Here’s a second helping of recent film-related books worth checking out. Please bear in mind that this is just a survey, as I haven’t had time to read these tomes from cover-to-cover. Still, I hope the listings are useful, whether you’re looking for Christmas gifts or adding to your own library. And yes, there are even more books worth mentioning, which I’ll do next week, in time to make your gift-giving deadline.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN, MASTER OF THE MAJICKS Volume 1: BEGINNINGS
AND ENDINGS by Mike Hankin; foreword by Tom Hanks; preface by Sir Christopher
Frayling (Archive Editions)
If you’ve been acquiring and reading publisher Ernest Farino’s elaborate series of oversized hardcover volumes on Harryhausen, you’ll need no urging from me to complete your collection with the third and final book in the series. BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS opens with a chronicle of Ray’s latter years, covering unfinished and unrealized projects as well as the many honors that came his way, including an Academy Award. Then the book hops back in time to trace how The Lost World and King Kong influenced the young artist, with valuable background material on both films and their brilliant animator Willis O’Brien. Finally there is an in-depth look at Harryhausen’s earliest work on George Pal’s Puppetoons and his own Fairy Tale short-subject series. The book is jam-packed with information, observations, and a mind-boggling number of illustrations. It’s a must for any Harryhausen fan.
In conjunction with an enormous, far-reaching exhibition of movie costumes she curated at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Landis has prepared an equally impressive coffee table book on the subject. Not only is it beautiful to behold, and filled with well-chosen photos and costume designs; it offers a series of essays by costume designers, film historians, and experts in the field that provide a comprehensive look at this underappreciated facet of filmmaking. The book is divided into four sections: The Art of Becoming, Defining the Character, Collectors & Collecting, and New Frontiers, which tackles the way digital filmmaking and CGI have affected the work of costume designers. A talented practitioner herself who memorably outfitted Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, Landis also interviews such actors as Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro about the way costumes help them develop their characters. I’m sorry I couldn’t attend the exhibition in London (which is coming to Phoenix, Arizona this coming spring), but I’m glad Landis has left behind a permanent record in the form of this majestic book.
An editor at Knopf who has shepherded many fine books into
print, Wilson has spent untold years working on a definitive biography of
Barbara Stanwyck, with the cooperation of family members and access to private
letters and photographs. Yet even at nearly a thousand pages, this is only the
first part of the story. That’s because Wilson lingers over every film,
exploring it in detail (from early, minor efforts to later classics), and
provides contextual background about each new figure who is introduced in
Stanwyck’s life, from husband Frank Fay to such influential directors as
William Wellman and Frank Capra. I think it’s fair to say that this biography,
when completed, will be the last word on Stanwyck.
CHAPLIN’S VINTAGE YEAR: THE HISTORY OF THE MUTUAL CHAPLIN SPECIALS by Michael J. Hayde (BearManor Media)
Idon’t think any major film artist has equaled Charlie Chaplin’s achievement of 1916-17, turning out twelve superb comedy shorts in a row that have stood the test of time for nearly a century: The Floorwalker, The Fireman, The Vagabond, One A.M., The Count, The Pawnshop, Behind the Scenes, The Rink, Easy Street, The Cure, The Immigrant, and The Adventurer. Author Hayde (co-author of last year’s exhaustive Little Elf: A Celebration of Harry Langdon) places these films in the context of silent-film comedy and Chaplin’s burgeoning career, before examining each of the “golden dozen” in detail. The book also includes many rare newspaper and magazine advertisements that help us understand just how popular these films were—not only when they were new, but in later theatrical reissues. A book-length study of these influential comedies is long overdue and most welcome.
Here is a perfect Christmas present for any dyed-in-the-wool cartoon fan: an affectionate, informative, lavishly illustrated history of Jay Ward Productions, written by an animation insider. Van Citters has scoured the Ward archives for model sheets, storyboard drawings, and finished artwork to help tell the story of the can-do company that played by its own rules and created Rocky and his Friends, The Bullwinkle Show, and the long-running Cap’n Crunch commercials, to name just a few of its notable achievements. Individual profiles of directors, writers, animators, layout personnel, and other contributors give us a clearer picture of the creative team behind some of the funniest animated series in television history. The Ward style also reflected modern graphic design—a result of the fact that key studio personnel got their training at the Walt Disney studio in the 1940s before breaking off to work with the forward-thinking UPA. The Art of Jay Ward Productions offers an embarrassment of riches that are well worth savoring.
THE CG STORY: COMPUTER GENERATED ANIMATION AND SPECIAL EFFECTS by Christopher Finch (The Monacelli Press)
Only a lavishly illustrated book that
weighs as much as a coffee table could do justice to the subject of CGI and
special effects—visually and verbally. With copious production stills and
behind-the-scenes photos, Finch (author of the landmark coffee table volume The Art of Walt Disney) traces the history
of the computer as a moviemaking tool, from John Whitney’s pioneering experimental
films through the breakthroughs of George Lucas and his protégés, (including the group who broke off and became Pixar). Citing the earliest adopters of CG effects, Finch shows
how one step led to another in the refining of visual effects, from Young Sherlock Holmes to The Abyss. On a parallel track, the
Disney studio’s integration of computer-assisted imagery in Beauty and the Beast opened the door for
broader use in its subsequent features. Finch’s text is authoritative but
written for fans and laymen, thank goodness.