Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on July 5, 2012
I do a lot of reading all year long but during the summer months I tend to set aside some extra time to catch up with the books that have accumulated on my shelves. This is partially due to a habit I developed as a child. While other kids were outside playing and enjoying the bright sunshine I could often be found in my bedroom pouring over a good book. Even when my family would go on vacation I would always stick a book in my suitcase or duffel bag. For better or worse, many of my fondest childhood memories involve books that I read during the sweltering summer months while on camping trips and during long plane flights to visit grandparents. This summer I’ve started habitually reading some interesting non-fiction film related books so I thought I’d share some recent discoveries.
Thanks to the ‘Teen Idol’ film series that aired on TCM last month I was reminded of how much I like Tab Hunter so it almost seemed like an act of fate when I came across an autographed copy of his autobiography nestled between a stack of dusty old books in a dimly lit antique shop a few weeks ago. Hunter’s book offers a surprisingly candid view of his early days as a teen idol through his later years as a cult icon working for directors like John Waters. The boyishly handsome actor openly discusses what it was like to be a gay man trying to establish himself in Hollywood at a time when he was forced to date female costars for carefully orchestrated publicity stunts while carrying on romantic relationships with other gay and bisexual men. The book does gloss over many of Hunter’s film roles and it’s often light on specific details but I appreciated his discretion and the respect Hunter displays for his professional and personal relationships. Hunter’s sense of humor and agreeable personality make this a quick and easy read but it’s also a fascinating historical document illustrating how homophobia shaped the early Hollywood movies we all watch and love.
I’m a sucker for books about horror movies. Particularly older books published during the ‘60s and ‘70s. They remind me of my childhood when I would scour my local library shelves for books about the monster movies and thrillers I grew up watching. Although I consider myself well read when it comes to classic horror films, I’d never come across Calvin Thomas Beck’s informative book before spotting a neglected copy sitting in the discount bin of a used bookshop. Heroes of the Horrors focuses on six iconic film stars; Lon Chaney Sr., Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre, Lon Chaney Jr. and Vincent Price and it’s chock-full of impressive black and white photographs. Each actor is given their own chapter in the book where the author discusses their lives in detail while focusing on their invaluable contributions to horror cinema. I was impressed with Calvin Thomas Beck’s knowledge and abundant affection for the performers he writes about. Heroes of the Horrors is never a dry or dull read and after finishing each chapter I was eager to revisit many of my favorite horror films. What better recommendation is that? I only wish I’d come across the book sooner.
My ever increasing appreciation for Mexican cinema and the lost art of the film poster led me to pick up this lush photo book at a used bookstore recently. Mas! Cine Mexicano: Sensational Mexican Movie Posters 1957 – 1990 traces more than 30 years of film history across all genres including crime films, westerns, comedies, horror movies, political dramas and numerous wrestling pictures that are fondly remembered by the author. The book is light on text but it’s a feast for the eyes. A quick flip threw the pages of Mas! Cine Mexicano will make you long for a time when film posters were more than just badly photo-shopped throwaway ads easily regulated to the trash heap of history.
I recently came across this chronicle of Sharon Tate’s murder and its emotional aftermath while visiting my local library. At the time I didn’t know that Sharon Tate’s sister had denounced Restless Souls after its publication earlier this year but after trying to make way through this 400 page book I understood why. If there’s one thing that I find particularly off-putting about celebrity biographies, it’s when authors attempt to put their own thoughts in their deceased subject’s head and you’ll find a lot of that in Restless Souls. This becomes particularly unsettling when the authors decide to reenact Sharon Tate’s horrible murder offering up unnecessarily lurid details that appear to be mere fabrication and assumptions on their part. I was drawn to the material out of curiosity and I genuinely admire and appreciate Sharon Tate even though we lost her much too soon but I’m afraid that I can’t recommend Restless Souls. If you want to read an insightful and harrowing account of the events surrounding Tate’s tragic murder I recommend returning to Vincent Buglios and Curt Gentry’s Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders.
A book sale at the same library mentioned above uncovered this biography on the controversial director, Russ Meyer. As a female film journalist it’s not always easy defending Meyer’s films but I believe he was a talented filmmaker with a great eye for composition, skilled editing techniques and an unmistakable sense of humor. I’m only half way into Jimmy McDonough’s book but it’s been an enlightening read so far full of interesting anecdotes and lots of information about the director. Although the author clearly admires his subject he isn’t afraid to point out Meyer’s faults and paints a refreshingly human picture of a complex man who is mostly remembered today for his devotion to women’s cleavage. Russ Meyer’s movies aren’t for everyone and either is this very adult book. But Meyer’s creative ingenuity should be commended and Jimmy McDonough’s biography is an important compendium to Meyer’s body of work.
Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down is Robert Sellers latest book detailing the adventurous lives of the bad boys of British cinema. While his earlier book, Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Burton, Harris, O’Toole and Reed focused more on their bad habits and hard lived lives, Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down hones in on the important contributions that actors like Albert Finney, Robert Shaw, Alan Bates, Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, Sean Connery, Terence Stamp, Tom Courtenay and Michael Caine made to British cinema during the late fifties and throughout the sixties. The author does a stellar job of combining personal recollections, opinion and recorded history to present an insightful account of each actor’s personal triumphs and all too human failings. I hope to interview author Robert Sellers later this month and discuss Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down in more depth so keep your eye on the space for future updates. In the meantime you can find this book as well as all the others I listed at your local bookstores and libraries or you can order them directly online through sources like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Some are even available for the Kindle and Nook.
Doing any summer reading yourself? Feel free to share your own book recommendations below!
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