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Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun, quirky, educational, September 11, 2011
This review is from: The Scarecrow Video Movie Guide (Paperback)
This conversation-starting guide assumes the reader is passionate about movie-going and fascinated by the relationships between films. If you're an adventuresome cinema buff who wants to discover brilliant or thought-provoking films in an organic way, as you might make connections while talking to a knowledgeable friend or a friendly clerk at Seattle's Scarecrow Video, this book can help. If, on the other hand, you have no idea what an auteur is and are satisfied by the choices at Blockbuster or Red Box, the guide will probably strike you as needlessly obscure and preposterously elitist.

Full of opinionated short reviews written by roughly 50 Scarecrow employees and customers, some of whom care more about the art of cinema than about good writing, it does not pretend to be definitive or comprehensive. Indeed, since the store stocks more than 100,000 titles, many of them rare, obscure, out of print, or never available on DVD, many thousands of worthy films had to be omitted. It's never been updated, and there are no ratings of any kind, so if you're hoping to find recent releases or one to five stars at each entry, look elsewhere.

Most of the videos profiled are either excellent or intriguing, but the authors occasionally recommend unmitigated dreck or praise arcane tripe that exists solely to shock. They can be, as the blurb on the back cover states, "laughable, important, fluffy, gory, illuminating, so-bad-it's-good videos." It goes without saying that a reviewer's tastes will not always match yours, so you need to be discerning when choosing from among nearly 4,000 titles spread over 800 pages. And note that a number of middlebrow blockbusters are given no mention whatsoever; you won't find "Terms of Endearment" here.

There are standard categories, of course, like action/adventure, comedy, drama, documentaries, foreign film, kids' movies, and mystery/suspense, but the book is most interesting and useful when focusing on less-common classifications: great directors, gay cinema, anime, sexploitation, silent film, and something called "psychotronic" (a mix of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy). Each chapter has a theme and is prefaced by a brief explanation of the editors' criteria.

I must criticize the chapters on music videos and literary adaptations as rather skimpy. Moreover, some of the reviewers clearly aren't very well read. (If you're writing about Michael Winterbottom's "Jude," for instance, it pays to know something about the novels of Thomas Hardy; "everything just gets weird and complicated and downright sad" does not qualify as insight).

The guide is fully indexed by director and movie, but not by actor (except for 100 Scarecrow faves). There are sidebars with about 50 concise introductions to particular directors, half renowned, half little known, as well as cinematic subcultures both popular (screwball comedy, film noir) and emphatically offbeat (Chinese vampires, Blaxsploitation).

Lots of clever lists pepper the book: directors who should have larger followings, movies we like from directors we usually hate, worst movies by favorite directors, movies that didn't seem that great until we saw them more than once, movies we like that most people hate, etc. Moreover, there are plenty of "best" or "favorite" film lists: war, antiwar, comic book, food, postapocalyptic, remakes, animal stars, giant monsters, funniest, most depressing, scariest, sexiest, and so on.

You can pick up a used copy of "The Scarecrow Video Movie Guide" for next to nothing. Give it a try!
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Review Details



Thomas E. Davis

Location: Seattle, WA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,197