Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on December 8, 2011
I enjoy reading about the movies I love almost as much as I enjoy watching them and this year I found myself doing a lot of reading. This was partially due to the fact that I’m more housebound lately but publishers were also very generous this year. I received many press releases as well as books for review during the last few months that caught my attention. Some books I encountered didn’t appeal to me but a surprising number of them kept me eagerly turning pages until I was finished reading. From lush coffee table gift books to intimate autobiographies, the range of interesting reading material I came across in 2011 was surprising, thought provoking and entertaining so I decided to compile a two-part list of my favorite film related books of the year. Some of the books on my list are fun and frivolous, while others are more weightier affairs. No matter what your reading tastes might be; these selections should appeal to all types of film fans.
Like many kids, I grew up watching Rankin/Bass animated films on television and for as long as I can remember they’ve captured my imagination and my heart. But my affection for their work can’t compare to the attention they’ve received from official Rankin/Bass historian, Rick Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt is an accomplished artist and musician in his own right, but he’s devoted much of his time and talent to researching and archiving the fascinating history of Rankin/Bass. His latest book is a richly illustrated look at the Rankin/Bass film MAD MONSTER PARTY (1967), which should appeal to adults and kids alike. Rankin/Bass helped pioneer stop motion animation techniques and the book highlights their accomplishments and collects a wealth of information related to this timeless film including rare character concept sketches, storyboard art, sheet music for the film’s songs, interviews with cast and crew as well as the original shooting script and a reproduction of Dell’s Mad Monster Party comic book. It also features an introduction by Arthur Rankin himself. Rick Goldschmidt’s enthusiasm for his work is plainly apparent, which makes the book an absolute joy to read but it’s also filled with important facts and historic details about the film. You can purchase Rankin/Bass’ Mad Monster Party directly from the Miser Bros. Press shop online and author Rick Goldschmidt is currently autographing hardcover copies of the book at no extra charge whenever you place an order. For more information please visit Miser Bros. Press: http://www.miserbros.com
The name Saul Bass should be familiar to most classic film fans. Bass was an innovative graphic artist who created poster art and title sequences for many renowned films including THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955), THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955), BONJOUR TRISTESSE (1958), VERTIGO (1958), ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959), NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959), SPARTACUS (1960), PSYCHO (1960) and WEST SIDE STORY (1962), just to name a few. His work helped give many films a distinct and easily definable look that is still admired today. Bass also used his skills to create logos and brand identities for many recognizable companies including United Airlines, Exxon and Quaker Oats. Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design is the first book ever published about this talented man who is considered one of the greatest American designers of the 20th century. This lush coffee table collection is packed with over 1,400 examples of his incredible body of work, accompanied by informative text that discusses his methods and details his accomplishments. The book was designed by Saul Bass’ daughter, Jennifer Bass, who is a talented designer in her own right and written by historian Pat Kirkham. Although the book offers readers an in-depth study of Bass’ techniques, his daughter’s personal stories about her father make this a surprisingly warm and inviting read. But Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design is much more than just a good read, it’s a genuine treasure that classic film fans as well as scholars and design enthusiasts will be appreciating for a long time to come. The book can currently be purchased amazon.com.
Author Tom Lisanti has compiled some of my favorite film books in the last decade including Film Fatales: Women in Espionage Films and Television, Glamour Girls of Sixties Hollywood and Drive-In Dream Girls, which all feature biographical information on many popular as well as unsung movie starlets. In Lisanti’s latest book he turns his attention to a little known but fascinating part of film history and details the battle that took place on the studio back lots in 1965 when two competing biographical films about actress Jean Harlow were being made in Hollywood. The book crosses decades and combines the working history of three blond bombshells I admire, Jean Harlow, Caroll Baker and Carol Lynley who was interviewed extensively for the book. Both Baker and Lynley were hired to play Harlow in separate productions the very same year but the behind-the-scenes drama ended up being much more interesting than the actual finished films. The crazy antics of dueling producers, William ‘Bill’ Sargent Jr. and Joseph E. Levine make for some fun reading and if you’re interested in the inner workings of the Hollywood studio system, Dueling Harlows: Race to the Silver Screen offers some surprisingly entertaining insights and observations. You can find the book for sale at amazon.com.
In this intimate autobiography, actress Dyan Cannon recalls her complicated three-year marriage to the incomparable Cary Grant. Cannon was just 23 years old when she married the 56-year-old Hollywood legend but their age difference was only one of many obstacles that their marriage faced. Cannon details the problems Cary Grant often hid from the public including his drug use and depression but she also paints him as a loving husband and caring father who swept her off her feet. The book contains many never-before-seen photos and it’s a real treat for film fans interested in reading about one of the most celebrated and controversial couples of the 1960s. But there’s a melancholy aspect to Cannon’s book that I hadn’t expected. I got the sense that she might be holding back a bit or coloring the facts in her favor but I still found Dear Cary utterly engrossing. It’s a sensitive tell-all as well as a love letter to a ghost that offers a new and very personal look at one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors from a woman who knew him well. The book can currently be purchased at amazon.com.
In Monsters in the Movies director John Landis (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON; 1981) has brought together an impressive collection of film stills and poster art celebrating 100 years of movie monster history. Some of the inclusions such as the family comedy THE LITTLE VAMPIRE (2000) are questionable and the book probably won’t appeal to many seasoned horror fans looking for something a bit more meatier to chew on but the book is still a fun read. A lot of the appeal of Monsters in the Movies for me is that it’s reminiscent of the books I grew-up reading as a child such as The Pictorial History of Horror Movies by Denis Gifford. I think Landis’ new book would be a great source of inspiration for pre-teens and teenagers interested in the history of horror movies if a little nudity doesn’t scare them (or their parents) away. The book is broken up into chapters covering everything from killer Apes to terrifying Zombies and features some insightful interviews with horror film luminaries such as Christopher Lee, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, Sam Raimi and Guillermo Del Toro. Landis clearly loves movies and his passion, as well as his sense of humor, is apparent on almost every page. Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares is available from amazon.com.
This is only the first part of my two-part list of Favorite Film Related books of 2011. Please check back next Thursday for more reading recommendations! (Update 12/15: You can now find the second half of my list posted here.)
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