Summer Reading Suggestions


Like many people, I tend to do a lot of reading when the weather warms up and with summer officially about to start on June 21st I thought it would be a good time to share some of the books I’ve been enjoying with my fellow film buffs. My own tastes tend to be somewhat eclectic but I hope readers of all types and stripes will find something that piques their interest when pursuing my list of Summer Reading Suggestions.

book1Fireball: Carol Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

I love a good mystery so I was intrigued by the premise of Robert Matzen’s book, which investigates the tragic plane crash that took Carol Lombard’s life in 1942 and it didn’t disappoint. The book details the series of events that led up to the crash and uncovers new evidence that should put many previous theories to rest but it isn’t a dry or lifeless read. Matzen’s book unfolds like a suspense thriller or taut film noir but it also humanizes all the people involved and provides readers with a thoughtful assessment of how the crash affected the family members and friends of the crash victims, including Lombard’s husband, actor Clark Gable.

book2Eiji Tsuburaya: Master of Monsters by August Ragone

Godzilla returned to the big screen this year, which makes it the perfect time to revisit August Ragone’s entertaining and insightful look at the career of Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects genius behind the original GODZILLA (1954) as well as many other important Japanese horror, fantasy and science fiction films and popular TV productions. The book was recently released in paperback for the first time and includes loads of never-before seen photos as well as behind-the-scenes production stills. Ragone’s writing is passionate and informed and he’s provided film fans with an invaluable resource that can be enjoyed by anyone who’s interested in the history of special effects and the groundbreaking work of Japan’s premier ‘Master of Monsters.’

book3Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations by Peter Evens and Ava Gardner

With the book about to make its paperback premier, I figured it was time that I finally dived into Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations. I’m still making my way through the book and enjoying every rowdy and reckless minute of it.  This uninhibited look at one of Hollywood’s legendary beauties was compiled from never-before-published recordings made by author Peter Evens who was tasked with ghost-writing Gardner’s autobiography before she died although the project never came to fruition. There’s not much new here and I don’t always agree with Even’s conclusions about the actress and her work, but it’s a lively and at times very touching read that makes a great companion to Ava Gardner’s original biography My Story.

book4Sharon Tate: Recollection by Debra Tate

Sharon Tate was one of the most recognizable faces of the 1960s and there’s been so many quickly cobbled together books published about the actress and her horrific murder that I was hesitant to pick up a copy of Sharon Tate: Recollection. But this heartfelt tribute compiled by Sharon’s sister, Debra Tate is a celebration of Sharon’s life instead of just another monument to her death. Recollection reads like a memorial book and features a forward written by Sharon’s husband, director Roman Polanski, as well as many touching personal observations about the actress from family members, celebrity friends and acquaintances. It also contains many never-before-seen family photos as well as still shots and behind-the-scene pictures from the television shows and movies she appeared in. If you’re already a Sharon Tate fan you’ll admire the care that went into producing this book and enjoy all the new material. And if you’re just discovering Tate’s work you’ll find that this is a great jumping off point for anyone who’s interested in learning more about her all-too brief life and career.

book5British Trash Cinema by I.Q. Hunter

This engrossing BFI (British Film Institute) book by I.Q. (aka Ian) Hunter is both a personal celebration of horror, cult, science fiction and sexploitation films that the author admires as well as smart academic study that shines some much needed light on the dark underbelly of British cinema. Hunter is an engaging and affable writer and his appealing style makes his scholarly approach to the material easy to enjoy. The 220 page book doesn’t contain many images but it’s filled with fascinating antidotes as well as detailed information about a diverse selection of British films that rarely get the kind of thoughtful critical attention that’s offered here. As a connoisseur of trash cinema myself, I was surprised by how much I learned from Hunter’s book and I came away from the reading experience with new ideas about how to approach and appreciate the B-movies that I love.

book6The Dark Galleries: A Museum Guide to Painted Portraits in Film Noir, Gothic Melodramas and Ghost Stories of the 1940s and 1950s by Steven Jacobs and Lisa Colpaert

I was immediately drawn to the intriguing premise of Dark Galleries which reads like a museum guide to a “fictitious collection of painted portraits found in noir crime thrillers, melodramas and ghost stories.” This unconventional and unique book begins with a detailed introduction along with an illustrated survey of fictional artists, museums and collectors and then it’s divided up into six individual galleries that include Dying Portraits (THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY; 1945, ODD MAN OUT; 1947, SUNSET BLVD.; 1950, etc.), Patriarchs (HOUSE OF STRANGERS; 1949, SUSPICION; 1941, GILDA; 1946, etc.), Matriarch s and Female Ancestors (NOW, VOYAGER; 1942, THE BIG HEAT; 1953, GASLIGHT; 1944, etc.), Ghosts (THE UNINVITED; 1948, PORTRAIT OF JENNIE; 1949, PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN; 1951), Fatal Portraits (WHIRLPOOL; 1949, MAN IN THE ATTIC; 1953, PHANTOM LADY; 1944, etc.) and Modern Portraits (THE LOCKET; 1946, BORN TO BE BAD; 1950, SCARLET STREET; 1945, etc.). With only 180 some pages, Dark Galleries is not as extensive or all-encompassing as I would have liked, but I still found it to be a thoughtful, creative and original look at the power of portraiture found in many classic films.

book7What Fresh Lunacy is This?: The Authorised Biography of Oliver Reed by Robert Sellers

Robert Sellers has written some spirited and compelling books about British actors that I’ve really enjoyed so I eagerly awaited his latest release, which focuses on the fascinating life and career of Oliver Reed. Reed was a genuine hell-raiser and all-around rabble-rouser who appeared in a number of unforgettable movies but his insatiable appetite for the fleeting pleasures in life (booze, babes and brawls) often derailed his best-laid plans. Sellers’ uncompromising biography was a collaboration with Reed’s family and for the first time readers are provided with an intimate, well-rounded and sensitive portrait of one of cinema’s original ‘bad boys.’ It offers some intriguing new insights into the actor’s tumultuous life but it also presents Reed as a caring family man who struggled to overcome many of his personal demons.

book8The World is Ever Changing by Nicolas Roeg

Director Nicolas Roeg is probably best known to film audiences for a series of groundbreaking movies he made during a 10 year span between 1970 and 1980 (PERFORMANCE; 1970, WALKABOUT; 1971, DON’T LOOK NOW; 1973, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH; 1976 and BAD TIMING; 1980) but Roeg’s film career actually began in the late 1940s when he was employed by the London Branch of MGM. He started off working as an assistant camera operator on many films including THE MINIVER STORY (1950), NEVER LET ME GO (1953), BHOWANI JUNCTION (1956) and THE SUNDOWNERS (1960) and eventually became a cinematographer where he helped craft the look of films such as THE MASQUE OF RED DEATH (1964), DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965), FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966) and PETULIA (1968). Roeg’s atypical biography reads like a free form stream of thought, much like you’re having a conversation with the man and he’ casually sharing bits and pieces of his intriguing life with you. He talks a lot about the creative process of making movies and includes various stories about the films he worked on but it could become frustrating to readers who are expecting a straight forward narrative. Roeg also doesn’t shy away from discussing his esoteric interests, which include his belief in reincarnation but if you’re familiar with the uncanny nature of his films this shouldn’t come as a surprise. This welcome autobiography from one of my favorite filmmakers offers readers lots of personal insight into his impressive body of work and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Many of the books are available in the TCM Shop.

8 Responses Summer Reading Suggestions
Posted By Richard Brandt : June 20, 2014 12:20 am

Good Lord! I would happily read all these books. In one sitting, if that were humanly possible.

Posted By Mieleoffski : June 20, 2014 12:27 am

Heaven – sheer Heaven. Who shall I send a check to that will allow me to read these wonderful items. There can be no greater joy in life than to be able to read these amazing books! And, yes… Iam gushing – it feels great!

Posted By Susan Doll : June 21, 2014 7:25 pm

Hey, I just read parts of the Carole Lombard bio because I was doing some research on her. Good info. I am inspired to read the rest of it.

Posted By Susan Doll : June 21, 2014 7:26 pm

And, am actually going to purchase Dark Galleries. Right up my alley.

Posted By george : June 21, 2014 8:13 pm

The Ava Gardner book is OK, but as Kimberly said, there’s not much here that’s new. I’d love to read the Oliver Reed bio and “British Trash Cinema.”

Posted By Doug : June 22, 2014 3:08 am

As for “Dark Galleries”-wouldn’t it be great for TCM to commission
artists to create a Gallery of the great ‘fake’ paintings? “Laura” on a wall opposite the lady from “The Uninvited”?

Posted By swac44 : June 24, 2014 11:56 am

I was just watching Anthony Mann’s first film noir Strangers in the Night (1944), released the same year as Laura, with a man becoming obsessed by the image of a beautiful woman in a portrait. Not sure if it’s included in Dark Galleries, but it says a lot about these films that they can invest so much mystery and life into a still image contained within.

Posted By robbushblog : July 11, 2014 1:50 pm

Dark Galleries looks like a fun little book to own. Must get.

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