Peter Bogdanovich is an original in the movie biz--an artist with a scholar's soul. Or is that vice versa? The director of The Last Picture Show
has written several books--learned and loving books--about film, and this collection of 26 energetic, visceral, and witty essays on movies past and present reveals his connoisseurship of other people's prose too. Among the writers, some have marquee value (Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg), two are slumming novelists (Gore Vidal, E.L. Doctorow), and then there are the usual suspects: Roger Ebert, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Andrew Sarris, Robin Wood, Molly Haskell--tenacious, long-time hunchers in the dark and students of the movies. Here, all take longer views, mostly of the past, in pieces originally written for film maven journals like Film Comment
, or for magazines like The New Yorker
that regularly spill ink on what one writer here describes as "caressing the details" of movies.
Some choices are inspired. Scorsese recalls the cathedral in Little Italy with a Don DeLillo-ish pleasure in spectacle. David Denby rants acutely against the marketing juggernauts that have muted critics so utterly in recent years. Bruce Wagner interweaves stories of the silent film star Billie Dove in a tale with a gauzy kick. And there are surprises too. Remember Rex Reed? The acid-tongued smoothie who used to coax comments you wouldn't believe from big stars (and then print them) delivers a grieving valentine to Kay Thompson, creator of Eloise. And Terrence Rafferty, usually a bit of a heavy-breather, steps up to the plate with a winsome deconstruction of feminine beauty in current and bygone cinema. All in all, a must-have for lovers of conversation about film. --Lyall Bush
From Publishers Weekly
E.L. Doctorow suggests in this fine volume that "film de-literates thought." If that's true, then this collection goes a long way toward "re-literating" us. Bogdanovich has succeeded in bringing together an astonishingly wide array of page-turning articles about the movies, ranging from the analytical to the exultant, on subjects both historical and contemporaryAa breadth that sometimes comes across as a hodgepodge, as there's little explanation of how these essays work in relation to one another. But this liability takes nothing from the writing. There are appreciations and retrospectives, analyses of contemporary films (such as David Denby's essay tackling L.A. Confidential and the '90s film audience) and extensive readings of classics (including a wonderful critique of The Searchers by Geoffrey O'Brien). Some essays are more broadly theoretical, analyzing, for instance, the meanings of star power, directorial styles and the relationship between film and other arts. Some venture into the elegiac, including Rex Reed's tribute to actress, author and fashion voice extraordinaire Kay Thompson and Bruce Wagner's wistful musings on silent-screen legend Billie Dove. In these essays, as with many of the most effective here, the authors find ways to weave deeply personal narratives into far-reaching analyses, demonstrating the cinema's role at the cultural and emotional center of the American century. There are some regrettable gaps: despite one or two essays on race and gender, Bogdanovich has shied away from political readings of film, and there is a strangely disproportionate amount of testosterone, both in terms of subject matter and authors (22 out of 26 are men). Given the many excellent female voices excluded, and the recent strides made by women in the film industry, that's a glaring flaw in this otherwise fine book.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.