Books for film fans' holidays

All About The Movies

November 14, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,Sun Staff

Movie fans will have full dance cards, if not stockings, this Christmas with such movies as Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday," the Andy Kaufman bio-pic "Man on the Moon" and such highly anticipated adaptations as "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and "Angela's Ashes" scheduled to open on Christmas Day.

So friends and family of the celluloid-obsessed face a challenge in keeping them home for the holidays. Luckily, lively, informative and entertaining books about all manner of films and filmmakers are arriving in stores this season, sure to bring joy to any cineaste who happens to find one of them under the tree.

Most are written by critics, but all are written by passionate partisans.

Some of the most insightful and gracefully written essays about movies this year have been collected in "The Best American Movie Writing 1999" (St. Martin's Press, 240 pages, $14.95), edited by Peter Bogdanovich. Beginning with a touching reminiscence by Martin Scorsese about his childhood love of film (and his father), this edition of 26 articles, reprinted from journals and magazines, includes work by some of the most brilliant critics working today, including David Denby, Terrence Rafferty and Jonathan Rosenbaum. Highlights include Denby's penetrating critique of contemporary moviegoing that first appeared in the New Yorker last year, as well as filmmaker James Mangold's lovely tribute to director Alexander Mackendrick and his movie "Sweet Smell of Success," one of America's most shamefully overlooked classics.

Another collection worth perusing is "Matinee Idylls" (Ivan R. Dee, 305 pages, $26.50), Richard Schickel's anthology of random cerebrations written over his career as chief critic for Time magazine. Few movie reviewers write with Schickel's erudition and unabashed ardor, both of which are on display in these fine pieces.

Schickel covers such filmmakers as Frank Capra, Satyajit Ray, Federico Fellini and Sam Fuller; such actors as Greta Garbo, Bette Davis and Charles Laughton and such issues as the death of film culture, the threatened disappearance of narrative and the dust-up surrounding the American Film Institute's list of 100 best American films.

Schickel's credo, that "there is a usable, intrinsically interesting movie history that can inform us not merely about the movies we see today but about the lives we lead today," is exhilaratingly defended in these 20 articles. Don't miss a moving encomium to colleague Andrew Sarris, published here for the first time.

Still yet another collection could easily double as a doorstop. "The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made" (Times Books, 1,024 pages, $25) is sure to incite household riots, as well as remind readers that some of the era's most assured writing on the cinema has appeared in the pages of the Grey Lady.

Co-authored by Janet Maslin and Vincent Canby and edited by Peter Nichols, this prodigious compilation begins in 1927 with Mordaunt Hall's review of "The Jazz Singer" ("the Vitaphoned songs and some dialogue have been introduced most adroitly") and winds up at the end of 1998.

Every chief film critic of the Times is represented here, including the equally loved and deriled Bosley Crowther, who wrote of "Bonnie & Clyde" that it was "a cheap piece of slapstick comedy." Ouch. But at least he, his predecessors and his successors got it right most of the time. This book arrives at a particularly poignant moment, as Maslin prepares to depart after 22 distinguished and influential years at the Times.

Studs Terkel is an American treasure who is known chiefly as the oral historian who has made issues like poverty, war and racism come to life through his thoughtful and energetic interviewing. But he has also been the host of a syndicated radio show for the last 45 years.

His interviews with luminaries of the stage and screen have been collected in "The Spectator" (The New Press, 416 pages, $26.95), a delightful conglomeration of excerpts and Terkel's own notes. Stand-out interviews include a wonderful game of cat-and-mouse between Terkel and Marlon Brando, as well as Terkel's impassioned plea against Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter," which he found not only xenophobic but all wrong in its depiction of the American working class.

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