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The Phantom Empire: Movies in the Mind of the 20th Century Paperback – May 17, 1995


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New edition edition (May 17, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393312968
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393312966
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 5.4 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,265,998 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

O'Brien examines the cultural and psychological effects of movie-watching over the past 100 years, analyzing a variety of genres within the medium.

Copyright 1995 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Review

“One of the most eccentrically engaging books to come out all year. . . . The Phantom Empire is an elegy for reality, the screenplay of a celluloid culture.” (Voice Literary Supplement)

“Ingenious and idiosyncratic . . . a work that somehow manages to be both a prose poem about the pleasures and distractions of movie-watching and an extremely compact history of the cinema.” (Louis Menand - The New Yorker)

“O'Brien's stroboscopic images of a mind that the movies have made and remade, deformed and reformed, straitened and enlarged, are dazzling. They fuse into an aptly pyrotechnical celebration of film's first century.” (Stanley Kauffmann - New Republic)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jim Allen on August 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
As a movie lover, I was intrigued with the theme of this book -- how movies have shaped our culture, our thinking -- and was prepared for a heavy, textbook-like reading. As I read, though, I was overwhelmed with O'Briens style, his sterling craftsmanship in describing the feelings and emotions of the movies. I would literally stop after every few lines and shake my head in amazement. As a writer, I am jealous of his skill. As a reader, I am eager to read it again.
Steve Martin said (in L.A. STORY) that "a kiss may not be the truth, but it's what we wish was the truth." I do not know if O'Brien's book is THE truth about movies in the modern mind but, oh, how I hope that it is.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gooch McCracken on January 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
Gob's pic on the book-jacket is the grimmest cautionary tale since Truman Capote shook his booty at Studio 54. Let this be a warning to you all. This is what happens when you spend half your life gawking at Barbara Steele & Silvana Mangano: you turn bald and myopic and you have no-one to blame but yourself. My favorite line: "What did they need a script for if they had enough bad mood to poison the atmosphere for a whole planet?"

Every sentence in this book is a masterpiece. Although there's no need to worry about any Serioso High-Art Heavyosity. Gob eschewed any in-depth discussion of Godard & Bergman & Welles & Antonioni in favor of delineating the Cinecitta aesthetic: "As the sword-and-sandal cycle ran its course they grabbed whatever raw material came to hand, Tacitus and Captain Marvel, Sophocles and the Bible and Mandrake the Magician, Tiresias and the Sibyl, vampires and virgins and an endless horde of raucous men-at-arms. The contents of an old cupboard full of irreplaceable artifacts were being briefly held up to the light--for the delectation of uncomprehending inheritors momentarily amused by gold leaf or a bit of fine carving--before being discarded. All periods of history collapsed into one, enabling Hercules and Ulysses to wash up on the Gaza coast and encounter Samson. It was the final garage sale of Thrace and Carthage and Byzantium."

I read a recent profile of Godard. His unfilmed latter-day scripts are (yes, you guessed it) scripts about film directors. Movies about movies. Gob covers that too: "The ultimate film festival would then have to consist of ghost movies: the low-budget risorgimento period piece that Edward G.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By George Grella VINE VOICE on April 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
Don't be alarmed, just go to the movies. O'Brien, in this unforgettable, beautifully written book, has come up with an idea and a work so original and startling that it is difficult to describe. Essentially, he sees how movies [and he's seen hundreds of all kinds] have helped create the pyschology of the century. In one chapter, for example, he uses the melodramatic chestnut "The Four Feathers" to show how the movies displayed the customs and manners of a class and society different than ourselves, and thus taught us how to live in certain ways. And that's just scratching the surface of a book that seems to have a new and astonishing idea on every page. Neal Gabler published on this topic recently, but to a much inferior extent. Skip that and buy this. You will never, ever go to the movies the same way again.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 26, 1996
Format: Paperback
This is one of the most unique books, on any subject, one can ever read. O'Brien doesn't write about the movies, he writes about going to the movies, how seeing movies has colored the cultural history of the century. Almost evey page brings an astonishing idea, astonishing both in its newness and its intuitive power
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