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My Big Fat Reference Book

My Big Fat Reference Book

Yes, Virginia, some people still consult reference books, and some people still edit them, like me. At 1640 pages, Leonard Maltin’s 2013 Movie Guide is the latest edition of a paperback I’ve been overseeing since I was a teenager. To those who think it’s been supplanted by the Internet I can only say, “We’re still here.” And as someone who uses the ‘net every day, I can tell you that my colleagues and I still face surprising hurdles trying to get reliable information about brand-new movies. That’s one reason I think our book still has relevance to anyone who cares about accuracy, useful information, and of course, reviews.

It takes a kind of obsessiveness to work on a book like this, and I’ve been lucky to find the right people to collaborate with me over the years. They’re willing to go the extra mile to nail down a running time, see if an actor is using a middle initial, figure out why a director bills himself one way in the opening credits and another way at the end of the film, etc. (Hey, I’m the guy that once buttonholed a young Daniel Day-Lewis to make sure there was a hyphen in his name—and tracked down Kristin Scott Thomas to confirm that there wasn’t.) When the book is put to bed every spring we all feel a great sense of satisfaction, because the results of our labors are there in print and ready to be shared.

I’ve come to adopt the term “curated information” to describe what we do. Yes, there are websites where you can find cast info for any movie, but those lists are exhaustingly long, and the names are often cited in order of appearance or even alphabetically. That’s not helpful if you want to identify the second-billed actor who played the star’s best friend. And if a major star contributed a cameo role toward the end of the movie—without star billing—you may never learn that unless you scroll to the very end of the roster.

You’d have to scan pretty far down a cast list to learn that Mia Wasikowska appears in the 2008 movie Defiance. We’ve added credits for such diverse actors as Judy Greer, Melissa McCarthy, John Hawkes, Felicity Jones, Margo Martindale, Ed Helms, and Demián Bichir. Bérénice Bejo appears in the 2001 film A Knight’s Tale, but that wouldn’t have meant much to a majority of American readers before her breakthrough performance in The Artist. Now she’s properly credited in our cast list.

We’ve also introduced a new feature this year in recognition of the fact that DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and some savvy cable channels are offering what used to be called Roadshow movies (Ben-Hur, Around the World in Eighty Days, et al.) with their overtures, entr’actes, and exit music intact. For years, we listed the running time of the film alone because our book is intended as a guide for watching movies at home. Now that you have the chance to see the complete presentation of these films, we thought it about time to amend our write-ups.

Our resident expert on such matters, Michael Scheinfeld, had a learning experience while conducting his research. He explains, “I discovered that some movies only had a break where an intermission card came up onscreen and the curtains would close for a few minutes, while others (mostly musicals) would follow the Intermission card with a longer entr’acte where music from the film would play for up to 15 minutes. Newer movies like Reds, Hamlet (1996), and Barry Lyndon contained intermissions but not entr’acte music.” Michael has provided specific information for each of these films, which ought to please the diehard film buffs and purists among you.

We’ve also added a subtitle to the book for the first time: The Modern Era. That doesn’t mean we’ve eliminated The Wizard of Oz or Casablanca from our guide. It’s a way of indicating that we’ve migrated a great many pre-1965 movies that aren’t all-time gems to our companion book, Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, in order to make room for over 300 new write-ups. That’s the reality of printing a paperback with a finite page count, as opposed to writing in cyberspace. We’re still listing as many vintage titles as possible, but if you know someone who’s devoted to Turner Classic Movies and the golden age of Hollywood, please pass along the word that the book they really need is our Classic Movie Guide.

So the book that began as a fingertip guide for people who stayed up to watch The Late, Late Show back in 1969 is back once more in the age of streaming and downloading. I’m grateful to the loyal readers who continue to support us…and I’m forever indebted to my colleagues Darwyn Carson, Luke Sader, Mike Clark, Rob Edelman, Spencer Green, Pete Hammond, Joe Leydon, Michael Scheinfeld, Bill Warren, Casey St. Charnez, Jerry Beck, and my daughter Jessie Maltin.

Incidentally, we also exist in modern form as an iPhone app, available from MobileAge. They’re finalizing the integration of new material from our 2013 edition, and I’ll let you know as soon as it’s available.

POSTSCRIPT: In answer to several queries: the logistics of translating our massive text into an e-book have delayed that process, but it is in the works. There are no plans for an Android version of the app, and as of now there is no target date for a revised edition of Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide.

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