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Books for Viewing
By Joan Hutchinson
November 21, 2002

If there's one thing I enjoy more than watching movies, it's reading about them. So, it's not surprising that a simple collection development project I recently finished for Kitsap Regional Library took me days of research rather than hours. In building a collection of classic films on DVD, I got a little sidetracked with books....

My first diversion was The American Film Institute Desk Reference by Melinda Corey, et al (Dorling Kindersley; 2002), chosen mainly for its visuals - think Eyewitness for adults. There is more to the book than photographs, though. Along with its detailed timeline of films and film technology, there are glimpses of behind-the-scenes movie crafts: writing, cinematography, editing, costumes, distribution, etc.

A source chapter gives addresses, phone numbers, and websites for contacting studios, players, agents, film schools, and film libraries around the world. My favorite chapter was "Movie Quotations." Some gems: "There's a name for you ladies, but it isn't used in high society - outside of a kennel." (Joan Crawford; The Women; 1939) "Is this the big secret that you've been keeping from me? Is it that you're a mermaid, or is there something else?" (Tom Hanks; Splash; 1984) "That's silly, honey. People just don't get smaller." (Randy Stuart; The Incredible Shrinking Man; 1957) If you know of anyone interested in pursuing a film or film librarian career, this would be the perfect holiday gift.

The next book I spent time with was The A List: The National Society of Film Critics' 100 Essential Films, edited by Jay Carr (De Capo Press; 2002). It wasn't relaxing time, though; it was combative, sometimes humbling, and always engaging. Knowledge of these films is meant to represent "film literacy," according to Carr, and he admits that several members of the Society walked out in protest at the final choices.

Many of the hundred picks are understandable: Blow-up; Chinatown; Nashville; The Searchers. But Dance, Girl, Dance? Killer of Sheep? Just when I was feeling like a film neophyte, I saw one of my guilty pleasures on the list: Elvis's Jailhouse Rock! That's the appeal of this book - it's unpredictable and provocative, and the intelligent arguments for each film will challenge you to create your own list of necessary movies.

Since the grant money I was spending for my project was earmarked for "Award-winning" films, Variety's Movie Awards: The Ultimate, Unofficial Guide to the Oscars, Golden Globes, Critics, Guild and Indie Honors, edited by Tom O'Neil (Perigee Books; 2001), seemed a practical choice for getting down to work - not! Yes, it has the awards facts, but is also has the "real stories" behind the awards: The politics (and corruption), the catty remarks of the losers, the drunken parties afterwards - in short, the best collection of Hollywood gossip I've seen collected in one volume.

At the same time, it's a fascinating history of movies and movie criticism. O'Neil takes each year, beginning in 1928, and tracks the movies vying for awards, and describes how each group of critics arrived at its choices. (The critics, by the way, are as badly behaved as the stars and studio heads. The New York Film Critics Circle finally had to ban alcohol at its nomination sessions after too many brawls.) Gee, if only this book had a quick reference section, where all the awards were listed together chronologically, I wouldn't have had to spend a whole day on the couch with it.

I've disagreed with Roger Ebert on many movies over the years (I was always more of a Siskel fan), so I didn't expect to get lost in his The Great Movies (Broadway Books; 2002). But I ended up reading the book cover-to-cover! Ebert's love and knowledge of films radiate this "landmark tour" through the first century of film - and the man can certainly craft an essay. Based on these writings alone, I've rented many a film, and now some of Ebert's most-admired films are also my own.

Here's what drew me to The Passion of Joan of Arc: "You cannot know the history of silent film unless you know the face of Renee Maria Falconetti." And I had to see Detour, a film made in six days, after reading: "Detour is a movie so filled with imperfections that it would not earn the director a passing grade in film school...And yet it lives on, haunting and creepy, an embodiment of the guilty soul of film noir."

After reading Ebert's exquisite piece on McCabe & Mrs. Miller, I saw the film with entirely new eyes, and recognized it as the "poetry" he describes. To add to the delight of this book, each essay is accompanied by a white-and-black still that perfectly epitomizes the film.

Truthfully, I needn't have used any books for my project. I could have found all the Awards lists on the Internet in a matter of minutes. (And, to give credit where credit's due, I did use Amazon's Internet Movie Database for checking to see which titles were on DVD.) But would I have been tempted to waste as much time? Not likely, and that's what made my project fun!

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