I’ve written before about my fondness for the original 1960s Teen Titans. TEEN TITANS: The Silver Age Volume 1 starts with their tryout issues of Brave and the Bold and Showcase then follows up with the first 11 issues of their own book as they battle drag racers, bikers, unruly college kids, renegade rockers and more. Lightweight fun with gorgeous art by Nick Cardy, though Bob Haney really did have a tin ear for hip teen dialogue (“We’re wild, woolly and full of gum drops!”).
Like Mark Harris’s Pictures at a Revolution, his FIVE CAME BACK: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War uses a small set of stories to capture a big canvas. The focus is five directors (George Stevens, Frank Capra, William Wyler, John Huston and John Ford) who put their talents at the service of the War Department capturing combat footage (Ford’s famous Battle of Midway) or making documentaries explaining Why We Fight while coping with obstacles including timing (Steven and Huston both missed crucial Big Moments), military bureaucracy, accuracy (occasionally fudged) and shifting public taste (by the time the Why We Fight films came out, they were dated). From this Harris looks at the shifting attitudes towards making ripped-from-the-headlines movies, to the war, and to Jews (Hollywood moguls were aware that being pro-war would draw attention to their Jewishness) and post-war cinema. The theme doesn’t hold together as well as Harris’ previous book and it sometimes looks like he hasn’t seen the films he’s writing about (I would not describe Charles Coburn’s crotchety official in The More the Merrier as a kindly retiree). Still, it works overall.
DOCUMENTARY: A History of the Non-Fiction Film by Erik Barnouw starts with the early days of cinema when simply capturing the real world on film could hold an audience spellbound. Then Barnouw moves through the once legendary Eskimo documentary Nanook of the North and newsreels to the more activist political films of the 1930s, then such trends as historical documentaries made up of old film clips and Talking Heads films (I was surprised to learn this was once a novel idea). The book only runs through the 1980s, but it does a good job looking around the world (Soviet and Chinese documentaries, for instance) and exploring questions of authenticity, bias and fake news (which go back to the early days).
THE BICYCLE EFFECT: Cycling as Meditation by Juan Carlos Kreimer seemed worth reading as I both bicycle and meditate. Unfortunately too much of the book regurgitates factoids about bicycling and Kreimer’s cycling experiences, and the Zen stuff isn’t any different from many other books I’ve read. Still, being banal rather than actively awful puts it head and shoulders above Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
FIRST CONTACTS: The Essential Murray Leinster left me with the feeling that like a lot of short-story writers, Leinster is better read in small doses; not that they’re bad, just that something in his style becomes dull with repetition. And his view of first contact is remarkably grim, a running theme being that one civilization will inevitably destroy the other if only in self-defense (First Contact has an Earth and an alien ship struggling to find a way out of that dilemma). The most famous story is A Logic Named Joe, which predicts desktop computers, the Internet, Google and cyberstalking (and it’s actually fun, too); others include Plague on Kryden II (a space doctor caught in a murder mystery), the whimsical Fourth Dimensional Demonstrator and Sideways In Time, a good parallel world story. Worth one look, but Leinster’s not someone I’ll ever love.
#SFWApro. Cover by Nick Cardy, all rights remain with current holder.