indieWIRE's Bookshelf: New Film Reads on Oral Sex, Orson Welles, and Lima Beans
by Brandon Judell
No lesser a man than Amy Irving's ex, Steven
Spielberg, has noted "the next best thing to seeing
movies is reading about them." It works with sex, so
why not films?
And what happens to folks who don't read? They wind up
producing features like "Honey" or working in graveyards like
Rupert Everett's "Cemetery Man" who admits, "I haven't
read more than two books in my whole life. One I never
finished, and the other is the phone book."
One book that you, too, might not finish, but you'll
be glad to start after vacuuming up the pine needles
or knifing the wax off the menorah is "Andy Warhol's
Blow Job" by Roy Grundmann. Mr. Grundmann, a scholar,
has refashioned his apparently fascinating doctoral
dissertation and sold it to Temple University Press
Now what we are talking about here is Andy's infamous,
36-minute short from 1963 that focuses on a hot young
man from the neck up. Thanks to the title credits, we
immediately know this splendid-looking,
leather-jacketed chap is receiving oral sex.
Otherwise, from his facial expressions, we might have
thought he was stepping on lime Jell-O or listening to Celine
Using the stud's images as captured on celluloid,
Grundmann tackles the history of underground film,
Warhol and his hangers-on, homophobia, James Dean, Sal
Mineo, Norman Mailer, "the industry's ever more
aggressive exploitation of racy sex," and even
Yes, for those of us who've seen the flick and might
have missed its relevance, Grundmann notes: "'Blow
Job' may... be understood not so much as an effort to
claim Jesus as a de facto homosexual but rather as
offering a rich, if subtle, commentary on
Christianity's historically changing attitudes towards
Jesus...'Blow Job' mocks the sanctity of Christ in
Western culture because the poser, in the tradition of
Baudelairean cinema, 'becomes' Christ precisely
through the use of his cock and the pleasure extracted
Doesn't that make you adore academics? Be kind. Invite
one to your New Year's gala.
A much more intellectually-challenged author is Paul
Eagle who adopted the pen name Brock Lee for his
semi-picture book, "A Star is Corn: An Edible Film
Odyssey" (HarperCollins; $14.95). His one-note idea is
to change a word in a movie title or the first or last
name of person into a vegetable for the sake
of humor. So you get "Pauline Kale," "Gene Shallot,"
Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Thymes," and Elizabeth
Taylor in "Buttersquash 8." Surprisingly, the
photographs for these veggie concepts are often quite
amusing, but the text is seldom better than lame.
What's worse is that Mr. Lee, after coming up with
some vital veggie trivia (e.g. "Cream corn dyed green was used as
zombie guts in the 1982 Sam Raimi horror film, "Evil
Dead."), is unable to fill up 78 pages of text.
Consequently, he resorts to instructing you on how to
make your own vegetable movie lampoons for 20 pages:
"Bring your vegetables to room temperature
before you begin sculpting, This will give you greater
control over your cuts."
My advice: Hire Mr. Brock Lee for the producer of your
next flick immediately. If he can sell this crap
chowder to HarperCollins, he'll be able to sell your
project, no matter how meritless, to anyone.
Moving quickly on, I'm glad to note the highly revised
edition of Howard Beckerman's "Animation: The Whole
Story" (Allworth Press; $24.95) is an instant classic,
a necessity for both fans and creators of cartoons,
and nearly everyone in between. Beckerman, a native of
Flushing, NY, has drawn Mighty Mouse, Popeye, and Winky-Dink during his
lengthy career, created animation for "Sesame Street," plus
taught future generations of cartoonists at the School
of Visual Arts for more than 30 years. His text is
generously illustrated, beautifully written, and
chockfull of history (e.g. the studios in wartime),
instruction (e.g. the chapter on storyboarding reads
like "Gone with the Wind"), plus lists of
distributors, animation film festivals, and a
So what doesn't this dream book address exactingly?
Computer animation is only briefly touched upon.
Explaining why, Beckerman notes, "With the speedy
changes and upgrading in that sphere, everything
written about it is obsolete before the ink dries.
However, computer animators who lack an understanding
of traditional methods are poorly prepared no matter how
many software programs they have mastered." So there.
Oh, by the way, there's a new book coming out that
claims the vanished footage from Orson Welles' "The
Magnificent Ambersons," has been found, and that
people are being liquidated to gain control over this
prized celluloid. Well, don't get too excited! "The
Cutting Room" (Random House; $23.95), by Laurence
Klavan, who's also the author of "Uncle Lumpy Comes to
Visit," is fiction. A mystery. Adequately written with
a cliché on every other page, the work is surprisingly
a page turner.
Traveling from New York to L.A., the hero, Roy Milano,
who's "sort of a cross between Gregory Peck and Chico
Marx," is the editor of a film trivia 'zine. When his
pal, a foul-smelling cable TV host of a show that airs
"Three Stooges" footage, is knifed through the heart
after admitting over the phone he was going to air the lost "Ambersons"
scenes, Roy finds a new purpose in life.
Warning: in the prologue, he's about to be offed by
America's favorite action star who intones, "Don't
even breathe, baby." Not to be officially released
until February 3, a few weeks before "Kill Bill Vol.
2" hits theaters, Amazon is already listing this one
at a bargain price of $16.77.
One book that doesn't need a discount -- in fact its
worth its weight in Spirit Awards -- is Judith
Weston's "The Film Director's Intuition" (Michael Wise
Productions; $26.95). In splendidly direct, yet
graceful prose, Weston goes into
script analysis, employing scenes from "Clerks,"
"Tender Mercies," and "sex, lies, and videotape";
rehearsal techniques; and ever so much more. What
seems like it might be deadly dry is filled with
insights into the directorial/acting process
from the likes of Stanley Tucci, Robert Duvall, Dustin
Hoffman, and Judi Dench ("Don't play the line, ever.
It's like layers. The line is the top. The one you're
playing might be the 14th down. You don't play
anything on the button, as it were."). Weston's
closing advice: "Follow your heart. Be honest
with yourself. Let love guide you." Only a book this
wise could conclude with such sentiments and not make