Black-and-white stuff for movie nuts

Books On Film

May 23, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,Sun Staff

Being a cinephile used to be simple. Go to lots of movies. Cultivate friends of similar persuasion. Find a suitable tavern. Smoke French cigarettes made of Turkish tobacco. Argue into the night, every night.

Today, the most ardent enthusiasts must be readers as well as watchers, an entire related book industry having burgeoned alongside films. In recent years, several books have emerged that provide such excellent analysis, lively writing and comprehensive information about movies and the movie industry that they have become indispensable crib sheets.

Every few years or so, the well-read movie nut finds it necessary to replenish the reference library. Luckily, new editions of several fine movie reference books -- as well as a few new ones -- have recently been published, presenting film fans with a superb opportunity for updating .

"Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook" (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 822 pages, $16.95) contains every review the Chicago Sun-Times critic has written over the past few years, a boon in itself to admirers of Ebert's clear, astute prose (we'll forgive him the odd "Con Air" or two).

But Ebert saves the best for last: "Movie Yearbook" also includes his interviews with filmmakers (Paul Thomas Anderson, James Cameron, Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino), essays about subjects ranging from Frank Sinatra to why there should be a Pulitzer Prize for films, notes from the film festival circuit and -- this critic's personal favorite -- excerpts from his column, "Questions for the Movie Answer Man," in which the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic engages in some cinematic pursuit of the trivial with his readers. (Did you know that's Quentin Tarantino's voice on Jackie Brown's answering machine in "Jackie Brown"? Should you?)

If Ebert's jaunty missives from place like Cannes and Toronto make you pack your bags and head for the festival nearest you, by all means throw Chris Gore's "The Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide" (Lone Eagle, 312 pages, $14.95) into your carry-on.

Gore, the editor of the contrarian movie magazine Film Threat and a popular judge-panelist-enthusiast on the festival circuit, provides travel tips and inside dope on more than 500 festivals world-wide, with an in-depth analysis of his personal top ten.

Now that Maryland has its own festival again, the time is ripe for local readers to avail themselves of the author's expertise. (The student-run Johns Hopkins Film Festival is included in Gore's guide, although the Maryland Film Festival and MicroCineFest are not; let's hope they make the cut in the next edition.)

Gore's audience is primarily filmmakers, who face a Maginot line of programmers, hypesters and competitors to get their work shown and seen at festivals. Gore helps them navigate that daunting terra incognita with tips on how to apply, guerrilla marketing (posters, posters, more posters) and crashing festival parties.

He also interviews festival veterans to glean their hard-won advice. "Flirt with everyone at a film festival," suggests filmmaker Arthur Borman. "You don't have to act on it, but flirting is like a secret password for getting ahead at fesivals.")

Still, you don't have to be a struggling director to enjoy "The Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide," which includes "best bar" alongside car rental information in its travel section. A good practical guide, and vicarious bliss for festival-goers of the mind.

Remember when introducing a child to the movies meant packing them off to "Fantasia" or "101 Dalmatians"? But in this day and age, Junior's first movie is more likely to be the full-throttle violence and action of a "Star Wars" spin-off as a mild-mannered Disney cartoon.

Two books help beleagured parents tiptoe through the minefield of Hollywood. Nell Minow has written "The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies" (Avon, 689 pages, $15.), not only to help parents select appropriate films to watch with their kids, but to give ideas for discussing them.

Divided into sections dealing with specific topics (duty and responsibility, respect, money, or just plain fun), "The Movie Mom's Guide" offers a plot synopsis, a discussion, and questions to encourage kids to think critically -- the missing ingredient in current hand-wringing over violence and the media. (The author's best advice is simple: Watch videos with your children, rather than rely on the VCR to babysit.)

Minow has selected more than 500 movies, all on videotape, for kids between the ages 2 and 18. If you're wondering what made Minow such an expert, she comes by her good sense honestly: Her father was Newton Minow, the Kennedy Administration FCC chairman who coined the term "vast wasteland" for television.

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