Our resident film critic, Peter Wix, swaps the screen for the book, and even invites a few Art & Music contributors to help, as he compiles a list of some of the most pleasing reads on the subject of the seventh art.
The great Aragonese surrealist found such enticing ways to say things about life, politics, taste, memory, honesty and friendships, even in an autobiography ghost-written by his regular screenwriter, Jean-Claude Carrière. Amusing, tightly observed, frank and educational.
Published by Secker & Warburg, in association with the British Film Institute, the series contains no fewer than 26 titles from the late 1960s and early 1970s, all worth pursuing online and not merely for the fine studies of individual figures such as Melville, Welles, Losey, Truffaut, Keaton and more. Other volumes in the series, such as Peter Wollen’s excellent book on Signs and Meaning in the Cinema, Colin McArthur’s Underworld USA and Philip French on Westerns, are rigorous and highly didactic.
The Belgian chocolate of film reads. Try and get yourself a large box or two of these old mags, preferably from Penelope Houston’s editorship (1956-1990). A publication managed by the British Film Institute (BFI) since the 1930s, these are treasure chests for lost or ne’er acknowledged masterworks, intriguing first eulogies to past and present film deities and thoughts to turn your intuitions about cinema into convincing theories fit for earnest cinephile dinner parties.
If you are going to sit down to a helping of Tinseltown viscera, do it with a fine raconteur and platefuls of Jack Nicholson, Roman Polanski, Ali McGraw and Steve McQueen. Savour the piquancy of Evans’ misadventures as producer of Polanski’s Chinatown and (uncredited) executive producer of the first two Godfather movies.
The late, great Stanley Kubrick was deliberately enigmatic, preferring his films to speak for themselves. A riveting posthumous insight is provided in Frederic Raphael’s Eyes Wide Open, charting the tricky, exasperating and exhilarating process of co-writing Eyes Wide Shut with Kubrick. In The Stanley Kubrick Archives (Taschen), edited by Alison Castle, readers can gorge on film stills, interviews, essays, behind-the-scenes shots and research notes, beautifully packaged in 544 pages. Background is always fascinating, but, ultimately, it’s the foreground – the films themselves – that give the most pleasure.
Written by the film’s uncharacteristically cultured Hollywood producer, Final Cut tells the inside story of the making of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, arguably the most discussed yet least watched film in modern American cinema. The multi-million dollar folly sank like a very heavy boulder at the box office on release in 1980, after its vast, chaotic filming schedule and ever-escalating budget had bankrupted the venerable United Artists entertainment company. While the film’s considerable artistry goes somewhat unacknowledged, there are acres of astonishing anecdotes, witty industry insights and endless tales of squabbling movie executives, as risk-prone creativity and desperate casino capitalism enter into an absurd, doomed dance, with the anarchically disorganized UA crashing inexorably.
A first-hand view of Hollywood screenwriting from the early ’80s, it’s still valid for two reasons: the complexities of dealing with ‘personalities’ in Hollywood won’t have diminished since the making of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the script deconstructed in this intimate account; it also delivers hardy and logical rules for structuring the dynamics of a film to avoid bland storytelling. Rather useful and very entertaining.
Hard-to-find at a snip, despite being reprinted in 2005, Vogel’s book traces in fascinating detail how cinema opened up and became a more dissentient art form. With social history and, in particular, science, always well in view, this is as radical and thought-provoking today as when it was first published by in London in 1974.