Low budget movies, parrots, high school theater and Superman!: books

Books of film essays can be a tough sell: I have to have an interest in the movies, like what the critic has to say, and like the way he says it. With Charles Taylor’s OPENING WEDNESDAY AT A THEATER OR DRIVE-IN NEAR YOU: The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70’s I got the first of the three, but no more than that. Taylor argues that low-budget drive-in fair such as Coffy, Citizens’ Band (one I remember bored me and Mum when we saw it), Two Lane Blacktop (that one I love) and Prime Cut, while not lost classics, are worth study. As Taylor sees it they embody 1970s films’ acceptance that bad things can happen to good people, but never sink into cynicism, and thereby represent the freshness of a great film-making era which came to an end when Star Wars turned the market over to big-budget special effects and crass commercialism. Which is the kind of endless moaning that made the book more tedious than interesting, so despite some interesting recommendations, I found the book pretty “meh.”

I, PARROT by Deb Unferth Olin and Elizabeth Haidle tells how a struggling single mother, determined to regain custody of her kid, tries earning extra income sitting for a room full of rare parrots. Problems, of course, develop … The book is reasonably enjoyable at the start, and I like the art, but it seems to meander into nothing by the end.

THE BACKSTAGERS: Rebels Without Applause by James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh has a nervous new student drawn into the crazy world of a high-school drama club tech crew. Just how big is the backstage area? What are those monsters crawling around there? Is it true a previous generation’s tech crew wandered into the back and just … vanished? This is cute, but much as I love theater material it’s pitched a little young to really hook me (but as it’s a juvenile series, that’s not the creators’ faults).

SUPERMAN THE GOLDEN AGE Vol 1 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster collects the first couple of years of the Golden Age man of steel, “champion of the oppressed!” And the creators demonstrate that as Superman (as many others have pointed out) has a big, big social conscience that leads to waging war on corrupt mine owners who skimp on safety equipment, crooked contractors using cheap steel, reckless drivers and corrupt orphanage directors (admittedly Cruel Orphanage is a brand of villainy that goes back to the Victorians). In between Clark flirts with Lois, who comes off really unpleasant here, though impressively determined in her pursuit of a story. Reading this it’s obvious to see the growth of Kal-El’s powers as Siegel and Shuster kept topping one superfeat with another; light on the villains, though, the only one of note being the Ultra-Humanite (Supes’ other bald evil genius scientist foe). A fun read.

Cover by Joe Shuster, all rights remain with current holder. #SFWApro

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