Movie books I’m reading

A FINE ROMANCE by Darby Denkert is a look at Broadway musicals that have jumped to the big screen and the obstacles therein, including personal taste (“Hollywood moguls preferred simple old-fashioned tunes to the Porter and Gershwin stuff—backstage musicals were a way to sample the mystique without using actual Broadway shows.”), casting (Jack Warner at one point suggested Rock Hudson to play Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady), and the problems of staging musicals in a more realistic medium. Denkert also covers films that became plays, such as Sunset Boulevard and The Producers and the book works well tracking general trends in Broadway, as Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bob Fosse and Sondheim rise and fall (I was amused by Rodgers dismissing sixties rock as no match for Broadway songwriting, given that Mama Mia and other rock-to-stage shows are such a standard now).
DISASTER MOVIES: A Loud, Long, Explosive Star-Studded Guide to Avalanches, Earthquakes, Floods, Meteors, Sinking Ships, Twisters, Viruses, killer Bees, Nuclear Fallout and Alien Attacks in the Cinema!!! by Glenn Kay and Michael Rose is a book that manages to both over-reach (since they make a point of defining their scope at the start, it’s annoying when they throw in movies that don’t fit it, such as Fearless) and under-reach (if they insist on including Giant Insect SF and nuclear war, they’re missing a lot). This also suffers the problem of not being half as funny as the authors seem to think.
DISASTER MOVIES: THE CINEMA OF CATASTROPHE by Stephen Keane is a much better take on the topic, sharper about definitions (“A disaster has to be central to the film, not just one element.”) as it traces disaster films through the thirties cycle Keane argues kicked off with San Francisco, the definitive seventies cycle (and how much can be seen as having Deeper Social Import and how much is just imitation of a box-office hit), eighties action films (like the first book, Keane argues Die Hard and Die Harder both qualify) the recycling of the nineties (probably it’s weakest section-while he has some interesting points about Titanic [“The movie may be critical of the upper classes but every character who matters is part of them except DiCaprio.”] a wider reach would have been appreciated) and how films handle disaster in the wake of 9/11 and Katrina. Interesting.
PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood
by Mark Harris argues that 1967 was the last gasp for the old studio system as old-time heads sold out to corporations, Bosley Crowther lost his critic’s gig and Pauline Kael began hers, the production code continued to collapse and the idea that youth was the main movie market began to take hold. Harris’ focus is on the making of the five best picture nominees from that year, Dr. Dolittle (the only one originaed within the studios and the big flop) In The Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? which tackled racial issues but not strongly enough for many critics (Harris blames the criticism of Poitier for his “model Negro” roles for driving him out of films) and The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde which were seen as films of the youth revolution (“Benton and Newman were astonished to hear how Bonnie and Clyde reflected student riots and protests that hadn’t existed when they began writing four years ago.”). Very good in capturing that era in Hollywood.
ADAPTATIONS: From Short Story to Big Screen, 35 Great Stories That Have Inspired Great Films, by Stephanie Harrison, discusses the print-to-screen arcs that gave us A Christmas Story, The Last Time I Saw Paris, A.I. and 31 others, pondering questions as to what makes one adaptation work and another flop, how easy it is to transition stories to screen and the project-by-project history and conflicts. Fairly interesting, if nothing as deep as A Fine Romance; the stories themselves I skipped except for Richard Connell’s “A Reputation” (the prototype for Meet John Doe) in which a literary nonentity discovers suicide is the way to finally make something of himself.


Filed under Movies, Reading

2 responses to “Movie books I’m reading

  1. Pingback: Teen superheroes, nonfiction film, meditation and first contact: books | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Still working through my Alien Visitor review backlog | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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