and his musings about the ups
and downs of life in show business, make the book well worth reading.

 

MAIN STREET WINDOWS: A COMPLETE GUIDE TO DISNEY’S WHIMSICAL
TRIBUTES
by Jeff Heimbuch (Orchard Hill Press)

Devotees of
Disneyland and its satellite theme parks are aware that the names that adorn
the windows of establishments on Main Street are intended as tributes to people
who have made significant contributions to the parks and Disney history in
general. “There is no official list of all the Windows out there,” Heimbuch
notes, “so I took it upon myself to create one. I spent the last two years
cataloging every window at very Magic Kingdom-style Park in the world and
researching the people on them.” If you’ve ever strolled down one of those
streets and wondered what the story was behind “Coats & Co. Claude Coats,
Proprietor – Big and Tall Sizes for Gentlemen,” or “Evans and Assoc. Tree
Surgeons – We Grow ‘Em, You Show ‘Em – Morgan Evans D.T.S., Tony Virginia
A.T.S.” this colorful book will reveal the stories behind these heartfelt
tributes

 

EVEN THIS I GET TO
EXPERIENCE
by Norman Lear (Penguin Press)

Although more
associated with television than movies, Norman Lear has had a broad-ranging
career and has seemingly lived more than one lifetime in his 92 years. He
writes with great candor about his family and the experiences that formed his
sense of humor and his worldview: he later drew on the pain and pleasures of
growing up in his best scripts and TV series. His incisive profile of Jerry
Lewis is a highlight, and while he naturally describes the birth of All in the Family and other landmark
television shows, he also recalls such films as the bittersweet Divorce American Style (which he wrote
and produced) and the icily satiric Cold
Turkey
(his sole film credit as writer and director). It’s easy to describe
this as a “good read.”

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