What are some excellent classic and modern film books for film fanatics?
September 18, 2016 7:44 PM   Subscribe

Hello. I'm wondering if there are any well worth film books for movie lovers to sink their teeth in? Specifically books on: directors, cinematography, best Britain, American, and Japanese films.

Are there any must own film books on directors, visual cinematography/photography, best Britain, American, and Japanese films? I'm trying to scout birthday gift ideas for a dear friend. My friend is passionate about films and collecting films as a whole, especially from Criterion Collection. He greatly admires Japanese filmmakers and American ones. I'm wondering if there's any well worthy books to own, whether it is visual or written. My friend is obsessed with Kubrick, Welles, Michael Mann, Peter Weir, Ozu, Lumet, Paul Thomas Anderson, Hitchcock, Linklater, Hirokazu Koreeda, Cohen Brothers, Leo McCarey, and many others. He is fascinated with collecting biographies/autobiographies on directors, how films were made, film photography, and the culture/morals behind films. He recently finished reading: Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad and My Lunch With Orson Welles. He also likes Roger Ebert's reviews as well.

I guess you could say his taste in films is versatile and sophisticated with a whole range of genres. Are there any great books on the best Japanese films, culture of Japanese films, and Japanese directors as a whole? Or classic cinema-photography photo books from classic Hollywood to foreign films? Lastly, any good books on the culture of how films have changed society's viewpoint through the decades. I know this question is a little muddled and jumbled, but I hope it paints a somewhat concise question. Thanks.
posted by RearWindow to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Also, anything on classic horror would be fantastic as well (big on John Carpenter).
posted by RearWindow at 7:45 PM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hitchcock/Truffaut (the book, not the movie). Donald Spoto's The Dark Side of Genius.

In high school I checked out a critical analysis of four(?) Hitchcock films with a number of stills and accompanying commentary on every page that really kickstarted my love of film and my career--but I can't for the life of me remember the name or author of the book. It made much of a particular visual technique that Hitch used that had no real good name, so the author called it / / / /.

Anyhoo--don't know of any other great Western books on Japanese film (I imagine most of them are in Japanese, with only a few translated not due to greatness but to commercial viability)--but Wim Wenders shot a search for Ozu's Tokyo in 1983, which he released as Tokyo-Ga in 1985, and it's great. The centerpiece is an interview with one of Ozu's frequent collaborators, Chishu Ryu.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:18 PM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sidney Lumet's book Making Movies covers most of the high points of his storied career. What makes it really special though, is him explaining in plain language why he made certain stylistic choices. In Network, for instance, he corrupted the lighting as he went on, starting with natural lighting and becoming more and more artificial as the story descended into madness. Virtually every recounting of a film he directed is full of similar explanations, fascinating bits where an elegant, modest man explains some magical decision or other in such simple terms that you look up from the page itching to grab a camera and try something magical yourself.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:27 PM on September 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Found it! William Rothman, Hitchcock--The Murderous Gaze. Tremendous, tremendous stuff.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:27 PM on September 18, 2016

For history, Otto Friedrich's City of Nets Is excellent on Hollywood in the 1940s, which may or may not appeal to your friend.

Movie-Made America by Robert Sklar is a classic about film and American culture through the decades.
posted by Mothlight at 8:34 PM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are amazing.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:39 PM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed "The Golden Turkey Awards". It isn't quite what you're talking about except in the sense that you can learn from other people's mistakes.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:48 PM on September 18, 2016

I thought "Pictures At A Revolution" was a really interesting read. It talks about the transition from classic Hollywood to modern sensibilities in filmmaking, using the '68 Oscars as the example case.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 12:51 AM on September 19, 2016

If you want to understand how Hollywood films are so popular worldwide, then David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson's The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 is *the* definitive resource. It's a textbook used in higher-level undergraduate and graduate film programs, and priced as such (so you may want to shop around for a used copy), but the writing is clear and accessible.
posted by Mr. Fig at 3:48 AM on September 19, 2016

For Ozu, it'd be hard to go wrong with Donald Richie's Ozu: His Life and Films.

Richie basically introduced Ozu to western audiences and is seen as one of the experts on the field, so even though the book was written quite a while a go it's a good base for all the writing that's come out since then. A little more broadly, Richie's A Hundred Years of Japanese Films could also be good, and a little cheaper, as a wider view of Japanese cinema if your friend wants to branch out. There's also the Donald Richie Reader which is a collection of some of his most notable essays. (I haven't read that one myself, but I'm sure it'd be fine if your friend hasn't read anything much by Richie.)

More generally, for the history of film and how they are made, David Bordwell, as mentioned above is pretty much the go to guy. His web site and blog alone would provide a healthy background in film so his books are essential.

It should be noted though that Bordwell and Richie are really well known, so if your friend has already been doing some reading on the subject he's likely to have already run across their work.

Another good choice might be Mark Cousins' The Story of Film which is an excellent starting point for the history of world cinema that runs a little differently than the more US centered histories. This book is the written basis of documentary series on that same history that ran on PBS a few years ago. If your friend hasn't seen it that might also be a great gift depending on how much you'd want to spend. The book though is fine as a stand alone item.

Peter Bogdanovich's book of interviews with famous directors, Who the Devil Made It is a good source of conversation with the directors, mostly older Hollywood types.

And there are so many other more specific histories or books of criticism worth reading it'd be hard to list them without first narrowing down the field a little more. I've seen quite a few books on the more recent directors you mention, but they aren't really my main interest so I can't comment on any of them other than to say they definitely exist if there is a specific director he might be most excited about.

If you think your friend may have already come in contact with these well known references on Ozu or by Bordwell, then there are more specialized books as well, but it sounds like they may be still in a US/Japan dominated phase, so maybe the Cousins book or series would work since that covers other areas of the world as well where your friend should be able to find lots more great movies to enjoy they may not have encountered yet.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:39 AM on September 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Devil's Candy: The Anatomy Of A Hollywood Fiasco is a fascinating discussion of when and how a classic film fails to happen when there is great potential.

Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade is a really fun account of many proclivities of the business.
posted by sammyo at 7:09 AM on September 19, 2016

Seconding William Goldman (Adventures in the Screen Trade, Which Lie Did I Tell?).

The Friedkin Connection by William Friedkin is the unusual Hollywood memoir that focuses mainly on the work and the creative side of movie making. He mentions his personal life largely to scold himself for a lot of poor choices—"It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I would never do that today."

Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello.
posted by Flexagon at 8:34 AM on September 19, 2016

I'm not an Ebert fanboy, but Two Weeks in the Midday Sun is a great book for any movie lover. It isn't technical, it's a memoir about Cannes.
posted by OmieWise at 9:04 AM on September 19, 2016

"The Men who Made the Movies" was the basis of a series of movie-length specials that ran on PBS under the same name. The book concentrates on 8 of the most famous and influential directors from the golden age: Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra, Vincente Minnelli, George Cukor, Howard Hawks, William A. Wellman, King Vidor, and Raoul Walsh.

All of them were alive when the book was written and it features extensive interviews with them.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:43 PM on September 20, 2016

Nathan Rabin's My Year of Flops might be a fun gift, as is Robert Evans' The Kid Stays in the Picture.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:04 PM on September 20, 2016

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