Here at F This Movie!, we don't just watch movies. Sometimes we read books. As long as they are about movies.
Today's list comes courtesy of a request by F-Head Stuart P. Thanks, Stuart!
Alex: The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker by Josh Horowitz - Compromised entirely of transcribed interviews with a swath of directors from Kevin Smith to F. Gary Gray, The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker (which Patrick turned me on to [Ed. note: Patrick was turned onto the book by Mike!]) isn't seeking to be some high-minded literary probing of its titular organ, but that's hardly the point. A filter-less trip inside the minds of 20 contemporary filmmakers, the book is wholly confident in the ability of these professional storytellers to engage the reader with their own experiences and inspirations that led to where they are in the respective careers. The 2006 book's subtitle bills its subjects as ""the New Generation of Filmmakers," but I try not to think of the book as christening of Hollywood's next Chosen Ones and more of an appropriately diverse group of moviemakers sharing insight into their creative processes. Even the inclusion of filmmakers that have drawn a healthy amount of criticism from film snarks like myself, namely Brett Ratner, offer an illuminating glimpse of what makes them tick. The bottom line of this is that before reading Horowitz, I did not know that Michel Gondry almost directed I Know What You Did Last Summer. And now I possess that knowledge, turning it over in my head periodically, weighing the implications of his decision to not make that specific film at that specific time.
Each chapter culminates in a quick-hit survey meant to get to the root of the filmmaker's approach and artistic worldview. This survey unearths such gems as: Trey Parker's favorite movie is A Christmas Story, while Matt Stone's is Babe; Todd Phillips would love to remake Sullivan's Travels; and, finally, when asked who she'd have play her in a movie about her life, Monster director Patty Jenkins replied "Charlize Theron, though I'd have to ugly her up again." Are you still reading this? You should be reading The Mind of the Modern Moviemaker already.
Mike: Conversations with Scorsese by Richard Shickel - My favorite director is Martin Scorsese (ORIGINAL!), so whenever I can get my hands on a book written about the director or his films, I gobble it up. While I have yet to read a bad book on Scorsese, some are better than others. For the purposes of this column I'll pick just one: Richard Schickel's Conversations with Scorsese. The reason I chose this book is simple -- no one is as articulate, knowledgable, honest, or energetic as Scorsese when it comes to talking about their work or the films of others. Conversations reads not like an impersonal, cold Q&A between subject and interviewer, but rather a natural back-and-forth between two friends -- or as advertised, a conversation.The great thing about a director like Scorsese is there is no shortage of books about the man. From Scorsese by Ebert to Scorsese: A Journey by Mary Pat Kelly, there's a surplus of Scorsese books out there. But if you just want to hear from the man himself, look no further than Conversations with Scorsese.
Adam Riske: The Great Movies series by Roger Ebert - I have a habit of watching a movie and taking a break mid-way through to read about it on the internet or in books I own. It's odd, but what can I say? Without fail, the books I go to the most are the Roger Ebert The Great Movies series. They are invaluable for contextualizing and informing a great movie you are watching and are key in reassessing a 'great movie' that is just not working for you. I also love the series because it opens you up to movies you might not have otherwise sought out. For example, I watched Amarcord, Five Easy Pieces and The Red Shoes after reading the essays in the Ebert books and am very happy that I was pointed in their direction. The best piece in the entire series is the one for Saturday Night Fever (a movie I love and love even more because I often have to defend it). It is the best writing I've ever come across on why a flawed movie is also a perfect movie -- even if it's just perfect for you alone. The essay also provides a fascinating insight into the point of view of the brilliant Gene Siskel. Please read it right away. It will not only make you a better, more fulfilled moviegoer, but the last two paragraphs might even make you a better person.
Doug: Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez - The subtitle of Robert Rodriguez's autobiographical tome, first published in 1995, is "Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker with $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player." I first read this "book about a movie" when I was 18, back when I [briefly] flirted with the fantasy of becoming a genius, independent, rule-breaking filmmaker. At 18 I thought, "Heck, I've got FIVE years before I'm an old man like Rodriguez. Surely I'll have two, if not six or seven, feature-length narrative films under my belt at 23. PLENTY OF TIME." What can I tell you? LIFE: IT GETS IN THE WAY. Anyway, this diary details the struggles and triumphs Rodriguez experienced in order to make El Mariachi, the film that launched his career, setting the stage for The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl ("YOU'RE WELCOME" -Robert Rodriguez). Sacrificing his body at an experimental medical testing facility in Austin, shooting on a shoestring budget in rural northeastern Mexico, shopping the finished product around, initially getting rejected by Spanish-language straight-to-video distributors, eventually landing a deal at a Hollywood studio ... this book has it all. I highly recommend it -- even to myself. I badly need to reread it, if only for the wonderful underdog story and the inspirational outcome.
JB: A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930-1980 by Robert B. Ray - Ray’s thesis here is intriguing: following World War II, the American movie audience split into two different factions (the naïve audience and the informed audience) and any film hoping for wide success had to somehow appeal to both audiences. His point is exhaustively argued with analyses of sequences from the following films: Casablanca, It’s A Wonderful Life, The Man Who Shot Libery Valance, The Godfather, and Taxi Driver. A must read, it will make you look at movies in a whole new way. Robert Ray is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Florida
Danse Macabre by Stephen King - King taught a college class in “Themes in Supernatural Literature” at the University of Maine in 1978. This book cobbles together his lecture notes, but is more like listening to King ramble on over a beer. Accessible and entertaining, his discussion of horror archetypes is not to be missed.
Only Entertainment by Richard Dyer - I am primarily recommending this collection on the basis of one specific essay included in the book: “Entertainment and Utopia,” Dyer’s groundbreaking essay on movie musicals, how they function, and what they provide their audience. Also included is a cool essay about homosexual pornography. Richard Dyer is Professor of Film Studies at the University of Warwick.
The Comic Mind: Comedy in the Movies by Gerald Mast - The single best film book I have ever read, The Comic Mind discusses film comedy from the inception of the movies (Mast begins with the Lumiere Brothers’ L'Arroseur Arrose in 1896) to comedies of the 1970s. Mast really did his homework here, (He wrote the book when just seeing some of these films was next to impossible.) and his breakdown of all film comedies into just eight different comic plots is something to behold. Gerald Mast and this book are one of the reasons I became a film teacher. Mast was Professor of Film Studies at the University of Chicago; he passed away in 1988.
Patrick: Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris - If you're interested in learning more about the film movement of the 1970s -- probably the last best era in America movies -- there are three books you definitely need to read. Start here, with Mark Harris' exhaustively researched chronicle of the five movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar at the 1968 Awards. Not only does Harris make the story of each production super compelling and readable (and I didn't even think I cared about the making of Doctor Dolittle), but the way that he suggests that a new kind of filmmaker and a new kind of film (The Graduate, Bonnie & Clyde) helped transform the movie landscape and kill off "old" Hollywood (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?) is fascinating. This one Best Picture race became a microcosm for all of American film. The whole thing seems like a gimmick, but it's so good.
From there, you'll want to read Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind. A detailed account of how film school brats took over Hollywood and made brilliant, personal films during the '70s before blowing it with excess, the book covers a lot of ground really quickly, but there are a ton of great stories in there. I defy you to read it and not want to immediately watch every movie it mentions.
Close it out with It Don't Worry Me by Ryan Gilbey. I've talked about this book several times on the podcast, because it's maybe my favorite collection of essays on those same revolutionary filmmakers of the 1970s. Whereas Biskind's book is historical, Gilbey's is a critical examination, and a great one. The miracle of the book is that Gilbey writes about movies that have been discussed over and over and over, but somehow finds BRAND NEW things to say about them. He argues that Godfather Part II makes The Godfather Better, that Annie Hall is possibly the most experimental and revolutionary movie of the decade, that George Lucas applied the very same autism that drove him to obsess over every single detail of the Star Wars films to American Graffiti. It's such a good book.