Hollywood Frame by Frame: The Unseen Silver Screen in Contact Sheets, 1951-1997 by Karina Longworth
Longworth — creator of the You Must Remember This podcast, which, seriously, why are you reading this instead of listening to that — assembles this stunning collection of behind-the-scenes and publicity photos in their rawest form: the contact sheets from the original sessions. In many cases, what wasn’t chosen says as much as (or more than) what was, and Longworth’s commentary is, no surprise, witty and insightful. And the photos — of such icons as James Dean, Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor — are a knockout. (Check out a preview here.)
Altman by Kathryn Reed Altman and Giulia D’Angelo Vallan
We’ve raved about Ron Mann’s excellent Altman documentary (now streaming!), but this companion volume is even better. A gorgeous “scrapbook” assembled from the Altman archives (curated by co-author and widow Kathryn), this coffee-table book is stuffed with set photos, production stills, clippings and documents, and copious interviews with the filmmaker’s many effusive collaborators. It’s a celebration of one of our finest film artists — and, geek bonus, it also features a warm and affectionate introduction by Martin Scorsese. Speaking of which…
Martin Scorsese: A Retrospective by Tom Shone
Our other favorite ‘70s maverick gets the deluxe treatment as well, with a tribute volume that is hefty, handsome, and smart. The graphic design is downright overwhelming — stunning images from every major Scorsese feature, both inside and outside his elegantly composed frames — but the real draw here is Shone’s text, which tells the stories behind the pictures with intelligence and grace. It’s that rarest of creatures: a coffee-table book that’s also a helluva good read.
De Niro: A Life by Shawn Levy / Anatomy of an Actor: Robert De Niro by Glenn Kenny
So what do you do when two of the best film writers on the scene tackle the same subject? You buy two books, of course — and luckily, these volumes on one of our most influential actors take very different (and nicely complementary) approaches. Levy pens the definitive doorstop biography, a 500-plus-page chronicle of the life, the work, and the mystique, written with his usual comprehensiveness and perception; he’s both a critic and biographer, and one quality never outweighs the other.
Kenny’s book approaches the actor through the work — specifically, in the format for these “Anatomy of an Actor” volumes, via ten key roles. You could easily come up with twice as many, but Kenny’s choices are savvy, from the obvious stops like Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta to his turn as Jack Walsh in Midnight Run (the movie that made him “bankable”), Jack Byrnes in Meet the Parents (and his turn towards comic roles), and best of all, Jack Mabry in Stone (which reminded us that De Niro still burns with his ‘70s and ‘80s intensity). Throughout, Kenny writes perceptively of the De Niro “mythology,” while choosing to engage with — rather than shrug off or sneer at — the oddness of his recent career trajectory.
John Wayne: The Life and Legend by Scott Eyman / American Titan: Searching for John Wayne by Marc Eliot
Another double-play, and this time both are straight-up biographies, but who’re we kidding — the legendary “Duke” had a lengthy and complicated enough career for a dozen books. Eyman’s volume (released last spring) follows his biographies of such towering figures as Cecil B. DeMille, Louis B. Mayer, Ernst Lubitsch, and Wayne’s frequent collaborator John Ford; as with that volume, he seeks to understand not only the man, but the personal politics that have so overtaken our present perception of him. Eliot’s book is a bit more of a casual read, shorter and gossip-ier, but no less thoughtful in approaching the duality of Wayne’s person and persona. Both are deliberate considerations of a man who was much more complex than his seemingly simple screen character.
Hope: Entertainer of the Century by Richard Zoglin
Like Wayne, Bob Hope was an iconic figure whose conservative politics and increasingly self-parodying latter-day persona would overshadow his considerable achievements as an entertainer. Zoglin’s in-depth biography reframes that portrait, and its title isn’t just hyperbole — he makes the case that Hope’s success on stage, screen, radio, and television made him the first true “king of all media.” But it’s not mere idolatry: he peers into the psychology of the man, examining his personal shortcomings and difficult relationships with friends and family. Hope was a major artist, a notion too often forgotten in light of his late, hack-y television specials and appearances; Zoglin does a yeoman’s job of course correction.
The Filmmaker Says: Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom edited by Jamie Thompson Stern
If you’re shopping for a film fan with an attention span too short for these heavyweight biographies and coffee-table tomes, this oughta do the trick: Stern’s book is small, simple, and inspiring, collecting thoughts and notions from the likes of Godard, Waters, Bergman, Tarantino, and everyone in between, on a variety of subjects (starting out, screenwriting, genre, dealing with critics, taking risks, etc). And it’s even better for would-be filmmakers, perfect for a quick pick-me-up when the pieces aren’t coming together.
Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed by Werner Herzog with Paul Cronin / Herzog: The Collection
You couldn’t possibly expect Werner Herzog to put out a straight-ahead book — be it autobiography, film study, or other — and his recent 500-pager does not disappoint. Instead, it’s a series of conversations with British writer Cronin, organized thematically and chronologically, but unsurprisingly prone to verbose tangents and occasional non sequiturs. It’s an entertaining read, though good luck getting through it without vocalizing key passages in your best Herzog voice. And Shout Factory’s tremendous, beautifully packaged Blu-ray box set is a perfect accompanying gift, assembling 16 films on 13 discs — including such classics as Aguirre, Strozek, Fitzcarraldo, and Little Dieter Needs to Fly — to celebrate one of the most remarkable filmographies in recent cinema.
A pair of Jacques from Criterion
With Barnes & Noble’s biannual Criterion Collection half-off sale in full swing, now’s the time to pick up two of the specialty label’s finest recent box sets. The Essential Jacques Demy assembles six of the one-of-a-kind French filmmaker’s finest dramas and musicals (and you might be surprised, as I was, by how wonderful the less-discussed early, non-musical efforts are), in sumptuous new transfers and with, of course, copious bonus features. No less impressive is The Complete Jacques Tati , which collects all six features and several short films by the marvelously inventive filmmaker and silent-film-throwback comedian. A must-have for both cinephiles and Francophiles.
Les Blank: Always for Pleasure
The B&N Criterion sale is also a fine time to pick up this new box set spotlighting the work of documentarian Blank, best known for previous Criterion title Burden of Dreams (profiling Herzog — circularity!) but just generally a documentarian of rare skill and grace. Collecting over nine hours of films on three Blu-ray discs, it’s a long-overdue appreciation of one of our finest nonfiction filmmakers.
UHF and The Compleat Al
And at the other end of the cultural spectrum… this was the year that everyone finally came to their senses and realized “Weird Al” Yankovic was a national treasure, so Shout Factory has sensibly released wonderful new versions of two (cult!) classics. His 1989 feature film UHF tanked with audiences and critics when it was initially released 25 long years ago, but it’s slowly found its audience, thanks to its goofy humor, disarmingly pedestrian style, and genuine oddness. It’s getting the Blu-ray treatment, while his 1985 music video collection / “mockumentary” finally gets a long, long, long overdue DVD release. Together, they’re an irresistible counterpoint to the Very Serious Filmmaking elsewhere on our list.
The “Film Map”
The UK-based graphic design studio Dorothy created this brilliant classical city map with a twist — every element, from the streets to the neighborhoods to the bodies of water in this LA-ish metropolis, is named after a movie. It’s witty, fun, and impeccably designed, and yes, you’ll have to get it shipped from England (and convert your dollars to that funny pound money), but make a little effort, why don’tcha.
Posters for imaginary sequels
A couple of weeks back, we told you about the LA gallery iam8bit’s exhibit Sequel, in which artists created posters for sequels to cult films that never quite came together. Well, good news — now you can buy prints from that show, the perfect gift for the film fan for whom posters of existing movies is not enough.
Pop Culture Pencils
Pencils are the very definition of boring — unless they come from the fine folks at One Up, who’ve created engraved sets celebrating This Is Spinal Tap, Twin Peaks, The Goonies, and many more. (Reservoir Dogs and The Big Lebowski are, unsurprisingly, currently sold out, but hopefully they’ll restock by the holiday?) There’s even a set of Atlas Shrugged pencils, if you’ve decided just to humor your asshole conservative uncle.
Melting Toht Candle
But our pick for the most clever movie-geek gift of the season is this very special Raiders of the Lost Ark-inspired candle from Firebox, which takes one of that film’s most iconic moments — the melting of supervillian Toht’s face — and renders it in wax form. And as their website helpfully points out, it “melts a lot slower than his face does in the film,” though, regrettably, it “doesn’t emit a blood-curdling screech as it burns.” Ah well, you can’t have everything, even during the holidays.