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My Big Fat Reference Book

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by Leonard Maltin
September 10, 2012 1:00 AM
15 Comments
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Plume/Signet

Yes, Virginia, some people still consult reference books, and some people still edit them, like me. At 1640 pages, Leonard Maltin’s 2013 Movie Guide is the latest edition of a paperback I’ve been overseeing since I was a teenager. To those who think it’s been supplanted by the Internet I can only say, “We’re still here.” And as someone who uses the ‘net every day, I can tell you that my colleagues and I still face surprising hurdles trying to get reliable information about brand-new movies. That’s one reason I think our book still has relevance to anyone who cares about accuracy, useful information, and of course, reviews.

It takes a kind of obsessiveness to work on a book like this, and I’ve been lucky to find the right people to collaborate with me over the years. They’re willing to go the extra mile to nail down a running time, see if an actor is using a middle initial, figure out why a director bills himself one way in the opening credits and another way at the end of the film, etc. (Hey, I’m the guy that once buttonholed a young Daniel Day-Lewis to make sure there was a hyphen in his name—and tracked down Kristin Scott Thomas to confirm that there wasn’t.) When the book is put to bed every spring we all feel a great sense of satisfaction, because the results of our labors are there in print and ready to be shared.

I’ve come to adopt the term “curated information” to describe what we do. Yes, there are websites where you can find cast info for any movie, but those lists are exhaustingly long, and the names are often cited in order of appearance or even alphabetically. That’s not helpful if you want to identify the second-billed actor who played the star’s best friend. And if a major star contributed a cameo role toward the end of the movie—without star billing—you may never learn that unless you scroll to the very end of the roster.

You’d have to scan pretty far down a cast list to learn that Mia Wasikowska appears in the 2008 movie Defiance. We’ve added credits for such diverse actors as Judy Greer, Melissa McCarthy, John Hawkes, Felicity Jones, Margo Martindale, Ed Helms, and Demián Bichir. Bérénice Bejo appears in the 2001 film A Knight’s Tale, but that wouldn’t have meant much to a majority of American readers before her breakthrough performance in The Artist. Now she’s properly credited in our cast list.

We’ve also introduced a new feature this year in recognition of the fact that DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and some savvy cable channels are offering what used to be called Roadshow movies (Ben-Hur, Around the World in Eighty Days, et al.) with their overtures, entr’actes, and exit music intact. For years, we listed the running time of the film alone because our book is intended as a guide for watching movies at home. Now that you have the chance to see the complete presentation of these films, we thought it about time to amend our write-ups.

Plume

Our resident expert on such matters, Michael Scheinfeld, had a learning experience while conducting his research. He explains, “I discovered that some movies only had a break where an intermission card came up onscreen and the curtains would close for a few minutes, while others (mostly musicals) would follow the Intermission card with a longer entr'acte where music from the film would play for up to 15 minutes. Newer movies like Reds, Hamlet (1996), and Barry Lyndon contained intermissions but not entr'acte music.” Michael has provided specific information for each of these films, which ought to please the diehard film buffs and purists among you.

We’ve also added a subtitle to the book for the first time: The Modern Era. That doesn’t mean we’ve eliminated The Wizard of Oz or Casablanca from our guide. It’s a way of indicating that we’ve migrated a great many pre-1965 movies that aren’t all-time gems to our companion book, Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, in order to make room for over 300 new write-ups. That’s the reality of printing a paperback with a finite page count, as opposed to writing in cyberspace. We’re still listing as many vintage titles as possible, but if you know someone who’s devoted to Turner Classic Movies and the golden age of Hollywood, please pass along the word that the book they really need is our Classic Movie Guide.

So the book that began as a fingertip guide for people who stayed up to watch The Late, Late Show back in 1969 is back once more in the age of streaming and downloading. I’m grateful to the loyal readers who continue to support us…and I’m forever indebted to my colleagues Darwyn Carson, Luke Sader, Mike Clark, Rob Edelman, Spencer Green, Pete Hammond, Joe Leydon, Michael Scheinfeld, Bill Warren, Casey St. Charnez, Jerry Beck, and my daughter Jessie Maltin.

Incidentally, we also exist in modern form as an iPhone app, available from MobileAge. They’re finalizing the integration of new material from our 2013 edition, and I’ll let you know as soon as it’s available.

POSTSCRIPT: In answer to several queries: the logistics of translating our massive text into an e-book have delayed that process, but it is in the works. There are no plans for an Android version of the app, and as of now there is no target date for a revised edition of Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide.

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15 Comments

  • Carol Liller White | February 28, 2013 10:51 PMReply

    There is no substitute for the Annual Movie Guide, not just for the list of actors, running times, plot and all the other necessary information which I've relied on since (can it be?) 1975. It's for the classic notation that he made about Mississippi Mermaid, with Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo-"Always buy name brands". C'est le vie, Monsieur Maltin!

  • Shawn Gordon | September 16, 2012 1:19 PMReply

    As an internet writer myself, I marvel at the great books on film from the past and my pulse raises every time that I encounter a new one. I have been a devoted reader of Mr. Maltin's annual yearbook for over twenty-five years now, I got my first when I was just 8 years old. I will look forward to every new addition and I will continue to do so as long as they are printed, and let's hope that remains for a long time to come.

  • Lisa Miller | September 16, 2012 9:21 AMReply

    I love that you are still putting your Guide out in book form. I don't always want to turn on a computer to get information and I also have the Classic Movie Guide. I wouldn't want to be without either one. I will be buying the 2013 Guide ASAP.

  • JFredMuggs | September 12, 2012 7:59 PMReply

    I've bought every edition of this book since the early/mid 70's, when it was only updated every 2-3 years. I always have a copy next to me on the couch when I'm watching TV as it's an invaluable source of data. Hate to see so many older titles dropping off, but maybe when it's an e-book, all those golden oldies will make it back.

  • Dan Van Orden | September 11, 2012 6:03 PMReply

    The Movie Guide is a great book that I've always kept close to the TV. Even with an iPad and iPhone nearby, nothing beats this book! I've bought every edition. My only regret is I've passed along the old editions as I've updated. It would have been fun to look through some of the early efforts!
    Thanks for continuing this tradition

  • Clement DeCastro | September 11, 2012 11:36 AMReply

    I've been buying Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide since 1987. One of the best ongoing purchases I'll ever make. I'm dreading the day when Leonard pulls the plug on updating and revising his massive database. For now, I'm just happy the 2013 edition is available. I'm elated to see that there's an e-book in the works.
    What I would like to see going forward is a list of all movies that are added (usually around 300) every year. I'm not asking to amend to that list every year. The list will change with every edition. That way, only 1 page can be dedicated to this list. I still have to use movie sites to see what was released in the past year (memory isn't as strong as it use to be). This will eliminate my need to use the internet when reading this book. Just my 2 cents.
    Other than that, my hats off to Leonard and his team.

  • rafael castro | September 10, 2012 8:11 PMReply

    Probably i am of the few people in the caribbean who always i bought your movie guides from 1978''. I always admired the excellent work that you and you marvelous team had done in the creation of these book. Considering that many movie guides dont published anymore is a tribute of the great work that has been acomplished, for that let's hope many more more years of your wonderful and very informative guides and start working in that new edition of your classic movie guide that i hope i will see in the future.

  • Jim Reinecke | September 10, 2012 7:03 PMReply

    Kudos to you and the staff regarding your customary job well done. I have, however, a couple of quibbles (not full-blown complaints, just quibbles), and, as always, some title tweaks for the next edition. First the quibbles: 1) I'm sure that this was only an oversight and not a deliberate omission, but why didn't one of my favorite films from last year, and a film which you praised, SARAH'S KEY, make the cut? 2) Regarding space constraints: I notice that many (though not all) of the new pre-1966 deletions carry the title of the movie and the message "SEE: Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide". Personally, I would think that the absence of these films would be self-explanatory and that the elimination of the direction to the Classic Guide would have allowed you to retain at least 3-4 pages of the deleted entries. While on that same tack, do you remember when, a few editions ago, you eliminated superfluous info about edited network TV versions, most of which hadn't seen the light of day for years (i.e. BLAZING SADDLES and KLUTE as just two examples)? Now that the reprehensible practice of colorization has virtually run its course of vandalism, is that notation on older films really necessary? I realize that Fox Home Video has issued many of the Shirley Temple films in packages which allow a viewer to watch the original b&w version or the computer-colored one but, for the most part, most of these films are now showing on TCM in their proper black and white presentation or likewise being made available on DVD. It would seem that elimination of that line at the end of some classic films would save some space. Now on to the title corrections: Bertrand Tavernier's wonderful 80's film with jazz great Dexter Gordon has an apostrophe before "Round", so should be listed as 'ROUND MIDNIGHT; Stephen Frears 2005 movie with Judi Dench does not use a period after "Mrs" so it is actually MRS HENDERSON PRESENTS; don't just throw that period away, though because we need it for the very weird Bob Dylan biopic (although Cate Blanchett was, as always, terrific) of a few years back which uses the period at title's end so I'M NOT THERE. is correct; Barbara Kopple's 1977 Oscar-winning documentary has no comma after "County" so it should be listed as HARLAN COUNTY U.S.A.; and, finally, Harold Lloyd's 1923 classic (if it survives next year's round of cuts) has an exclamation point at the end so it needs to be amended to SAFETY LAST! The most alarming thing to me about this journal entry, though, is the disquieting P.S. about another edition of the Classic Guide. Please inform you're big, fat, know-it-all publishers that "Yes, Virginia, there are still some people who treasure those films from that era and the Classic Guide is just as essential as the Annual!" (Besides I've got some title tweaks for that one, as well!) Keep up the good work, Leonard, BUT---there MUST be another edition of the Classic Movie Guide!!!!

  • Norm | September 10, 2012 6:58 PMReply

    Leonard Maltin Redux...He is always there...but in a good way...Although I have to ask, is there a Bigger Print version ?

  • joe onorato | September 10, 2012 6:41 PMReply

    In my Maltin collection, I have the 1969 TV Movies, "special edition prepared exclusively for movie book club members". sept 1969. also your autographed "to joe- anyone who enjoys.....THE DISNEY FILMS is OK with me! best wishes, l..M..
    Dec,1978" you gave a talk at Norwich University that evening. I've got you covered ever since. keep well.

  • Tim Davis | September 10, 2012 3:55 PMReply

    Never fear, Leonard! As an avid cruciverbalist (That's a crossword puzzle aficionado) I can assure you that your book will always have a place on my shelf.

  • Thomas A. King | September 10, 2012 12:18 PMReply

    Hi Leonard and staff...When does the new edition of Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, with the migrating older movies come out? I haven't picked this one up yet, but I sure am glad that you kept them (even if in a different book!) Will have both in my living room...Keep up the excellent work.

  • Laura | September 10, 2012 10:39 AMReply

    Hi Leonard,

    Will you be producing an App for the Android market? I'd love to be able to use your App on my Kindle Fire. Already have it in my iPhone. :)

    Best wishes,
    Laura

  • Charles Hoyt | September 10, 2012 8:09 AMReply

    Why is the kindle edition stalled?

  • Mark Smith | September 10, 2012 11:01 AM

    That's what I've been wondering. I can't think of a reference book that would be a better fit for the ebook format than Maltin.

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