Book Review: The Cinema and Directing by Kim Jong-Il

This post is one that serves a few purposes. First, it is to turn you toward Open Culture. If anything is out there and legitimately free of charge they’ll tell you about it. It was in their posting that I discovered that not only did North Korean autocrat Kim Jong-Il write film theory but also directed some films. I read this shorter work first and will see his Godzilla film soon.

You can read my review of this book on Goodreads.

You can view or download a .pdf of the book here.

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Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge: Character Actors in Horror and Science Fiction Films, 1930-1960 by Laurence Raw

I originally got this book as a research volume, as such, I only read the entries that were strictly pertinent to the precise time I needed information on. The scope of this book was a bit larger, so I always knew I was likely to want to come back to it and finish it. Reading it as part of the 2016 Summer Reading Classic Film Book was a no-brainer.

The first few items of note are how handy it is and how it is organized. It is, as described on the back cover, “a biographical dictionary,” so actors that fit the bill are indexed alphabetically and their films are discussed on an individual basis. In discussing films in the same genre there are many instances of repeated filmmakers (Roger Corman and Bert I. Gordon to name to). However, actors listed frequently cross paths as well and if they are discussed in someone else’s entry and have one of their own it is denoted with capital letters. You can come back to it and have fun cross-referencing actors and titles with the help of the index. The filmography is also handy if you want to create a checklist of titles to see (like on Letterboxd for example).

Dracula's Daughter (1936, Universal)

Some of the most important aspects to note, without giving too much away, is that Raw thankfully takes all film seriously in his analysis and astutely encapsulates a performer’s type so they become more familiar sight unseen, and conversely, ring true for actors you know well. When some films discussed are B-Grade or lower you don’t want the film browbeaten on an academic level. Ideally in reading a film insights and information you may not have known should be disseminated in and interesting way – and it is.

Readers should be forewarned that the film is presented using two-column pages. Depending on proclivity this may slow the pace down some but isn’t much of an encumbrance since the book can be read straight through or piecemeal.

It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958, MGM)

While the eras encompassed in this book are a few, the presence of horror and sci-fi and its persistence in reflecting changing norms and mores and reflecting the times closely is a constant that allows for some persistent theming even if there isn’t a narrative per se. Fans of the genres, film history, and acting should look into picking up this book.

Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge: Images: My Life in Film by Ingmar Bergman

Introduction

This is my latest post (third overall) for the Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge hosted by Out of the Past. This book fits in as a biographical/filmographic account, as Bergman speaks of the films he made from 1946 to around 1986.

Bergman and Me

Bergman Island (2004, Sveriges Television)

In my second post in this series I chronicled my history with the films of Bergman. With that in mind I was very glad that this is the autobiographical Bergman account I chose to read first rather than The Magic Lantern. When making that decision it was based solely on the fact that Images was published at a later date and therefore would include a few more works.

As it turned out, that was a good thought on a few accounts. One of which was the fact that with further hindsight, and reviewing of his own work, Bergman was able to have more distance between the present day (of when this was written) and production. Therefore, his mind changed for the better, for worse, or he had more clarity on why certain things worked or didn’t work. Furthermore, there were citations from The Magic Lantern used as jumping off points. This may be tiresome for one who read that book but was helpful here.

Clearly the most illuminating to me were the excerpts of texts from his workbooks where he’s literally dissecting his own process from abstract notes you can either clearly see how the film developed, or are let marveling at the genius that he was able to to take something rather obfuscated and turn it into concrete emotion and a visual reality that exudes the intended visceral reactions and ideas.

Fanny and Alexander (1982, Svensk Filmindustri)

The very formation of this account is one that’s fascinating. It started with what was going to be another interview book like Bergman on Bergman with interviews conducted by Lasse Bergström, Bergström then deleted his questions and Bergman edited the text. The filmography section, which was crucial in the days before the IMDb, and handy because of the plot synopses they at times contained, was compiled by Bertil Wredlund.

The film is also very interestingly organized as the films are grouped not chronologically so much as thematically. The sections within are:

Dreams and Dreamers

The Silence (1963)

(Wild Strawberries, Winter Light, Hour of the Wolf, Persona, Face to Face, The Touch, Cries and Whispers, and The Silence)

This section ends with Bergman talking about why he went into self-imposed exile amidst tax evasion allegations that were eventually deemed meritless, then it transitions back to the beginning with-

First Movies

Port of Call (1948)

(Torment, Crisis, It Rains on Our Love, A Ship Bound for India, Music in Darkness a.k.a. Night is My Future, Port of Call, The Devil’s Wanton a.k.a Prison, and Thirst)

This section starts with him in the script department of Svensk Filmindustri then writing scripts and finally directing. It also interestingly discusses his stint as script supervisor (“script girl” as it was frequently called back then), for the first screenplay he wrote. He humorously admits to not being good at it, it’s an important job, and parenthetically, I wasn’t very good at it myself.

Jests Jesters

The Serpent's Egg (1977)

(The Magician, The Rite, Sawdust and Tinsel, The Serpent’s Egg, From the Life of Marionettes, Scenes From a Marriage, and After the Rehearsal)

In this section Bergman not only discusses his years out of Sweden but also ties that in with the themes of jesters and traveling entertainers, and puppets which were omnipresent in his work but prevalent in these films

Miscreance Credence

The Seventh Seal (1957)

(The Seventh Seal, Through a Glass Darkly, The Virgin Spring, and Winter Light)

In this section the discussion at times runs together because of the religious themes that connect them all.

Other Films

Autumn Sonata (1978)

(To Joy, This Can’t Happen Here, Summer Interlude, Waiting WomenSummer with Monika, Shame, The Passion of Anna, Brink of Life, and Autumn Sonata)

While the title of this section is a bit uninspired it does talk of actors in general segues to the discussion on Autumn Sonata, which I will dedicate excruciating detail to in an upcoming blogathon.

Farces Frolics

Fanny and Alexander (1983, Svensk Filmindustri)

(some commentary on Waiting Women, A Lesson in Love, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Devil’s Eye, The Magic Flute, and Fanny and Alexander)

Herein he discusses his struggles with comedy in general and his repeated ventures (yes, there were a few) into the genre. In addition to that there is discussion on how Fanny and Alexander in many ways was born of the influence of both E.T.A. Hoffman and Dickens.

Anecdotal Awe

The Passion of Anna (1969)

Note: If you want to go into the book knowing as little as possible bypass this section.

Sure there are wide-ranging insights into his process, life, development, and art in general, but for me (as I’m sure is the case with many of us) the greatest thing is the little insights. Things I never knew that aren’t earth-shattering but intriguing, or opinions he has on his work that you don’t share, and those you do.

Some examples of this are: Fanny and Alexander started with different names in his notes, and that he likes the TV version better (as do I). He detested The Devil’s Eye, and working on it; I didn’t like it either and that kind of thing has a tendency to show (like with John Carpenter and Christine). He claims he shouldn’t have included the interviews in the The Passion of Anna.

It is curious that the mention of the The Magic Flute being produced in the Swedish language, and not German, is non-existent. Though reading the whole book, and the section between the lines there are some inferences one can make about this choice.

Ingmar Bergman

Also included are insights into his extensive theatre work, which is fascinating as it helps us understand his day-to-day schedule for many years and also see diferences era and country create. There’s also a mind-blowing explanation of a brief stint in TV commercials (news to me), discussion of his lifelong relationships with the opera, and his work therein; radio (also news to me), and influences including Swedish novelist Hjalmar Bergman (no relation). As with any good work on film it made me want to watch and see more.

A Word on Formatting

Images: My Life in Film (All Rights Reserved)

If interested in reading this book I would advise seeking out a copy in print, even if you’re not a purist. The copy I read on Kindle had some spacing issues, typos in inserting diacritical marks, and captions awkwardly separated from photos. Maybe some of the display issues would be less of a concern if I read it on an iPad or laptop but some of the mistakes would still be there. Having just made a number of these corrections myself in my own books (Plug!) I have a heightened sensitivity to such issues.

Conclusion

Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman

If you are interested in Bergman, or the craft of filmmaking, I would definitely recommend this book. However, I recommend it with a grain of salt, if you’ve not seen any of these Bergman movies you will likely have them spoiled. However, keep in mind there are a few I have not seen due to a lack of availability and that made me more interested in it. So, check this out!

Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge – Interviews: Liv Ullmann

Introduction

This post is part of the Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge. This particular title pertains to the blogathon by being a collection of interviews that serve as a biographical account of sorts as they are collected over a number of years, there are some personal questions, and Ullmann is speaks at various times of her life with evolving perspectives.

Interviews: Liv Ullmann

Liv Ullmann (2006, University of Mississippi Press)

I’ve written about Liv Ullmann here before. Naturally, having written about the films of Ingmar Bergman in the form of a list, and most recently a specific scene she was in that Bergman directed. I also posted a piece called Liv Ullmann: Between Stage and Screen here. This was something I wrote as a reaction to a speaking engagement she had in 2009 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was held in conjunction with her directing a show there and touched on her career as an actress in both media. Following the engagement I got this book, as I have a tendency to do; it ended up in a pile of books for a while. A similar practice applies to movies as well. I’m trying to use Goodreads and Letterboxd to deal with both issues.

But I digress…

I’ve not made a habit of reading interviews exhaustively. However, it’s fascinating in this case because they are legitimate interviews that take a number of projects and topics into considerations and not as much of the junket/talk show nature is in there. Having them span years you can see certain progression, changes in perspective and priorities, and different career phases. The time when her career began, and the type of films she was usually involved in, I’m sure contributed to the meatiness of these interviews. Plus, she doesn’t give the short shrift to any answers.

The 1970s: The Bergman Years

Persona (1966, Svensk Filmindustri)

If we’re being literal Ullmann’s “Bergman Years” began in 1966 with the release of Persona. However, these interviews begin in 1972. It was a different time and cinematic era, therefore, she only came over to the US and started doing interviews around the release of The Emigrants (Dir. Jan Troell), which garnered her a Golden Globe Award and her first Academy Award nomination.

Therefore, many of these interviews concern films like Persona, Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage, Troell’s epics The Emigrants and The New Land; Face to Face, Autumn Sonata; and her brief, mostly unsuccessful, in box office terms, but fun forays into Hollywood and the Broadway stage.

One can trace the growth of Ullmann as a person and her mastery over he instrument through these years. Always emotionally attuned she gives tremendous insights into her philosophy on life, art, the place of her craft, and the world in general.

The 1980s: UNICEF Ambassadorship and Broadening Horizons

Liv Ullman (U.N.)

When asked to visit refugee camps, and eventually asked to be a UNICEF ambassador; Liv Ullmann admits to a personal epiphany. In a prescient way she talks of the power of the media, and the positive change celebrities can affect by using the media. This is even more true today. She fascinatingly comes to terms with her acting as a profession, something she does for income, but sees this ambassadorship as her new, truer calling.

The 1990s: Sitting in the Director’s Chair

Liv Ullmann

Whether in Hollywood or abroad, the difficulty female actors face landing roles for the same time window of time as their male counterparts is a reality many have to deal with in an inarguably sexist industry. However, Ullmann seems to have found a new direction that personally satisfied her and coincided fortuitously with her entering an age range where actresses struggle to even see scripts much less good ones. Her transition to directing is well-documented, and openly explored.

Her first two films were quite personal yet also included departures. Ullmann is typically seen as a modern woman, emotionally open, intelligent and confidently independent found period pieces to tell her first tales. The first film Sofie is a story of a 19th century Jewish family (Ullmann herself is Christian but has always had Jewish friends and affection for the culture) who pressure their daughter to marry the man of their choosing. Her second feature is a cinematic adaptation of a classic Norwegian saga Kristin Lavransdatter. Also, clearly a temporal departure.

The 2000s: Bringing Bergman Back to the Silver Screen

Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman

Even with only a handful of screen directing credits Ullmann herself has already seen phases. First, were her personally befitting period-pieces, and then after Bergman’s initial retirement from film (one he really only broke for Saraband, which Ullmann participated in) she tackled two Bergman adaptations Private Confessions, as a lengthy TV project and edited feature project based on a novel Bergman wrote, and Faithless, an original Bergman screenplay she piloted solo on his insistence.

Conclusion: All the World’s a Stage

Liv Ullmann (Chicago Film Festival)

Whether it’s been as a legendary screen luminary and muse, activist and force for change, or emerging director; Liv Ullmann has never seemed to back down from a challenge starting from the moment she started Persona not 100% sure what she was getting into and how she was going to pull it off. These interviews cut-off about a decade ago and it shows.

In researching this piece I learned that Ullmann has made her debut directing in the English language with her own adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie starring Colin Farrell and Jessica Chastain. This doesn’t quite surprise me that much as I read some of her thoughts on Strindberg, and her saying she does not see language as an obstacle to directing.

Miss Julie (2014, Columbia TriStar)

Also, considering that Bergman was her closest collaborator who himself had a fascinating theatrical mash-up of Ibsen, Stringberg, and himself it’s not as surprising.

All the works I touched upon hardly scratch the surface as there is much to find in this book for fans. She talks of her evolving relationship with Ingmar personally and professionally, marriage in general, her relationship with her daughter, aging, fame, social issues, gender inequality, her theatrical works, coming to Hollywood as a newbie, interesting insights in to the film industry and specific films in general; and more.

Sure, as with any interview collection that at times features a few talks from the same year there will be some redundancies, certain titles will come up more than other ones, certain information will be redundant or slightly contradictory; but with minimal editorializing, and many Q & A transcriptions it really is speaking for herself and allowing us a window into her heart, mind, soul, and art. Fans and film enthusiasts should be willing to take a glimpse.

Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge: What is Cinema? Vol. 1 by André Bazin

Introduction

This post is part of the Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge. This particular title pertains to the blogathon by being a work of film criticism that discusses some classic films and then-new approaches to adaptation of stage plays and novels and other developments in the early history of film.

What is Cinema? Vol. 1

What is Cinema? Vol. 1 (All Rights Reserve)

With the recent shutdown of The Dissolve, one of the most celebrated and well-respected film criticism sites in the past two years; a site created in part as a response to the closing of Cinematical; it’s not unusual that the discussion of “Is film criticism dead?” firing back up. When you pair that with the fact that I recently took to reading What is Cinema? Vol. 1 by André Bazin, and I started to give this some serious thought; seeing as how Bazin’s essay collection encompasses five volumes and only two of them exist with modern English translation. Usually, I leapfrog from one film thinker to another based on having read one and heard them talk of another. However, the last two names I came across I were met with similar lack-of-translation issues. René Tabard being the last one prior to Bazin. Tabard practically invented film history, and jumped to mind again after he was featured in Hugo.

I think this collection from Bazin proves there is still a relevance if we are willing to engage and seek out such writing, as will be detailed to follow. So “Who is André Bazin?” you may be asking. André Bazin was a film critic and theorist who founded one of the most influential film publications of all time, Cahiers du Cinema. It was Cahiers where the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, among others, got their start. It was Truffaut’s references and admiration that lead me to him.

The contents of the book are as follows:

Ontology of the Photographic Image
The Myth of Total Cinema
The Evolution of the Language of Cinema
The Virtues and Limitations of Montage
In Defense of Mixed Cinema
Theater and Cinema: Part one and Two
Journal d’un curé de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest) and the Stylistics of Robert Bresson
Charlie Chaplin
Cinema and Exploration
Painting and Cinema

The title seems simplistic but bear in mind that when Bazin was working cinema was about 60 years old. Synchronized sound much younger still and many things were being addressed for the first times on film. Furthermore, to establish a foundation of what the study of an artform is defining and delineating it is a necessity. Furthermore, when aesthetic precepts and styles change, or are challenged, chronicling the process and debating the pros and cons of said approaches has much validity. In trying to define the then-youngest artform it mattered to compare and contrast it to those arts that came first.

Bazin breaks down many things specifically: the frame itself, the incorporation of multiple disciplines, film grammar, editing with a different approach that Eisenstein had, as well as tackling specific performers (encapsulating Chaplin’s genius) discussing specific titles and subgenres. Further some of these essays have slight overlap which make the order make sense, and give you the sense of an ongoing dialogue that developed over time.

Those essays are followed by notes inserted by the translated for further contextualization. These are vital. For while Bazin was not shy about writing lengthy, at times multiple page, footnotes to make elliptical tangential points there are times where there is no clarification that you wish were there. On a few occasions they occur in the final line of the essay and the point is obfuscated if not lost entirely.

Diary of a Country Priest (1951, Criterion)

I, as a reader, am not shy about doing searches or seeking definitions extemporaneously. However, some of them only made sense with the notes; hence their vitality. I usually consider the introduction optional but Jean Renoir sets the stage very well and gets you in the mood and proper frame of mind to start this book so I’d recommend it though it’s not as vital as the notes.

Online I found some reader reviews that cited excessive liberties in editing, re-arranging essays. However, those changes are cited in the back and it does not say if it’s unique to the English translation. As for the arguments I saw about reading the original French text, clearly if you have a level of fluency in the original language of the text that’s alway preferable, but a translation is better than not ever having read a text at all. I have experimented with reading in French but cannot claim proficiency, and translation is imprecise, which is why new translations happen, and I have read multiple versions of a work when interested enough. It’s just always something to keep in mind.

Regardless of the transcriptive liberties either taken or not, I found the ideas communicated clearly, even through their complexities, and the compact, polysyllabic style Bazin appeared to have is evident without being so dense it reads as if its intended for academics only. It’s certainly challenging but a foundation in film makes it accessible. It’d have been further illuminating if I had the level of exposure to French literature and theatre he did, the other works of art, but even without the specific contextual framework what he’s saying is clear. Furthermore, reading always begets reading so it’s good to have some ideas of what to look for.

André Bazin

I wouldn’t say its introductory level stuff, nor does it supplant film history supplements, but Bazin’s work is a foundation that is still relevant for film is in a constant state of evolution. Therefore, to question what makes a work cinematic, and what the form entails, is critical food for thought for all those who love the seventh art.

Book Review: Damnation by Janice Lee

As I have mentioned in the past, the only time I will stray from writing directly about film on this site is only in such a way that it still ties back to film. Therefore, when I was informed about Janice Lee’s book Damnation, I had to jump at the chance. Damnation is a book telling a fragmented narrative through prose poetry influenced by the works of filmmaker Bela Tarr. Tarr being the renowned Hungarian filmmaker (He also recently won BAM Awards for Best Director and the Lifetime Achievement Award).

Usually, I approach Prefaces/Forewords and Afterwords/Appendices as optional, however, they come most highly recommended in this book. They are quite informative with regards to the process and have great insights into the work, and Tarr as well.

That’s not to say that the narrative cannot stand alone. In fact, if you are familiar with Tarr this is a tale you’ll definitely enjoy a great deal. However, something that is referenced in the afterword, written by collaborator Jared Woodland, is of note: he refers to this work being one in “the genre of Bela Tarr.” That is a most astute encapsulation, not only of the book but of Tarr’s work; for the true greats seem to work in an arena all their own.

As I read it, I found that although the book is called Damnation it culls influence from many of his works to form this story, and sure enough in the back it lists the references as four films (Damnation, Satantango, The Werckmeister Harmonies and The Turin Horse). It also struck me that since this is a pastiche, my long-burning question about what the best introduction to Tarr would be has found an answer, and it is Damnation by Janice Lee.

However this book is not inundated in its influence. For in any work that’s considered an homage there has to be some personality or spin from the author herself to make it work, and this book absolutely has a personal touch. It paints with Tarr to tell the author’s tale.

Any cinephile, whether familiar with his work or not, should enjoy the book as well for the poetical styling of the prose; the images wrought play out like a film. Scenes begin and are cut, and one can see the cuts within scenes. It’s a living embodiment of Eisenstein’s theory of poetry as a verbal montage.

The tale-such-as-it-is is interesting. It’s phrased as such because the narrative doesn’t follow a conventional form. There are incremental repetitions of locales and characters, who all have designated labels rather than names. However, it’s also because Tarr created stories-such-as-they-are. The works referenced especially are multi-character tableaux wherein the personages ruminate on the various existential and metaphysical questions at play.

The book offers neither setting nor location to lend it a timeless quality, as it follows the universal theme of decay. Yet, even with this tonal portrait of the commonality of disintegration, it’s still a page-turner, and not just for the cinematic elements within for there are many equivalencies in the writing technique that make it a cinematic as well as a literary document.

One way in which the flow is manipulated is that towards the end the vignettes become smaller and intensify. This portrait of a dying town on the verge of apocalypse, painted in labels, inviting involvement/creation, is quotable and filled with descriptives of sound again making it audiovisual, but passages about stench and texture bring you into a literary realm anew. Its staying in the present tense and insisting that you proceed, without stopping; also makes it cinematic.

Tarr may have just recently retired, but aside from the work he is doing to teach young filmmakers at his school, his legacy can be felt here, and in the countless other artists he will continue to inspire. The obsession for Lee and Woodland isn’t over either, for they are currently writing a book on Tarr’s long takes in Satantango. So aside from a work of fiction he inspired there will now be a scholarly, cinematic work on one of his masterpieces.

It’s a joy, and not a wonder, that sketches of frames (re-created storyboards) from Tarr’s films are found in the appendices of the book as well. For the book is not only drawing from said images but expounding on them, creating new ones; a new tapestry. The power of Lee’s work is as undeniable as the films that inspired her and are truly a gift to us all. Do yourself a favor and seek this book out, you’ll be glad you did.

For more information on Janice Lee you can visit her website. Damnation is available for (pre-)order at Amazon here.

Book Review – Pre–code Hollywood – Sex, Immorality, & Insurrection In American Cinema 1930–1934

One parallel I’ve recently noticed that exists between non-fiction writing and filmmaking is that the question of scope is very much relevant to both. If you want to truly convey your message and your narrative, you had better not lose the reins and have control of where you are taking your audience/reader.

What’s most impressive about Pre-Code Hollywood is that while it covers a vast array of topics it’s always tying back to cinema. If one is to attempt to be comprehensive in covering the how and why advertising and film had perhaps their wildest, most defiant short span in America then many things need to be accounted for: what the films were (including a vast array of subgenres); why they were which touches on many sociopolitical upheavals worldwide during this volatile time and what industry politics and machinations were that allowed producers and studios to so openly scoff at the Production Code in its early years.

In short, there is a lot to discuss and there is virtually nothing this book leaves uncovered. There were a number of subgenres that truly mark this period like Prechment Yarns, Gangster Films, Prison films, those are fairly well-known, but then there’s also the Dictator Craze, the subversive traits running through many films, the Depression-tinged tales, whether in large or small doses, that touched on obvious or at times more timely side effects of the economic hardships facing the nation and the world.

While those kinds of effects may all seem obvious it was also a time that was revolutionary in film. Sound was new and the one-liner and fast-talking dame were coming into vogue. It was a time where there was a craving for the morality play of the Three Little Pigs from Walt Disney and also for the inappropriate innuendo of Mae West; in short, pretty much anything goes.

This creative bedlam, of course, could not last. The brushback, and how that all came to a close, is also included. It’s truly rare that in the history of anything that a four-year-period can be so crucial, yet here is one. I had, of course, learned of the inception of the Production Code and of this period, but for years had only the vaguest notion of what this era was truly like and why, even having seen many of these films. With this book you’ll walk away with a much deeper and richer understanding of it. For not only was it a wondrous, yet brief stint, but it also set the stage for the true Hollywood Classical style to emerge.

Book Review – The Keystone Kid

From Time to time when a book should happen to overlap into the realm of film in some way I will take occasion to review it if recommended.

I’m not one who is usually prone to reading memoirs. However, when doing research for a personal writing project, the very same one that inspired Poverty Row April, I came upon a fascinating memoir called The Keystone Kid by Coy Watson, Jr.

Starting from his father’s emigration from Canada to California and how Coy, Sr. met his mother, through the arrival of the film industry in southern California, in Edendale not Hollywoodland as of yet, to later milestones; this book offers a fascinating and unique look at the artform when it was being created essentially on the fly. I will try and preserve most of the surprise for you the prospective reader, but I will note that one of the incredible revelations is that Coy Sr. was quite the intuitive creative force behind-the-scenes in the formative years of the film industry.

As for Coy’s childhood recollections, the descriptions are vivid and free from embellishment. His tone is an impressive combination of childhood wonder and elderly reminiscence that you could sit and read (or imagine yourself listening to) for hours. It’s one thing to make a simple declarative statement, for example, when he discusses how much love was in the Watson house, but he really makes you feel that and the playful, fun and adventurous early days of film. While the tale is told anecdotally there is also a certain plotting to it. Certain things, like Watson’s interest in photography, are setup then followed up upon later.

The Keystone Kid (2001, Santa Monica Press)

Aside from the wonderfully moving storytelling, the book also does serve as a significant document in film history illuminating not only Coy, Senior’s status as a pioneer, but also serving as a reminder that even before the Barrymores, this was the first family of film with all nine of the Watson children gracing the screen in more than 1,000 films. Yes, that’s one thousand not one hundred.

There are some amazing things in the book that will leave you awestruck and they could’ve only happened when films were young, and they could only be reported by someone who lived it. It’s a fascinating, wonderfully enjoyable book that’s highly recommended for all fans of film.

Book Review: Poverty Row Studios 1929-1940

As I mentioned on Monday, this is the book that inspired me to take a closer look at Poverty Row studios and seek out more of those films. However, the book itself does deserve some highlighting.

Clearly, when you’re dealing with non-fiction film writing there will be some occasions when an opinion will be espoused that you don’t agree with, but the only way you agree with everything is if you write it yourself. The book is informative, engaging, at times funny, and very well cross-referenced, which is good when many of these studios had crossover actors, studio heads, writers and the like.

The introductory paragraphs give you a great overview of the company’s history, as long or short as it may have been. There are synopses and cast and crew listings for most all titles included in the volume and occasional synopsis/reviews for some films.

The introduction to the book itself states that it does not include Mascot or Monogram films (for the purposes of my theme I may seek those out myself) mainly because dedicated volumes to said studio were put out by the same publisher so it would prove redundant. Also not included is Republic Pictures who was close to being in between a major studio and a Poverty Row studio absorbing many debt-ridden indies and having some big budget films later in its existence.

The stories both on the business end and of the films are told conversationally, cordially and with enthusiasm, which makes it a very fun read indeed.

Book Review: Stephen King Goes to the Movies

On occasion when I read a book that links either tenuously or directly to film I will review it here.

When Stephen King Goes to the Movies was initially set to be published the impression that it gave was of a book that would be as much a memoir/behind-the-scenes as it would be a regurgitation of some of his better known tales. After it was published it became clear that a great majority of its 600-plus pages were just the tales reprinted. It seems as if it was a book churned out to meet with some contractual obligation (i.e. more the publisher’s idea than King’s), which is not to dismiss it entirely, but a writer so prolific releasing an anthology of previously published works is not that common.

Of course, anyone unfamiliar with The Mangler, Hearts in Atlantis: Low Men in Yellow Coats, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, 1408 and Children of the Corn this volume will be well worth checking out. Those of you who have read those tales it is suggested you merely take the book out on loan from the public library and read the brief introductions that accompany each tale in the book.

Not to say that there isn’t some entertainment value in these introductions. King remains, as always, humorous, humble, and at times, self-deprecating. While you do get very good insights in small doses it is nowhere near the amount of detail he could’ve provided say if he had profiled his story Trucks and subsequently his directing of the cinematic adaptation of it, Maximum Overdrive.

Perhaps the epitome of the lack of detail in the book is that in the table of contents you see a page designation for Stephen’s Ten Favorite Adaptations of his work. When you turn to the aforementioned page literally all you get is the 10 titles listed and no commentary as to why these stand out, except for the rare case of coincidence where one story was included in this collection and thus got an introduction.

Again there are things to be gleaned from it. Just reading through it very quickly created four pages worth of notes based on the facts and opinions learned. It’s just not worth dropping eight bucks for the paperback when libraries are still free. Even if it is just a glorified “New Foreword by the Author” edition of many of these stories give it a read and knowing exactly what to expect your opinion may thus be enhanced, there is some gold in dem darn pages just not as much as there could be.