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June 03, 2009


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Outside of Movieman's original post, every time I've encountered this meme, the writer ends with "Anyone reading this can consider themselves tagged". So I've been tagged, like, three times for this thing. I guess I'd better do it.

That Clarens book is an enormous gap in my film reading (and I have a whole shitload of those kind of gaps). I need to finally buckle down and buy it. Still, when I was a kid, we did have, in my house, a book about horror and SF films that had a picture of the "Night of the Demon" demon on it, and I was obviously transfixed. It would be many, many years before I finally got a chance to see the movie. Now it's one of my favorites, AND I like the demon. I don't care who knows it.

Glenn, have you ever listened to the audio-book for "This is Orson Welles"? It's just the recorded interviews between Welles and Bogdanovich -- not ALL of them, but some, and I think it includes a little material not in the book itself. Either way, it's fascinating. You can really hear Welles get worked up just talking about "Make Way for Tomorrow" (I think that's the film, anyway).

R. Hunt

Great choices. Most of these would be on my own list. The Vigo book and circumstances of its purchase reminded me of the first film book I ever purchased, the old Praeger volume on Georges Franju, purchased from a remainder table. Not only had I not seen any of the films in it, I'd never even heard of Franju. I was just so enthralled at the whole books-about-movies concept that I had to pick it up.

Ray Branscomb

Will hunt down the Clarens...checked my library and they didn't have it, though they've got "Crime Movies - from Griffith to the Godfather and Beyond." Any good?

Tom Russell

I'm going to consider myself tagged, though I might have some difficulty coming up with ten. At the top of the list, regardless: Encountering Directors, Charles Thomas Samuels. THE book.


What a great list - I'd break it down into the ones I own and love, the ones I used to own and deeply regret parting with/having stolen from me, and the ones I'm off to investigate RIGHT NOW on Abebooks. The Adair went under my radar, and I'm agnostic on his slightly-too-precious tone most of the time, but given the company you've put it in...!

If I had to augment your list I'd include another great book by Carriére - The Secret Language of Cinema, Dave Pirie's A Heritage of Horror, Kevin Brownlow's The Parade's Gone By, David Thompson's America in the Dark (first book of movie criticism I ever read, courtesy of my local library when I was in my early teens), and - of course - Manny Farber's Negative Space.


Thanks for mentioning FLICKERS-- it's a tremendous book, very fun to teach, and I agree with your observation that it's too little known.


Wait, wait. There's a This is Orson Welles audio book? How did I not know this?


There is indeed, Krauthammer. Or was, anyway. Apparently, it has yet to make it to CD, but...


Tony Dayoub


I feel very sheepish admitting I haven't read the Sarris book (the one - I know - that any auteurist should have in their collection). And as Paul mentions in the comments, Manny Farber is one to get also (per Ed Howard, all of Farber's writings on film are being collected in one omnibus for publication later this year).

From your list, the Robin Wood book and Flickers look like the ones I'd be most interested in.

BTW, here's my list:


One question for you: What do you think of Watching by Harlan Ellison? I've heard it bounced around on a number of these lists, and find him to be a fascinating crank.

Paul Johnson

The extent to which this list resembles my own possible list scares me. Even if I wouldn't pick all the same books, I'd have entries indicating many of the same type (e.g. William K. Everson's Classics of the Horror Film replacing the Clarens book in the Horror Film History, Coffee Table Book division). Great, great meme by the way. I think it's fair to say that at a formative age I fell in love with writing about movies as much as the movies themselves. Robert Christgau once wrote that a music critic's main audience consists of music criticism buffs rather than music fans in general, and that rings true of my own movie love, which is intrinsically tied to what interesting writers have said about movies over the years.

Glenn Kenny

To all above: Yes, "Negative Space" should have been on my master list, but it's one of those things that I take so much as a given that I sometimes forget, if you know what I mean.

@Tony: Never read Ellison's "Watching," but recall being engaged by his collected writings on television, "The Glass Teat," even if it was a little de trop (always a potential condition with H.E.).


Does obssessive reading of Criterion essays and written supplemental material count?

I will say that I'm eternally grateful that a recent course I had to take in Remedial Film Theory required us to read Barthes' "Mythologies". Also the miserable "Life: The Movie", which finally made me put to work the several courses of theater history I had to take a few years back, mostly to refute everything the author said in a pretty lengthy handwritten fuck-you I wrote on the flyleaf.

Ray Branscomb

I was a quasi-devotee of Ellison's in my mid-to-late teens. As Gary Groth of Fantagraphics Books (who had quite a falling out with him) said, Ellison's one of those types who if you encounter him at a certain time in your life can be pretty enthralling - piss and vinegar and a great many (often contradictory) ideas flooding out all over the place. But after a certain point the large amounts of bullshit and self-aggrandizement that lard his outpourings become all too readily apparent.


Thanks for jumping in - and for delivering it so quickly, especially given your tragic loss at the hands off WordPress. Lately, I've been trying to get myself to write in Microsoft Word first and then cut and paste it on my blog - oddly enough, I tend to write better in this format, aside from any practicality issues.

One thing I love about all the lists so far is that there is very little overlap. There are one or two books which keep popping up on every list but for the most part, the results are extremely personalized and I'm both gratified and galvanized by the number of titles I have not read.

For those of you planning to respond to Glenn's (and my) invitation, you should definitely link up to your list either here or on my blog so I can see it, because I'm planning to collect the titles of all the books listed and post them on my blog in a few weeks.

Glenn, of all the books on your list (and I've only read 2 - the Sarris and the Kael) I am most intrigued by the penultimate title, Flickers. It rings a bell and I must have seen it on bookshelves in the past but I don't recall ever flipping through it. Now I am very intrigued.

Dan, I'm also intrigued by this ostensibly horrible Life: The Movie. I don't know it - why shouldn't I (though now you've, perversely, made me want to...)?

And Paul, I definitely agree with your sentiments. Particularly in the early years (no, actually today as well, with the up-to-the-moment blogosphere and my 70s-saturated local library playing yin/yang roles), writing about movies has played as much a part in shaping my sensibilities and tastes and enjoyment and appreciation of films as the films themselves.


Glenn, that picture of the Clarens book just makes me smile.

We're the same age, and I got it just when you did. And apart from the other pleasures that book contained for a 10-year-old boy (wow, what IS 'Alphaville' and who is that naked woman in high heels?) the book opened all the doors you say it did. (Particularly German silent expressionism -- you could tell the kids who read Clarens, because they were the 5th graders who actually knew who Murnau was, and who stayed up to watch "Caligari" on Ch. 13).

For me, after that book, it was then a short trip to Hitchcock --courtesy of the great Robin Wood (and his first edition of "Hitchcock's Films," before he came out) and then, of course, Truffaut. And then I wanted to see HIS movies. And then I started rummaging through my parents' copy of "I Lost It At the Movies" and by then I was lost.

But -- nostalgia time -- remember Cinemabilia, on (I think) West 13th Street? A whole store dedicated to nothing but movie books? That's where I bought my own "American Cinema," and "Talking Pictures" and many others. (At first I used to beg a parent to take me; later I sneaked down to the city myself.)

And remember the posters and postcards on sale at the Bleecker St. Cinema? Or that basement store on W 44th St. I think -- was it Movie Star News? -- that sold old 8-by-10 stills for $1 apiece?

I understand and appreciate that the web has given so many film lovers a community, a sense of belonging, blah blah blah. But there's still something to be said for an era when loving classic films was a minority taste, and finding someone who shared it was the charmed result of circumstance (hey, did that guy just check out Films In Review?) and lucky guesses.

Derek Jenkins

I never had the pleasure of taking a film class, so books that may not stand up to scrutiny after all these years have a lot of sentimental value for me. These authors were my first teachers. Some of the ideas here I've grown beyond; some of them I've hardened into a kind of belief system. All said and done, I find the contradictions on this list pretty interesting. Anyways....

Here's ten books that set me adrift:

"Cinema, or the Imaginary Man," by Edgar Morin

For his comparison of cinema and the airplane at the turn of the century, but also for the revelation that cinema was not cinema until it was projected on the wall.

"From the Atelier Tovar," by Guy Maddin

For exuberance and love.

"Documentary: A History of Nonfiction Film," by Erik Barnouw

For scope and an immensely readability, whatever its shortcomings.

"American Silent Film," by William K. Everson

For a vanishing perspective.

"Underground Film," by Parker Tyler

For glimpses of films I may never see, as well as better looks at films that I have seen.

"The Parade's Gone By," by Kevin Brownlow

For saving all those stories that could have been left in silence.

"The Camera I," by Joris Ivens

For a lively account of the birth of a form.

"The Silent Clowns," by Walter Kerr

For being like a book-length "Comedy's Greatest Era."

"Figures Traced in Light," by David Bordwell

For explaining how the narrative strategies of cinema are so very distinct from other forms.

"The Genius of the System," by Thomas Schatz

For putting a new spin on what I thought I knew.


"Negative Space," by Manny Farber

For rising above list-making to establish something of a taxonomy.

"Agee on Film"

For passion and plain (if beautiful) language.


The ten that had the biggest impact... Well, perhaps not the best or the finest works on the subject, but the ten books about cinema that left the deepest, most long-lasting impression over time upon me, in no particular order:

BEHIND THE SCREEN: The History and Techniques of the Motion Picture By Kenneth Macgowan
Back in the day, the standard reference work on film history was Arthur Knight's THE LIVELIEST ART. It wasn't bad at all, and Knight, a long-time critic for Saturday Review, wrote briskly and fairly well. But this lesser known 1965 book by Macgowan, a former producer for RKO and Fox as well as chair of the Dept. of Theatre Arts at UCLA (he'd partnered with O'Neill and Robert Edmond Jones as producer of The Provincetown Playhouse in the '20s), was the real deal -- a concise yet flavorful descriptive narrative of the history of the cinema from early experiments with persistence-of-vision to the early '60s. Though the book greatly benefited from the author's perspective and experience as a Hollywood professional (I still recall the book's reproduced studio call sheets and production data from STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE), it also articulately discussed the development of cinema all over the world. The book filled my head with ideas about films and filmmaking, with visions of films I wouldn't see for some years to come... I read this many times, and I learned an incalculable amount from it.

FROM REVERENCE TO RAPE: The Treatment of Women in the Movies By Molly Haskell
Tough, thoughtful, utterly informed and articulate -- with a thesis difficult to refute in 1974 and even more so today. This book caused a lot of arguments and sparked at least one near brawl at a dinner party (over, of all things, LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN!); this was all worthwhile as far as I was concerned. A terribly smart book by a real lover of movies.

This 1970 book by Higham -- long out of print, and despised by an astonishing number of Welles associates, acolytes and aficionados -- was nonetheless a thrilling book to read back in the early '70s. Even when I strongly disagreed with what he was saying, it was hard to deny that Higham wrote with eloquent gusto and, yes, enthusiasm, for Welles' artistry. [Those familiar only with Higham's later writings-for-hire and quickly-penned star biographies (including his own Welles bio) may find this difficult to believe.] I don't know that I have ever accepted Higham's central tenet -- basically, that Welles was essentially incapable of finishing a picture after KANE -- but he may have been the first one to make this case. Higham interviewed almost every surviving Welles associate and did an enormous amount of research; the book was profusely illustrated. He also described the films with loving accuracy and detail. Remember, this came out long before you had a disc of CITIZEN KANE on your shelf; if you wanted to see, say, THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, you needed to live near an enlightened revival house, or hope that the local station had the right Columbia syndication package. [Until I finally saw THE IMMORTAL STORY in the late '80s, most of what I knew about it came from Higham's book.] I understand why many have such disdain for this work; nonetheless, years ago I found it incredibly useful as a detailed study of Welles' pictures.

Outstanding 1970 collection of interviews with sixteen directors of the late '60s by Newsday film critic Gelmis; excellent, intelligent exchanges with Cassavetes, Anderson, Bertolucci, Kubrick, Penn, Coppola, McBride, Lester, Corman, DePalma... even Norman Mailer. [Tom Russell mentioned Samuels' fine ENCOUNTERING DIRECTORS, which also meant a lot to me.]

FOUR BY TRUFFAUT By Francois Truffaut
This book, which included the treatment for THE 400 BLOWS and the screenplays for ANTOINE & COLETTE, STOLEN KISSES and BED AND BOARD, was significant to me not just because it documented the four terrific Antoine Doinel pictures Truffaut had then made with Jean-Pierre Leaud, but because it charmingly compiled the notes and bare sketches that the filmmaker and his collaborators assembled to create the off-hand script for STOLEN KISSES in a few weeks' time. This fascinated me; it still fascinates me. While I admit that Truffaut was working on all cylinders at the time of the making of KISSES -- few directors could pull off something so seemingly ephemeral with such winning elan -- I'd love to see somebody today try to make a romantic comedy so simply. TRUFFAUT/HITCHCOCK was also an indispensable book, but in a different mode.

This thick, wonderful "non-book" by occasional McLuhan collaborator Agel, now sadly out of print, remains the best reference book on Kubrick's epic, with many witty diversions, asides and odd details in its pages and a great lengthy photo insert. A lot of 2001 fans wore out their copies of this. A title from Signet's valuable early '70s mass market film imprint -- Signet also published Ed Pincus' GUIDE TO FILMMAKING, the EASY RIDER and TWO-LANE BLACKTOP screenplays, and Rudolph Wurlitzer's original PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID screenplay (quite different from the released film).

FRITZ LANG IN AMERICA By Peter Bogdanovich
Fine, slender book of interviews with Lang, concentrating on his American output. Bogdanovich is an attentive, knowledgable interviewer, the book is vividly illustrated with great stills... I'd only seen a few of these pictures when I first read this; afterwards, I couldn't wait to see the rest of them.

The first major American book, really, published about a cartoon director, and still one of the very best. When I walked into Larry Edmunds' bookstore in the fall of '75 and saw this (with its great Al Kilgore cover), I was dumbfounded -- I couldn't believe that anyone had actually written a book about Tex Avery! Leonard Maltin's magisterial (and, moreover, still essential) OF MICE AND MAGIC, the best overview of the Hollywood cartoon, followed in 1980.

A kind of guide to what a film could be, circa 1970. USC film student McClelland's on-set account of the production of Robert Altman's seriocomic fantasy is still one of the best published "making of" accounts, and an insightful study of the director at work. The book also includes Doran William Cannon's very, very strange original script, "Brewster McLeod's Flying Machine," as well as the film's almost entirely different final continuity script, still (contractually) credited to Cannon, but actually penned by Altman and Brian McKay with significant improv contributions from the cast. Another strong entry in the Signet film series.

I greatly admire Agee and Farber, but I am deeply moved by Ferguson's writing. I simply respond to his prose. I believe he was likely the finest reviewer/critic of his time, and he left us far too soon.

Okay, ten. If I made this list tomorrow, I might make seven or eight different choices. [For what it's worth, a lot of the books cited above could easily have made this list.]


The 1970's was a very good time for film books
1st movie books I read-
Fritz Lang In America, John Ford & Allan Dwan interview books by Peter Bogdanovich. Great design exciting stills & lively stories
B Movies by Don Miller- a survey of the B's from 1933 to '45 written by someone who saw them first run & remembered. From the sadly short lived Curtis film Series edited by Leonard Maltin
Bogie by Joe Hyams & the Films of Humphrey Bogart by Clifford Mccarthy. It was because of Bogart in All Through the Night that I fell in love with movies.
Each Man In His Time By Raoul Walsh. Inspired by the success of Frank Capra's Name above the Title publishers rushed to get other golden age directors to tell their stories. This one is hilarious!
Men Who Made the Movies-the companion to the PBS series. Wellman , Vidor, Hitchcock, Walsh , Hawks in their own words.
Mother Goddamn- A Bette Davis bio annotated by the empress of Warners.
The Moon's A Balloon & Bring On The Empty Horses By David Niven. He was there he knew them all & remembers them with affection. Great storytelling.
Val Lewton By Joel Siegel.
Memo From David O. Selznick
The Pyraimid Illustrated History of the Movies series.
The Great Movie Stars by David Shipman
Laurel and Hardy by Phil Hardy
Dames & The Heavies by Ian Cameron
Films in Review magazine


I forgot to mention Lillian Ross's great Picture - still one of the best anatomies of, not just the gestation of one movie, but the entire, venal, indestructible industry itself. The final chapter is wonderfully chilling.

Glenn Kenny

@ Alex: What a wonderful list! I had the privilege of getting to know Joel Siegel slightly in the years before he died (n.b., this is an entirely different Joel Siegel than the Eyewitness News movie reviewer, who also passed away recently) and he was a delightful fellow. His Lewton book is a ground-breaker.

Ryan Kelly

I'd love to read Walsh's story. Dude wore an eyepatch. And he killed Lincoln. Badass.


Correction on Laurel and Hardy the author was Charles Barr not Phil Hardy (who did a nice book on Sam Fuller). Sorry to hear about Joel Siegel's passing-very thankful for his book. The copy I own of Val Lewton is the same one I bought at Larry Edmunds in 1974. Back in the pre VHS/Laser/DVD days I set my alarm clock to get up at 4AM to see The Seventh Victim-a movie so dark & moody that it is best seen in the dead of night. The Val Lewton RKO's along with a handful of Bogarts And the Sternberg/Dietrich movies are my movies for a desert island.


My one book list:



Great stuff from the heyday of film books (altho we live in fortunate times today when I can pop into Barnes & Noble and pick up a giant illustrated bio of Eiji Tsubraya and a book of Soderbergh interviews).

Clarens book is widely considered the first great tome on the genre. I seem to recall even John Simon reviewed it with a condescending approval.

My Top 10:

CULT MOVIES 1-3: Danny Peary's incredible survey of beloved odd film magnets is still insightful and his writing is often, simply dead-on. Does anybody know what happened to Peary? He's a master.

THE FILM DIRECTOR AS SUPERSTAR: Where else can you get deep interviews with Richard Lester, Mike Nichols and Stanley Kubrick?

EASY RIDER - Lee Hill's BFI monograph is perhaps the last word on this seminal and despite claims, still relevant masterpiece.

HARLAN ELLISON'S WATCHING - I'm glad somebody brought this up. Whatever you think of Harlan (and having spent time with him, found him to be a wise-ass pussycat who people might be taking too seriously when he goes on a verbal rampage) this guy knows film. And among his reviews he includes generous portions of inside-dish since he was part of the Hollywood scene. Ellison usually just plain GETS what makes a film work or not. He even recomends BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. A must read, folks.

SEX LIES & VIDEOTAPE - Soderbergh's making-of diary for his first feature is simply the best book I've read on how a film gets made.

PSYCHOTRONIC GUIDE - What Glenn said. I miss Michael Weldon.

CUT TO THE CHASE - Master editor Sam O'Steen's bracingly honest and fascinating look at his career. O'Steen reveals much about his groundbreaking work with Nichols. Biggest revelation? It was O'Steen who came up with the idea to go out of focus on Katherine Ross's face in that indelible GRADUATE moment.

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING: OTTO PREMINGER - Just because Foster Hirsch quoted me at generous length on SKIDOO is not why I put this here. Swear. This is an expertly researched and written look into one of cinema's most misunderstood directors.

BORN TO BE WILD: THE 60'S GENERATION & HOLLYWOOD - A tough one to find, long out of print, but simply one of the most accurate, fair and tough appraisals of my favorite decade for film.

THE MAKING OF KING KONG - Orville Goldner's warm and meticulous look at all the pieces that brought Kong to life from many of the principals.

10 is not enough.

James Hansen

I think we're probably like the last group to get around to this after being literally one of the first five people tagged, but here is a link to the list that Brandon and I made for Out 1. Well, they're separate lists since we got tagged separately, but unique I think. Seems like so many people have so many different things. Its been fun to see. Thanks for the list, Glenn! Great stuff, as always.


Scott Collette

Robin Wood. I imagine that hanging out with him in a bar is like a game of Where's Waldo. He'll point out everything in the room that looks like a penis and will probably proceed to tell me why the items are shaped like penises and what the people that made said objects were thinking when they made them.

Robin... with British accent... "You see the phallic lever there for Amstel on tap? The spout at the bottom presents the image of a flaccid penis... When the beer is poured, it signifies urination. But why? Perhaps to subconsciously suggest the relief one may feel after a drink? Or perhaps to acknowledge that their beer tastes like piss?" (I'll stop there because it will go on forever.)

I think a Robin Wood book is on par with Tarkovsky's Sculpting in Time. You have to space it out.

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