Showing posts with label Running Press. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Running Press. Show all posts

Monday, May 22, 2023

Noir Bar by Eddie Muller

Noir Bar
Cocktails Inspired by the World of Film Noir
by Eddie Muller
TCM and Running Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762480623
May 2023
248 pages

“Noir Bar offers a booze-based excursion through America’s most popular film genre, pairing easy-to-master recipes with the kind of behind-the-scenes anecdotes I like to include in my film intros and books.... This book is designed to be a drinking companion for anyone taking a deep dive into the glamorous and gritty world of noir.” — Eddie Muller

Cocktails and film noir make for a perfect pair in TCM host Eddie Muller's latest book: Noir Bar. Presented in alphabetical order, Noir Bar features 50 different films, each with a cocktail recipe to accompany it. Muller's curation of titles is as exciting as the cocktails he picks for each. The recipes were carefully selected by Muller—who is both the Czar of Noir and an experienced mixologist—to tie into the movie. The connection between noir and cocktail can be as simple as a reference to the title, protagonist or one of the actors. Some are thematic based on elements of the story. And there are numerous Eddie Muller originals. As someone who loves both film noir and cocktails, I had fun reading how Muller ties the cocktail to the movie and his reasoning behind each choice.

Here are some of my favorite film noir and cocktail pairings:

  • The Blue Gardenia (1953) The Pearl Diver — This is a hat tip to the Tiki cocktail that Raymond Burr's character buys for Anne Baxter in order to get her intoxicated. Not many cocktails in the book have a direct connection
  • D.O.A. (1949)The Last Word — The name is a reference to the protagonist's plight to get the "last word" on his murder. The cocktail recipe ingredients put together look reminiscent of the luminous poison from the film.
  • Hell’s Half Acre (1954)Mai Tai — This film noir takes place in and was filmed on location in Hawaii. As someone who has enjoyed many a Mai Tai in Oahu, I appreciated Muller's tips on how to make a quality Mai Tai at home.
  • Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) Johnny & Earle — Named after Robert Ryan and Harry Belafonte’s characters, this Eddie Muller original is probably the most clever cocktails in the whole book. He writes: “My mixology strategy here is obvious and symbolic—like the end of the movie. Two base spirits that rarely engage with each other are unexpectedly combined: Jamaican dark rum… and Southern Comfort… In the spirit of the story, my formula calls for fifty-fifty use of the two spirits…The bitters and the Allspice Dram smooth things out between two headstrong leads.”
  • Pickup on South Street (1953)Bloody Mary — Eddie Muller prides himself on his signature recipe and this cocktail happens to be director Samuel Fuller's drink of choice.
  • Suspense (1946) Belita — This frozen cocktail is named after the film's star Belita and is a hat tip to her career as an ice skater.

And of course I had to make the Out of the Past (1947) Paloma. In the book Muller writes, 

"this [is a] humble concoction of tequila, lime, and grapefruit soda... Mitchum, of course, would have waved off grapefruit soda in his tequila. Granted. This one's for Jane [Greer]." 

I've had Palomas in the past but have never made one at home. I'm not terribly experienced when it comes to crafting cocktails. I appreciated Noir Bar's front matter which includes Muller's introductions on spirits, garnishes and tools to have on hand as well as a guide to basic cocktail making techniques. And for those of you who love to look up old cocktail recipes and are often dismayed by how many of them contain egg whites, fear not because this book only has one such recipe!

The mix of titles include some of the most famous entries into the film noir canon as well as some obscure titles I've never heard of—and everything in between. Two of my favorites, Double Indemnity (1944) and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), were missing but that didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book.

Each film noir has a 4-6 page entry complete with a brief foray into the film's history, an explanation of the cocktail pairing, a recipe and some images from the film. Some of the cocktails are presented with a stylized photograph that has a sort of hazy 1980s neo-noir vibe to it that gave me a twinge of nostalgia. The book is a nice compact size but because of its binding and dark matte gloss pages, I do suggest placing it in a cookbook holder for reading and reference purposes if you can. I would not recommend this for someone who abstains from alcohol because the book leans heavily on the cocktail related content. They are not sections you can just skip.

Interior spread courtesy of Running Press. Champagne Cocktail to accompany Sunset Blvd. (1951).

Noir Bar is the perfect companion for film noir enthusiasts who enjoy a well-made cocktail.

Don't forget to drink responsibly!

Thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of Noir Bar to review!

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Viva Hollywood by Luis I. Reyes

Viva Hollywood 
The Legacy of Latin and Hispanic Artists in American Film
by Luis I. Reyes
TCM and Running Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762478484
September 2022

"Latinx artists both in front of and behind the cameras are committed to creating entertaining, compelling stories, unforgettable characters, and indelible images of humanity that will bring a greater understanding of the society and the world we live in. They have a long history in the evolving art of motion pictures since its inception and are taking a more prominent place in the present and future of Hollywood and the world’s cinematic landscape.” — Luis I. Reyes

Hispanic and Latino artists have been part of the fabric of Hollywood from the very beginning. Because we are such a diverse mix of races and ethnicities, these actors and actresses have been cast to play a variety of roles that ranged from the exotic to the stereotypical and everything in between. Stars like Rita Hayworth had to change their name and appearance to become more mainstream. While others like Anthony Quinn had a look that was ethnically ambiguous enough that they were cast in everything except for their own ethnicity. Some represented certain ethnic types like the Latin lover, the spitfire/señorita or the bandito. Unfortunately, when there were big Latin roles to play, like Maria in West Side Story (1961), Hollywood preferred to cast white actors in brownface rather than their equally talented Latino counterparts. When Hollywood wasn't ready to make room for Latino artists to be their authentic selves, they persisted, carving a path for themselves and for future talent to change perceptions and open up potential for better representation.

In his new book Viva Hollywood: The Legacy of Latin and Hispanic Artists in American Film, author Luis I. Reyes takes on the monumental task of sharing the stories of the many, many Hispanic and Latino artists, both in front of and behind the camera, who contributed to film history in their own unique ways. The majority of the book focuses on the classic film history but there is still plenty of information about artists working today.

The chapters are organized both chronologically and thematically. I was was most interested in the discussions on early matinee idols, how the Good Neighbor policy opened doors for Latino artists during WWII, problem/race pictures of the 1950s and 1960s, and the influx of Latino-focused movies during the 1980s and 1990s. 

Each chapter includes individual biographies of key figures where relevant. Some of these individuals include: Gilbert Roland, Dolores Del Rio, Antonio Moreno, Ramon Novarro, Lupe Velez, Rita Hayworth. Carmen Miranda, Cesar Romero, Maria Montez, Olga San Juan, Ricardo Montalban, Anthony Quinn, Rita Moreno, Raquel Welch, etc.

Interior spread courtesy of Running Press via Edelweiss

Interior spread courtesy of Running Press via Edelweiss

Here are some interesting facts from the book:

  • “When [Dolores Del Rio] was promoted in the press as Spanish or Castilian being white and European was considered superior to being Mexican, with its Indigenous pedigree, a discriminatory view that has not wholly disappeared today—she quickly insisted on being correctly described as Mexican.”
  • “At the peak of her Hollywood career in 1945, Carmen Miranda was the highest-earning female performer in the United States.”
  • “After the war, Romero and his good friend and fellow Fox star Tyrone Power took off on a two-month goodwill promotional tour of Latin America, sponsored by the studio and the US State Department. Power, who had served as a marine pilot during the war, flew a twin-engine Beech aircraft on the twenty-two-thousand- mile trip aided by a copilot. Romero, who spoke Spanish, acted as principal translator.”
  • “[Xavier] Cugat decided to follow his musical calling, and inspired by the Afro- Cuban rhythms he was exposed to in his youth, he formed a Latin dance band with six musicians. This was a daring move in the 1920s, when Latin music was virtually unheard of in mainstream America except for the [Argentine] tango, which was labeled “gigolo music.”
  • “In 1969, actors Ricardo Montalban, Val de Vargas, Rodolfo Hoyos Jr., Carlos Rivas, Henry Darrow, Gilbert Avila, Luis de Córdova, Robert Apodaca, and impresario Tony De Marco formed Nosotros (the Spanish word for “we, the people”), an actors’ advocacy organization dedicated to improving the image of Latino/Latina and Spanish-speaking peoples in Hollywood movies, television, theater, and radio.”
  • Stand and Deliver has become one of the most widely seen movies of any made in the United States through all media platforms, but also because it has been showcased in middle schools and high schools across the country as an inspirational and motivational teaching tool.”

As with many other TCM and Running Press books, Viva Hollywood is beautifully designed. I enjoyed the color palette (red, gold, orange, light purple and teal) as well as the recurring Art Deco style motifs. 

With that said, I was mostly disappointed with the book, especially in how it presented its information. The themed chapters started with a few pages of history and context. These were interesting and I wish they were fleshed out essays. Instead they served like introductions to a series of Wikipedia style biographical portraits. There were so many of these that they became laborious to get through. I admire the author for cramming in as much information as he possibly could. There are so many artists covered from actors, actresses, directors, musicians, dancers, etc. You'll be hard pressed to find someone who was left out. However, this came at the cost of an enjoyable reading experience.

I would recommend Viva Hollywood as a reference guide to dip in and out of rather than a book to read from cover to cover. 

Thank you to TCM and Running Press for sending me a copy of Viva Hollywood to review! Please check out my reviews of other titles from their imprint.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Rock on Film: The Movies That Rocked the Big Screen

Rock on Film
The Movies That Rocked the Big Screen
by Fred Goodman
foreword by Sir Michael Lindsay-Hogg
TCM and Running Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762478439
July 2022
288 pages

“One of the beauties of rock movies is that sometimes they capture the time and sometimes, dangerously, they’re ahead of the time.” — Sir Michael Lindsay-Hogg

If your love for music runs as deep as your love for film, Rock on Film: The Movies That Rocked the Big Screen deserves a spot in your book collection. Written by former Rolling Stones editor Fred Goodman, Rock on Film features 50 must see movies that captured the heart of rock and roll. Each film is also paired with a viewing, making each recommendation a double bill and adding many more rock movies to the mix. The book also covers movies that feature hip hop, R&B, punk and other genres but primarily focuses on how rock and roll transformed popular culture as we know it.

Some notable films discussed include The Girl Can't Help It (1956), Jailhouse Rock (1957), The TAMI Show (1964), Viva Las Vegas (1964), A Hard Day's Night (1966), Don't Look Back (1967), Gimme Shelter (1970), Woodstock (1970), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), La Bamba (1987), etc. And those are just some of the early films as dates range from the 1950s to the present day. Goodman does a great job connecting the present with the past and demonstrating the evolution of how film portrayed musicians on screen. A bounty of knowledge, Goodman's insights are both informative and illuminating. In his introduction Goodman writes, 

"the fifty films profiled in this book... are intended to be illuminating rather than definitive. Since the intention is to showcase both crowd-pleasers and buried treasure, the compendium begins with appreciation for the films that most fans see as indispensable, and they constitute a context and yardstick for the films that follow... My aim is to mix the serendipity of new discoveries with an added appreciation for familiar favorites while guiding you through the history of rock as seen through the insightful lens of Hollywood and independent filmmakers."
Each film is given its own 4 page chapter. There many color photographs throughout and the book is presented in a nice jacketed hardcover edition. It does have quite a potent "new book smell" but it's nothing that won't dissipate over time.

Interior Spread courtesy of Running Press

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“When the prominent use of the song “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and His Comets provided a big box-office boost to 1955’s youth-gone-bad drama Blackboard Jungle, it marked the first time Hollywood took notice of rock’s growing appeal.” — Fred Goodman

“The industry responded with the first generation of rock and roll films: a raft of low-budget jukebox musicals whose shallow plots were jerry-built around nightclubs, talent searches or disk jockeys–setups that made dropping in performances simple.” — Fred Goodman

“There’s a striking difference between the way the Beatles and the Rolling Stones approached film projects: essentially every film the Beatles made during their career was directed by a commercial journeyman, while the directors selected by the Rolling Stones reads like an art house who’s who, including Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Frank, Martin Scorsese, Hal Ashby, Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin.” — Fred Goodman

“The music became a character in my movie. It was really the narrator. In a way, music is how you write the story.” — John Waters

“The biggest piece of the puzzle is Ann-Margret. Viva Las Vegas is the only Elvis film with a strong leading lady who can match him for moves and sex appeal. She was also the only actress to receive co-star billing with Elvis.” — Fred Goodman

“A triumph of Gimme Shelter is that there is no mythology here. The Maysles brothers, part of the direct cinema movement that was the American doppelganger of France’s cinema verite, created their art by standing back and capture what developed.” — Fred Goodman

Rock on Film includes interviews with five filmmakers: Cameron Crowe, Jim Jarmusch, Penelope Spheeris, Taylor Hackford and John Waters. I've read and reviewed many TCM/Running Press books and this is the first one I've seen to featured extensive interviews.

I enjoyed how Goodman examines all the different ways films used rock and roll and was most intrigued by the documentaries featured. A couple of which I watched immediately upon reading the book. In order to really appreciate this book, you must be interested in both rock and roll and music history especially since there is a heavy focus on that element.


Fill out the form below by September 25th for a chance to win a copy of Rock on Film!

The giveaway is now over. Congratulations to the winners Angela M. and Devan V.!

This is my sixth and final book review for this year's Classic Film Reading Challenge.

Thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of Rock on Film to review!

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Danger on the Silver Screen: 50 Films Celebrating Cinema’s Greatest Stunts

Danger on the Silver Screen 
50 Films Celebrating Cinema's Greatest Stunts 
by Scott McGee
TCM and Running Press
288 pages
Paperback ISBN:9780762474844
April 2022

“Stunt work taps into our brains, giving us pleasure by simply watching human beings do things we, the audience, cannot. Marvelous acts like jumping out of a window and surviving thrill us and remind us that while we are safe in our seats, others are capable of doing amazing things for the camera.” — Scott McGee

There's nothing quite like the thrill of watching an action movie. Stuntmen and stuntwomen brave great danger—fast speeds, hairpin turns, nerve-wracking heights and literal fire with often a scant margin of error—to give us, the audience, an experience that we can't duplicate in real life. If you've ever watched an action sequence and wondered "how did they do that?" then I have the book for you.

Danger on the Silver Screen: 50 Films Celebrating Cinema's Greatest Stunts by Scott McGee is your definitive guide to action movies and stunt techniques. While the book focuses specifically on a list of 50 action movies, you'll find many more mentioned throughout. The movies presented range from silent era classics to modern action thrillers beginning with Way Down East (1920) and ending with Baby Driver (2017).

This paperback book features French flaps and full color pages. Each chapter focuses on 1 action movie (or a pair of movies). Little time is spent on the plot and the majority of the text breaks down the stunt sequences, how they were executed and the masterminds behind them. The chapter starts with an image (still or poster), a quote from a reviewer or stuntman, a brief cast and crew list as well as a listing of the stunt team members. This last bit is important since stuntmen and stuntwomen often did not get on screen credit for their work. McGee does a fantastic job breaking down the particulars of the stunts, explaining them, giving the reader background on the stunt team as well as providing screenshots to help visualize. I recommend heading to YouTube where you'll find clips of many of the stunt sequences McGree writes about. This helps with really appreciating the work that went into making that stunt look effortless. The chapters also include other images and newspaper-style article about a related stunt from another movie or something relevant to the article. 

For those of you more interested in the older movies, here are some of the early ones that the author writes about at length: Way Down East (1920), Robin Hood (1922), The Black Pirate (1926), Safety Last! (1923), Wings (1927), Hell's Angels (1930), Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), Stagecoach (1939), Ben-Hur (1925 and 1959), How the West Was Won (1962), The Great Escape (196, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), Bullitt (1965), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and more. James Bond fans will be delighted that many of the films in the series are featured here.

Some notable stuntmen and stuntwomen mentioned include: Richard Talmadge, Yakima Canutt, Bud Ekins, Charles H. Hickman, James W. Gavin, Hal Needham, Dar Robinson, Grant Page, Debbie Evans, etc. There is also much attention put on the actors who did the stunts themselves like Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks and Harold Lloyd.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“In epic adventures, fantasies and contemporary action pictures, it was [Douglas] Fairbanks who made the impossible seem easy.”

“The airplane has been a crucial vehicle for movie stunt work, almost since its invention. Things really took off after the end of WWI, when former fighter pilots, looking for paths to apply their skill set and a penchant for taking risks, landed in the movie business.”

On Steamboat Bill Jr. “When the wall started to move, and it landed perfectly with a tremendous thud, Keaton’s bravery and commitment was that much more impressive because he stayed completely in character.”

“In terms of sheer grandiosity and cinematic impact, the chariot race in the 1959 Best Picture winner Ben-Hur is among the greatest action scenes ever.”

“[It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World] was one of the first major Hollywood productions to put stunt work front and center, not just as an element in the filmmaking, but as a selling point to the general audience.” 

“Great stunt scenes throughout history depend on the collaborative nature of filmmaking, drawing upon cinematography, editing, acting, and direction. The Bullitt car chase was a textbook example…”

“The Bond stuntmen, mostly British, were among the best working in the world. They brought ingenuity, execution, and visual appeal to the films’ action, setting the template for what audiences worldwide expected from the rough and physically demanding world of 007... The attention to cinematography in capturing not just the visceral excitement of the stunt work and action but the beauty of the surroundings has remained a mark of the Bond films to this day.”

“The craftsmen and artists of taking the falls, crashing the planes, and enduring the flames suffer the ignominy of going unmentioned or, when they are credited in print, being misspelled.”

“Tom Cruise is a modern-day Hollywood star whose fearlessness makes him seem like a direct descendant from stuntmen-stars of the past. As a Fairbanksian star and producer, Cruise is his own boss when making the calls, whether he’s outside skyscrapers or helicopters or wherever a normal person would not go.”

Danger on the Silver Screen is as fascinating as the stunts described within its beautifully designed pages. McGee does an excellent job giving the reader context and background. Describing stunts is no small feat considering but its done quite well here. You don't have to have seen the movie discussed to appreciate the chapter but watching a trailer or clips online will definitely improve the reading experience. Stunt work has been a male dominated field since the beginning of the film industry. I appreciate that some attention was given to the work of stuntwomen (and actresses too). I wish there had been pictures of the stunt team members because that would have helped to put a face with the name.

I want to hear from you! What's your favorite movie stunt? How about your favorite action movie?

This is my 5th review for the Classic Film Reading Challenge.

Thank you to TCM and Running Press for sending me a copy of Danger on the Silver Screen for review!

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Hollywood Victory by Christian Blauvelt

Hollywood Victory
The Movies, Stars, and Stories of World War II
by Christian Blauvelt
Foreword by Dr. Robert M. Citino
Hardcover ISBN: 978076249992
TCM and Running Press
240 pages
November 2021

“By the end of the war, motion pictures, having become the voice of the nation, would end up as the definitive American art form– America’s greatest cultural export to the world.” — Christian Blauvelt

During WWII, movies reached the peak of their cultural influence over the American public. Hollywood rallied to support the war effort in many ways. Actors served overseas or entertained the troops. Directors documented battles on film to keep the American public back home apprised of what was happening during the war. Hollywood stars traveled all over the country selling war bonds. The Hollywood Canteen, started by John Garfield and Bette Davis, entertained the troops giving them a morale boost before they went off to battle. And it was movies like Confessions of a Nazi Spy that rang the alarm bells that something truly sinister was happening abroad. And when the United States officially entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, movies offered the public a unique form of encouragement to help get through the struggles ahead.

Hollywood Victory: The Movies, Stars, and Stories of World War II by Christian Blauvelt takes a look at the many ways Hollywood participated in the war effort and bolstered the American public. This book featured themed essays that tackle many aspects of WWII Hollywood in a way that is both informative and visually appealing. It includes a wide breadth of stories; some classic film fans will be familiar with and others that will be quite enlightening. The behind-the-scenes or lesser known stories alongside the ones we come to expect to be told about the war enriches the reading experience.

Key figures discussed in the book include: Lena Horne, Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Jimmy Stewart
Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Leslie Howard, Veronica Lake, Hedy Lamarr, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, Otto Preminger, Anna May Wong, Orson Welles, Bob Hope, Carmen Miranda, John Huston, Hattie McDaniel, James Cagney, John Ford, Edward G. Robinson, Billy Wilder, Paul Robeson, Marlene Dietrich and many more.

“Entertainment is always a national asset… Invaluable in time of peace, it is indispensable in 
wartime.” — President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Movies discussed at length include: Confessions of a Nazi Spy, The Great Director, Casablanca, Mrs. Miniver, The Human Comedy and many more.

Much attention is given to the history of minorities during WWII. There are several essays about how Hollywood's involvement with Latin American talent as part of America's Good Neighbor Policy, how Chinese American actors were used to depict Japanese characters, how black soldiers were treated during the war and about black talent including Lena Horne and Hattie McDaniel who were very active on the homefront.

The essays are presented in a rough chronological order so you follow the story of Hollywood during WWII from right before Pearl Harbor to the end of the war in 1945.  I particularly enjoyed reading about how the studios approached telling war stories, about the Hollywood Canteen and the Hollywood Victory Caravan, how individual films made an impact on both audiences but also key power players and how each star approached their involvement in the war effort. I wasn't particularly interested in the pieces on Disney however animation enthusiasts will be eager to read more about that. 

Hollywood Victory is a must have for classic movie enthusiasts who have a particular interest in WWII history.

Thank you to TCM and Running Press for sending me a copy of Hollywood Victory for review. 

Check out the video below to see what else I've been reading.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Interview with Sloan De Forest, author of The Essential Directors


I am thrilled to welcome back film historian and writer Sloan De Forest. Her new book The Essential Directors: The Art and Impact of Cinema's Most Influential Filmmakers is available now from TCM and Running Press (check out my review here).

Raquel Stecher: Congratulations on the publication of The Essential Directors! How did you come to write this book?

Sloan De Forest: Thank you! I had already written two books for Turner Classic Movies and Running Press (Must-See Sci-Fi and Dynamic Dames), so I had a foot in the door to do another. I always wanted to tackle the subject of classic film directors, and I got lucky because TCM had always wanted to do a directors guide. It was offered to me and I seized the opportunity. 

Raquel: Your book covers so much in scope that I felt like each chapter was a class on a director. What went into the research for this project?

Sloan: Even though each director profile is really just a brief overview of career highlights, every one required a deep dive into the director and their work. After all, I had to be familiar with someone’s entire career in order to know which films and facts to focus on and which ones to gloss over, if nothing else. So the research process was massive. I immersed myself in books, newspaper/magazine archives, and movies, movies, movies. Even films I had already seen several times before I re-examined closely, along with poring over interviews and quotes from the filmmakers. It was fun, but due to the pandemic, I had a hard time getting my hands on the materials, so it was stressful at times.

Raquel: What was the decision making process like to figure out which directors to include?

Sloan: It was an epic poem. First I made a long list of about 100 noteworthy directors and then with TCM’s help I whittled it down, based on who made the most significant contributions to the industry and art form. There was simply not room to include everyone or the book would have been too big to lift! In fact, we had to cut six filmmakers (or move them to sidebars) after I had already written whole sections on them. In an effort to be inclusive and thorough, I initially overwrote the book, cramming it too full. So that was a challenge, plus there is always some subjectivity involved. Ultimately how do we judge the most “essential directors?” It’s a tough one, and everyone won’t agree. That’s okay. I love how the book turned out: a compendium of pioneers who created some of the most memorable movies in classic Hollywood. It’s supposed to be curated, not encyclopedic, yet I was able to mention hundreds of directors, even if only to give them a nod.

Frank Capra

Lois Weber

Robert Wise

Raquel: Out of the directors selected, who do you think is the most underrated of the bunch?

Sloan: In the book, I write that Robert Wise may be the most underrated director of the classic era, and it’s probably true. He was not a director of the bombastic, egomaniacal variety, and so I think his artistry has long been minimized. George Cukor is another who isn’t given his full due because these men were not auteurs; they didn’t make personal films. But they made some of the greatest movies ever, so surely they were doing something right! Lois Weber is sadly forgotten today, and Frank Capra is a personal favorite whose films are often unjustly dismissed as too sentimental. But he was brilliant, in my opinion.

Raquel: I love that you included female directors like Lois Weber, Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino. How have women played a role in filmmaking during the early years before it became a male dominated field?

Sloan: In the early days of motion pictures, women directors were more common than today, over a century later—which is sheer madness, when you think about it. Also, about 50% of the screenwriters were women in the silent days, and of course half the major stars were women through the 1940s. So ladies made vast contributions to the medium in its first few decades. Hollywood only started to become a boys’ club when sound took over, and this is when many female directors like Lois Weber found themselves out of a job.

Raquel: If you were to write a second volume, which directors do you think you'd like to cover? 

Sloan: Speaking of women directors, I would love to write in more detail about Frances Marion, who was so discouraged by her work being judged “feminine” that she only directed two films, and then gave up and stuck to screenwriting. Also Marguerite Duras had an interesting career. In a second volume, I could also tackle the filmmakers of the 80s, 90s and 2000s like Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Guillermo del Toro, and so many others that rose to prominence after the chronology of the book, which ends in the 70s. As for classic-era directors I couldn’t fit in volume one, Busby Berkeley, Charles Vidor, William Wellman, William Friedkin, Don Siegel, Satyajit Ray, and Sam Peckinpah are a few that spring to mind, but there are dozens.

Raquel: Why is it important for movie lovers to understand not only the history behind these film directors but also the era they worked in?

Sloan: That’s a great question. Understanding the backdrop of the time period is essential to form a complete picture of why these directors and their films matter at all, which is why I like to include quotes from original reviews from the time these films were released. If someone doesn’t know that Stanley Kubrick was the first to realistically depict outer space and spacecraft in 2001, they may think “what’s the big deal?” because we’ve all seen realistic outer space depictions so many times since 1968 that we take them for granted. If someone doesn’t know that interracial romances were strictly forbidden under the Production Code from the early 1930s through the early 1960s, they might ask why these directors cast Caucasian actors in non-Caucasian roles. I could go on, but you get the point. Historical context is crucial to appreciate classic films and the artists behind them. 

Raquel: I loved how in each section you boiled down a filmmaker's career into one beautiful line. For example for Douglas Sirk it was 

“he had earned the moniker Master of Melodrama for his aesthetically lush tearjerkers that immersed Eisenhower-era audiences in a world of gilt-edged passion, enriched by his signature use of oversaturated Technicolor.” 

Can you tell us a bit about how you approached capturing the essence of each director?

Sloan: In addition to “zooming in” on some specifics, I did feel it was important to “zoom out” and try to encapsulate a filmmaker’s style or career in one or two sentences, so I’m happy you feel I succeeded. That was a big deal because I didn’t want to sell any director short or misinterpret his or her place in film history. Perhaps that’s why I put some extra effort into those sentences. With everyone I covered, I would remind myself “This is someone’s all-time favorite director” even if it wasn’t mine. Then I would ask myself, “What’s so special about this person? What did they do like no one else?” Then I would find the best words I could to define it.

Raquel: Controversy is no stranger to Hollywood’s history with directors and some names including D.W. Griffith, Roman Polanski and Woody Allen now have tarnished reputations. How did you tackle including these controversial figures in your book?

Sloan: Frankly, that was the most trying aspect of the process. Some particularly unsavory scandals have come to light about these directors in recent years, and I couldn’t ignore that. Yet I also could not bring myself to omit certain directors from the book based on their actions as people, no matter how reprehensible—especially Roman Polanski, who is behind two of my all-time favorite movies, Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown. So the way I handled it was to discuss the good and the bad elements honestly. I think that’s any historian’s job, to present the facts as they were and not spin them into judgment or opinion, even though it’s tempting. History is history, and it’s not always nice or easy. In my opinion, every facet of film history is fascinating, the dark and the light. 

Raquel:  This is your third book with TCM and Running Press and you've contributed to others. What's it been like working with them?

Sloan: Both have been wonderful to work with. Everyone at Running Press gave me creative freedom and stood by my decisions on which directors to include—even the problematic ones—and TCM has had my back the whole way, facilitating two fabulous forewords (from Peter Bogdanovich and Jacqueline Stewart) and even inviting me on air to discuss the book with Alicia Malone, who was great. Believe me, I am not obligated to say this, but from the heart: thank god for Turner Classic Movies. Where would we be today if Ted Turner hadn’t seen the value in old films and devoted an entire network to screening them uncut? I doubt there would be nearly as much awareness of the classics, nor budgets for preserving and restoring them. Thanks, Ted!

Raquel: What do you hope readers take away from reading The Essential Directors?

Sloan: As the title suggests, my main goal was to spotlight the profound impact and influence these directors have had. Those of us who watch a lot of older movies see the origins of so many ideas and techniques that are commonplace today, and these can often be traced to one specific filmmaker. Not to take anything away from the great directors of today, but in my opinion they all owe a debt to the artists of the past who laid the groundwork, pushed the boundaries, and used their imagination to advance the art form. Every piece of entertainment we see today—whether movie, TV, or streaming “content”—is built upon the cinematic innovations of Fritz Lang or Alfred Hitchcock or Ernst Lubitsch or Stanley Kubrick or another. I hope my passion for classic movies is contagious to readers; that they will seek out movies they have never seen and discover gems from directors they knew little about. 

Book details:
The Essential Directors: The Art and Impact of Cinema's Most Influential Filmmakers
by Sloan De Forest
foreword by Peter Bogdanovich and Jacqueline Stewart
TCM and Running Press
Paperback ISBN: 9780762498932
344 pages —November 2021
Amazon — Barnes and Noble — Powell's 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

TCM: The Essential Directors by Sloan De Forest

The Essential Directors
The Art and Impact of Cinema's Most Influential Filmmakers
by Sloan De Forest
foreword by Peter Bogdanovich and Jacqueline Stewart
TCM and Running Press
Paperback ISBN: 9780762498932
344 pages
November 2021

“Ultimately, the final list was based on each filmmaker’s influence on the medium, cultural impact, and degree of achievement.” — Sloan De Forest 

What happens behind the scenes is sometimes more important that what we witness on screen. Film directors influence many aspects of the filmmaking process. They shape the look of a movie, add important themes, guide the actors to better performances, and can turn chaos into order. And in some cases the volatility they bring to the table inspires art. However, the role of a director, especially to those who've never worked on a movie set, can be a bit of an enigma.

Author Sloan De Forest provides movie buffs an excellent guide to the most influential film directors and their impact on film history. This carefully curated collection of directors, with figures from the beginning of film history to present day, highlights the importance of each individuals contributions as well as demonstrates the impact they had on a whole on how movies are made and how they influence culture.

The Essential Directors spotlights over 50 filmmakers with mentions of many more. Each of the filmmakers gets their own 5 page section which includes a biographical essay, a quote from another filmmaker that director influenced, photos, a list of must-see movies and a key scene to watch. The book begins with two forewords by Peter Bogdanovich and Professor Jacqueline Stewart of TCM. The directors are presented chronologically which each section focusing on a different era of film history. These sections include an introduction that explore how film directing changed with the evolution of the industry, technology and the role of directors in general. Also throughout are smaller sections that look at other film directors including German expressionists, Neorealists and other international filmmakers. De Forest addresses controversy, gender and race disparity in filmmaking in her introduction. It's a reality that women and POC directors have not been given a space to create during much of film history and I'm glad this was touched upon in the book.

Some notable names in the book include: Cecil B. DeMille, D.W. Griffith, Oscar Micheaux, Lois Weber, Fritz Lang, King Vidor, Dorothy Arzner, Frank Capra, Victor Fleming, Michael Curtiz, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens, Preston Sturges, Orson Welles, William Wyler, Alfred Hitchcock, Ida Lupino, Billy Wilder. The list goes on and on.

My favorite aspect of reading this book was getting to De Forest's beautifully crafted lines that captured the essence and importance of the particular director being spotlighted. I looked forward to these with each new chapter. Here are some of my favorites:

On Howard Hawks — “racked up a multi-faceted filmography for himself in the decades between, not only criss-crossing into a variety of different genres but seemingly equal at home in all of them.”

On W.S. Van Dyke — “a marvel of efficiency, a reliable studio journeyman who managed to inject streaks of creative brilliance into his rapidly shot movies.”

On Dorothy Arzner — “Arzner is set apart by her consistent success within the studio system... [she] made 16 features during her Hollywood tenure, and everyone focused on a central woman—always of the spunky, independent variety.”

On Leo McCarey — “McCarey’s movies are informed by a deep understanding of human nature, in all its hilarity and its heartache.”

On W.S. Van Dyke — “a marvel of efficiency, a reliable studio journeyman who managed to inject streaks of creative brilliance into his rapidly shot movies.”

On Nicholas Ray — “Perhaps the most subversive filmmaker to ascend the ranks in 1950s Hollywood, Nicholas Ray was a trained Method actor who brought a dark urgency to midcentury movies... [he was the] reigning king of misfits, outsiders, and tortured souls.”

On Fred Zinnemann — “he left behind a rich fourty-year legacy of handsomely crafted films, many of which concern individuals forced to choose between compromising their moral integrity and following their consciences.”

Of course there will be classic movie fans who will ask "well why didn't you include so-and-so?" The Essential Directors could easily be a three volume set. But one 300+ page book does have its limitations. There is a lot covered here so while each section is a breezy read overall this book will take a while to get through. It's worth the effort for the scope it covers.

A big thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of this book for review. I recommend reading my other reviews for TCM Running Press titles here.

Stay tuned as I will be interviewing Sloan De Forest here on the blog!

Friday, August 20, 2021

TCM: Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller

Dark City
The Lost World of Film Noir
Revised and Expanded Edition
by Eddie Muller
TCM and Running Press
July 2021
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762498970
272 pages

Published in 1998, Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir put Eddie Muller on the map. What would soon became a best seller and one of the definitive books about the genre, opened many doors for Muller. He programmed noir screenings for film festivals, started the Film Noir Foundation, an organization dedicated to the preservation of film noir, and eventually became the host of Noir Alley on Turner Classic Movies. The book that started it all is now back in print in a beautifully designed, revised and expanded edition.

"Film noirs were distress flares launched into America's movie screens by artists working the night shift at the Dream Factory." — Eddie Muller

In telling the story of film noir, Eddie Muller imagines all of the stories, their literary origins, the subsequent films, the players involved and the era in which they were born, as a single place: Dark City. Muller traces the origins of different film noir tropes and themes, giving each its own Dark City address. Each chapter is a stop at a different address where the reader learns about a particular theme and how it was used in film noir. Sprinkled throughout are mini biographies that provide crucial background information as well as context. Everything flows together with seamless transitions and Muller's special brand of noir infused language.

The addresses in Dark City include:

Sinister Heights — Corruption
The Precinct — Crime and Punishment
Hate Street — Murder
The City Desk — News and Reporters
Shamus Flats — Private Eyes
Vixenville — Femme Fatales
Blind Alley — Mysteries
The Psych Ward — Mental Illness
Knockville Square — Heists
Loser's Lane — Deranged Men
The Big House — Prison Dramas
Thieves' Highway — Criminals on the Run
The Stage Door — The last days of Film Noir

Interspersed throughout the book are inserts with expanded biographies which are mostly about movie stars with a few exceptions. Each appears where it makes most sense in context of the discussion happening at that point in the book. These are fantastic biographies that range from 1-4 pages and offer more than the mini biographies that appear in the body of text.

Subjects include: John Garfield, Gloria Grahame, Joan Crawford, Ben Hecht, Robert Mitchum, Belita, Joan Harrison, Robert Ryan, Sterling Hayden, Barbara Payton, Ida Lupino, Tom Neal, Desert Fury (1947) and Steve Cochran.

This new edition includes additional chapters, restored photographs and a new layout. Kudos to the team who worked on the design of this book. The pages are beautifully laid out. Whenever an insert appears it's at a natural point in the text where you don't have to stop mid paragraph in order to read another section. That's very difficult to do but worth it for a better reading experience.

Eddie Muller does a fantastic job of immersing the reader into the world of film noir from all the fascinating information, context galore and stylish language that puts you right into the heart of Dark City. 

Here are some of my favorite lines from the book: 

"[Orson Welles] changed the grammar of motion picture storytelling and set the cinematic syntax for film noir: the quest for truth in morally ambiguous terrain, the cynical take on the corrupting influence of power, the off-kilter visual style."

"Power-mad women are smart enough not to bloody their own hands. That's what men are for." 

"In Dark City, psychiatrists are as corrupt as gangsters, misusing their power over mind to dominate the hapless and disturbed."

"The blurring of moral distinctions was part and parcel of noir."

"In the wake of the studios' Communist purge, social criticism was out. Films could no longer suggest that people did bad things due to economic pressure."

My only minor quibble is with the use of some words to describe female characters. However, we're dealing with some nefarious characters in many of these stories so the usage is not completely out of context. The book itself is quite large which makes it perfect for flipping through to look at photographs but not as easy for someone, like me, who read the book cover to cover. It made me want to invest in an ergonomic book stand!

Dark City by Eddie Muller is evocative of a long gone era of filmmaking that still captivates film lovers today. It effectively transports readers into the world of film noir with its fine use language, images, context and information. A must have for film noir fans.

Thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of Dark City for review.

This is my third review for the Summer Reading Challenge.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

2020 Classic Film Holiday Gift Guide


Today I'm proud to share with you my 2020 Classic Film Holiday Gift Guide. It's a little late to be sharing (better late than never right?) but these are great options for last-minute gifts or to treat yourself with. These are mostly new products but I also included one older release. I did things a little differently this year and decided to present each recommendation in a styled photo. I hope you enjoy them. And I will be adding a few more options in an update so stay tuned.

Shopping with my buy links helps support this site. Thank you!

Happy Holidays!

This Was Hollywood: Forgotten Stars & Stories
by Carla Valderrama
TCM and Running Press

52 More Must-See Movies and Why They Matter
by Jeremy Arnold
TCM and Running Press

Bruce Lee: The Greatest Hits
The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), The Way of the Dragon (1972),
Enter the Dragon (1973) and Game of Death (1978)
2 Disc Supplements
Blu-ray Boxed Set
Criterion Collection

Tony Curtis Collection
The Perfect Furlough (1958), The Great Impostor (1960), 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962)
Blu-Ray set
Kino Lorber

Holiday Affair (1949)
Dir. Don Hartman
Starring Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, Wendell Corey, Gordon Gebert
Warner Archive Collection

Sergeant York (1941)
Dir. Howard Hawks
Starring Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie, George Tobias, Stanley Ridges
4K Restoration Blu-Ray
Warner Archive Collection

Lonesome (1928)
Dir. Paul Fejos
Starring Barbara Kent and Glenn Tryon
Criterion Collection

Outside the Law (1920)
Dir. Tod Browning
Starring Lon Chaney, Priscilla Dean, Wheeler Oakman
Kino Lorber

Drifting (1923)
Dir. Tod Browning
Starring Priscilla Dean, Anna May Wong, Wallace Beery

White Tiger (1923)
Dir. Tod Browning
Starring Priscilla Dean, Matt Moore, Wallace Beery
Kino Lorber

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