Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on July 16, 2015
It’s that time again. Time for my semi-annual list of summer reading suggestions! If you’re a film fan looking for something interesting to read during a long flight, while you’re lounging on the beach or just waiting for the barbeque to heat up, you’ve come to the right place. What follows is a list of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in the last six months and I hope my eclectic taste will encourage film fans of all strips to do some reading this summer.
I’ve always loved Robert Ryan. He’s one of the screen’s best bad guys but in real life he was one of the good guys. J.R. Jones’s new biography offers readers a comprehensive look at the formidable actor who campaigned for peace after serving in the United States Marines and became a strong advocate for civil rights as well as a vocal member of the Committee for the First Amendment that supported the Hollywood Ten during the HUAC hearings. Ryan was known as a deeply guarded man but thanks to insightful observations provided by his family and friends, Jones was able to put together an exhaustive biography that offers plenty of new insight on Ryan’s impressive acting career as well as his inspiring activism.
In Sex, Sadism, Spain, and Cinema: The Spanish Horror Film, author Nicholas G. Schlegel examines how Spain’s violent history under the dictatorship of General Franco gave birth to an abundance of rich, fascinating and exploitive horror films made between 1968 and 1977. As a history buff and a horror film enthusiast, I found the book particularly rewarding and admired the way it used extensive research to explore how social, political and economic unrest can manifest in movies that have all too often been regulated to the trash bins of cinema history. With insightful essays on some of the best horror films made during the period, including LA RESIDENCIA aka THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED (1969), LAS VAMPIRAS aka VAMPYROS LESBOS (1970), PÁNICO EN EL TRANSIBERIANO aka HORROR EXPRESS (1972) and QUIÉN OUEDE MATAR A UN NIÑO? aka WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1976), Schlegel expertly blends scholarship with measured enthusiasm to deliver a valuable text that should appeal to genre novices as well as aficionados.
Josh Karp has compiled a highly entertaining account about the making and unmaking of Orson Welles’s last unfinished film, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND. The book paints a fascinating and complex portrait of Welles as he struggles to bring his project to life while directly and indirectly undermining his own efforts. With guest appearances from a number of colorful figures and loaded with amusing stories and intriguing anecdotes told by various insiders and hangers-on, Orson Welles’s Last Movie makes for some fun summer reading while also presenting a unique take on the burgeoning ‘New Hollywood’ that was evolving rapidly around Welles following collapse of the old studio system.
Giallo films, which often deify easy categorization, are typically singled out for their sumptuous visuals, exotic lounge infused scores and baroque murder sequences. The film’s elaborate plots routinely combine gripping police procedurals with unbridled violence and dream logic that shakes up the subconscious while thrilling the eyes and ears. In the first volume of Troy Howarth’s lavishly illustrated study of giallo (volume two will be released at the end of this year) the author does a nice job of detailing his intentions, which include providing an overview of the genre along with brief but insightful reviews of these distinct Italian thrillers made between 1963 and 1973. Howarth’s subjective and evenhanded approach to the material is commendable and should attract many readers including fans as well as scholars looking for a good jumping off point to explore the subject on their own. My only complaint is that the book doesn’t include an extensive index, which would make the book a more valuable resource but hopefully one will be included in future volumes. [Ed. Note: A printable index of the film titles included in the book has been made available as a separate printable text doc.]
Audrey Hepburn was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars throughout much of the 1950s and 1960s and today she is often admired for her remarkable beauty, sense of style and generous spirit thanks to her humanitarian work with UNICEF. Audrey at Home reminds us that the celebrated actress was also a loving mother and homemaker who enjoyed cooking and sharing meals with her family. This richly illustrated book was lovingly compiled by Hepburn’s second son, Luca, who shares his personal memories of his mother along with fond recollections of their life together. Filled with rare photos, copies of handwritten notes and an assortment of Audrey’s favorite recipes, the book reads much like a precious family scrapbook that her fans as well as foodies will enjoy.
I’m an unapologetic Clint Eastwood fan. I may not always agree with the man’s politics or like every one of his films but I think he’s a charismatic screen presence and talented director. Patrick McMilligan’s book, which was originally released in 2002 and has recently been updated, takes a hard look at the man behind the movies that relies heavily on the opinions of people that know him and worked with him. While I disagree with many of the author’s criticisms of Eastwood’s work, I did find the chapters focusing on his family history particularly interesting and the production stories about his early films were informative and engrossing. Like many of us, Eastwood is a flawed man and the book often focuses on the negative aspects of his character so some readers will probably find that a bit jarring but if you want to know more about Eastwood’s long and impressive career in Hollywood and enjoy reading juicy Hollywood gossip, Clint: The Life and Legend is worth a look.
Hot on the heels of Roberto Curti’s book on Italian crime films, Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980, comes his extensive look at Italian Gothic horror. Much like his previous book, Curti provides a well-researched and accessible study of a genre that merits further examination. Influenced by classic Gothic literature as well as Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations, these Italian horror films relied heavily on archetypal imagery that included rotting churchyards, dusty old castles and skeleton lined torture chambers. Ghosts roamed winding hallways and bats filled the night skies. And while the films were often cheaply produced and hastily put together, they managed to use mood, lighting and creative cinematography to evoke terror in audiences. Crammed with new production information and interview excerpts from many of the genre’s talented creators, Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1957-1969 is a welcome and needed addition to this horror fans library.
This second edition of Tony Williams’s examination of George Romero and his films includes updated chapters on the 75-year-old director’s latest work including LAND OF THE DEAD (2005), DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007) and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2009) but the thrust of the material is much the same. The book attempts to discuss Romero’s films in-depth and outlines its often loosely tied links to EC. Comics and the work of naturalist authors such as Émile Zola. Williams’s methods can be somewhat ponderous as he insists on including lengthy plot summations and I think the author’s at his best when he’s expounding his unique slant on Romero’s work or defending the director’s less appreciated films. Horror fans looking for some light summer reading might find the book to be somewhat of a slog but if you’re eager for new insights or just want to read a fresh approach to Romero’s substantial body of work, The Cinema of George A. Romero: Knight of the Living Dead might fit the bill.
Interested in reading some good film-themed fiction? Check out R. Emmet Sweeney’s review of Missing Reels written by classic film blogger, Farran Smith Nehme.
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