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Warning Shadows: Home Alone with Classic Cinema Paperback – April 19, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1St Edition edition (April 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393337928
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393337921
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,538,973 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael Samerdyke on April 9, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This collection of essays on films and filmmakers is a delight to read. It gave me the feeling of listening to an informed and charming person who can talk about films without ever once resorting to academic jargon.

I came away from "Warning Shadows" impressed by the depth and breadth of Giddins' knowledge. Not only does he write sensibly about Orson Welles, John Huston and Alfred Hitchcock (and say interesting things about these filmmakers) but he can also pinpoint the best film made by the nearly forgotten John Brahm, offer perceptive comments about lesser-known films of the Weimar era (which is where he draws the title of his book) and even view the "Indianerfilm" of the former East Germany with intelligent curiosity.

The only drawback with "Warning Shadows" is that most of the essays are about four pages long. (They were originally written as DVD reviews.) Giddins should use his expertise on film to attack a subject at a longer length.

Still, if you think film history is too important to be left to the professors, this is a book to read.
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Format: Paperback
Gary Giddins seems to have seen and read everything, which one would expect of a professional critic, yet his literary voice is that of a populist, a thinker who lives and breathes aesthetics but writes from the conviction that cinema, like jazz, is fundamentally a folk art, however rarefied.

This is where things get dicey. Public exhibition, Giddins argues in his opening essay, "Home Alone with Classic Cinema," is an integral part of the movie watching experience: "Only in a crowd is the viewer borne away on waves of joy and sorrow and recognition." Freed by our DVD players from lack of parking, overpriced concessions, and babblers in the audience, we have virtually unlimited access to good films, and fewer people to watch them with. If Giddins is right, that isn't cinema; it's television, or parlor entertainment.

Still, when it comes to an informed appreciation of those films, it's a pleasure to read him. Recent blockbusters don't interest him; as he says of one little-known, European avant-garde director, "[his] films are the sort about which mainstream reviewers remark, 'not for every taste.' Nor is THE DARK KNIGHT for every taste." What interests Giddins are the pleasures of Bette Davis's operatic acting; the Freudian fantasies of German Expressionist cinema; the energy and intelligence of Sidney Lumet movies; Hollywood biopics worthy of their subjects (YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, LUST FOR LIFE); and, among other bits of movie history, the wonderfully weird story of how Walt Disney and Nelson Rockefeller joined forces to fight the Nazis with cartoons and samba.

WARNING SHADOWS (those on Plato's cave wall, of course) is both an elegy for the near-extinction of the moviegoing experience and a celebration of a large number of movies that made it all worthwhile.
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Format: Paperback
While best known as the long time jazz critic for the Village Voice, Gary Giddins "gets" movies. He intimately comprehends, and has the uncanny ability to bring into focus for the reader, not only the bigger picture (which he does, breathtakingly, in an amazingly astute overview of the full-circle journey of motion picture viewing since the turn of the last century in the first chapter of his new book, "Warning Shadows: Home Alone With Classic Cinema"), but also the diverse intricacies of genres and sub-genres, of film directors' entire oeuvres, of the basic, indefinable stuff that makes us love to watch movies, even when we're home alone.

In "Warning Shadows," a collection of Giddins' DVD reviews for the now defunct New York Sun, he succinctly yet sagaciously delves into the works of time tested auteurs and much-appreciated actors and stars as well as overlooked geniuses and forgotten, would-be masterpieces. He adroitly notes, for instance, that Alfred Hitchcock has had the last laugh on his many biographers and critics by remaining the most durably popular studio-era film director in the English-speaking world, and he illuminates in two essays about the often misinterpreted and misunderstood John Ford more than some have managed in entire volumes.

Giddins writes in his piece on Noir-cum-Western-cum-Sixties Epic auteur Anthony Mann, "The 1950s were arguably the greatest years of the Western, the period in which generic formulas were at once sustained and destabilized through psychology, revisionism, high style and the kind of grandeur that follows when the most durable clichés are reframed against classical paradigms.
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I have unbounded respect for Giddins. His jazz writing is superlative. His film writing is also well considered, thoughtful and well-written. The only thing is, I wanted to sit back and let Giddins expatiate in his usual expansive way. However, this book is tied to very specific box set DVD releases and to me, this creates somewhat artificial boundaries that make the book less interesting.
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