From Publishers Weekly
Critic Giddins (Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Miracles
) gleans fresh insights from novel juxtapositions in these essays drawn from his newspaper reviews of DVD collections. The DVD collection's raison d'etre
is to group movies around organizing principles, which here run the gamut from Hitchcock retrospectives to Disney nature docs to Hollywood literary adaptations to charming oddities like a collection of silents starring Harry Houdini. The downside to reviewing them is that Giddins must glance at lesser works with little to recommend them, though he'll often notice a fine performance, catchy score or radiant lighting scheme gleaming through the dross. The payoff is the themes that emerge as he sifts a wealth of comparisons and contrasts. These range from the failings of Rodgers and Hammerstein (The Sound of Music
is the happiest of all musicals involving Nazis) to keen evocations of a movie star's aura, the casually authoritative stance of an Edward G. Robinson or the mulish twisting between bashful affability and cries de coeur of a Jimmy Stewart. Giddins is the ideal couch companion, erudite but relaxed and witty; his perceptive commentary shows that it's not what you watch, it's how you watch it. (Apr.)
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Although best known as the Village Voice’s longtime jazz critic, Giddins commands pop-culture expertise beyond music. Recently he’s been writing reviews of DVD releases of classic films for the New York Sun. As Giddins notes and the collection’s subtitle suggests, despite having become society’s default viewing method, “DVD and Blu-ray . . . remain substitutes for the intended experience”; the book’s dedication to some three-dozen defunct New York theaters affirms that his heart remains in the movie house. Although new assessments of decades-old releases inherently lack the immediacy and relevance of reviews of current works, they allow Giddins to offer well-considered views of classics both vintage (The General, King Kong) and modern (Blade Runner) and of celebrated directors like Ford, Hawks, and Lubitsch. He tackles some relative obscurities as well, from a collection of German Expressionist silents to foreign masterworks by Lech Majewski and Peter Watkins. The collection may not be as valuable as Giddins’ award-winning jazz writings, but it’s a worthwhile read for movie lovers as well as a useful buying guide. --Gordon Flagg