This column is at least a month overdue, and I find myself unable to keep up with the steady stream of film books that arrive on my doorstep. I already have another column’s worth of titles which I promise to write about within the next few weeks. Meanwhile, here’s a current smorgasbord of worthy new volumes, from the mainstream to the obscure.

Moving Innovation-290
(The MIT Press)


I can’t think of anyone better suited to tell the whole story of computer animation than Sito, a working animator and world-class animation historian. Anyone who thinks that a book of this sort starts out with the early success of Pixar has much to learn. Sito traces the artistic ancestors of today’s CGI wizards—experimental, avant-garde filmmakers like Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye, and Mary Ellen Bute—and shows how their pioneering work led people like John Whitney to try making films with a computer as his primary tool. His chapter headings give an idea of the ground he covers in this important work: Analog Dreams: Bohemians, Beatniks, and the Whitneys, Spook Work: The Government and the Military, Academia, Xerox PARC and Corporate Culture, Motion Picture Visual Effects and Tron, and Motion Capture: The Uncanny Hybrid, to name just a few. Fully notated, with a glossary and even a “cast of characters” rundown, this book will likely stand as the definitive history of computer animation for many years to come.


Colleen Moore-Silent Film Star-290

COLLEEN MOORE: A BIOGRAPHY OF THE SILENT FILM STAR by Jeff Codori; Forewords by Joseph Yranski and Judith Hargrave Coleman (McFarland)


Colleen Moore is perhaps the most underrated of great silent-film stars. Buffs know her well, and those who attend silent-film festivals have seen restorations of numerous starring vehicles from the 1920s. But outside of Moore’s own, breezy autobiography Silent Star, little has been written about her. Codori has done prodigious research into her life and career, although his emphasis is definitely on the latter; little is said about Moore’s long life after retiring from the screen in the 1930s. (Her stepdaughter does provide a warm introduction, however.) Any fan, or potential fan, will learn much from this detailed examination of a leading light of the silent era.


Roman Polanski-290

ROMAN POLANSKI: A RETROSPECTIVE by James Greenberg; foreword by Roman Polanski (Abrams)

Roman Polanski has always been good copy. Of the violence in Macbeth, he once said, “You have to show violence the way it is. If you don’t show it  realistically, that’s immoral and harmful. If you don’t upset people, that’s obscenity.” Now, as the notorious filmmaker turns 80, Greenberg presents a thorough and highly readable survey of his life and career, abetted by numerous (and candid) interviews. Beautifully designed and printed, as one would expect from an Abrams coffee table book, this volume even includes a brief foreword by the director himself, who says, “Why do I go on doing it? Simply because I enjoy it, and because I’m still learning about directing.”


John Gilbert-290
(University Press of Kentucky)

JOHN GILBERT: THE LAST OF THE SILENT FILM STARS by Eve Golden (University Press of Kentucky)


With much experience writing about vintage show business, Golden has crafted a long-overdue biography of John Gilbert. She wastes no time in telling the true story of his notorious talkie debut, in His Romantic Night. While The New York Times reported some female audience members giggling at his repeated protestations of love, and others thought the film ludicrous, there is little evidence that anyone found his voice high-pitched or unappealing. How and why the myth of Gilbert’s voice became accepted as truth. Gilbert’s real-life story is interesting enough without exaggerations and embellishments. Golden has done her homework, watched all of Gilbert’s surviving films, and even obtained the blessing of Gilbert’s daughter Leatrice Fountain, who until now has been the primary keeper of her father’s flame.


Alan Dwan-Hollywood Studios-290



One can question whether the durable and prolific Allan Dwan was an auteur or merely a first-rate journeyman. Lombardi chooses the former and makes his case in great detail here. No one will ever match the author for exhaustiveness as he explores Dwan’s long career, from the earliest days of silents through his heyday with Douglas Fairbanks and Gloria Swanson right up to the 1950s. Every film is examined in depth, with contemporary press coverage and reviews filling in the gaps where the movies no longer survive. Dwan has never had a more diligent champion than Lombardi.

Price of Fear-Vincent Price-290
(Black Bed Sheet Books)

THE PRICE OF FEAR: THE FILM CAREER OF VINCENT PRICE IN HIS OWN WORDS by Joel Eisner; foreword by Peter Cushing (Black Bed Sheet Books)


I don’t know that there is anything new to be gleaned from this volume, but it’s fun to spend time with all the same, from the late Peter Cushing’s genteel remembrance to the chapter-by-chapter survey of Vincent Price’s lengthy career, spiced with comments from a wide range of interviews he (and his colleagues) gave over the years. Price was never dull, and spending time with him is always rewarding.


Los Feliz Silent Film Era-325
(The Los Feliz Improvement Association)

LOS FELIZ AND THE SILENT FILM ERA: THE HEART OF LOS ANGELES CINEMA 1908 to 1930 by Donald Seligman (The Los Feliz Improvement Association)


Here is one of the most unusual books I’ve come across in a long time, sponsored by a venerable neighborhood association in a historic (but often overlooked) part of Los Angeles. Los Feliz was home to a wide variety of famous figures in the film industry, including Cecil B. DeMille and Charlie Chaplin in their early years, and local historian Seligman has undertaken the task of chronicling every resident from such mighty names as these to a number of forgotten silent players, charting the location of their homes and including maps and (where possible) current photographs. He is more conversant with the area and its history than some of the people he profiles, and relies too often on such sources as Wikipedia and imdb; this leads to broad and overly-vague  summaries of certain careers (from Billy Bletcher to Edgar Kennedy). Still, the book holds a certain fascination for its sheer range of information and detail. Do you want the exact addresses where Oliver Hardy lived? Have you ever been curious about what Helen Jerome Eddy’s house looks like today? Click HERE to purchase a copy.  

Animating Your Career-290
(Brigantine Media)

ANIMATING YOUR CAREER by Steve Hickner; foreword by Don Hahn (Brigantine Media)


An experienced animation producer and director who has worked for Disney and DreamWorks Animation, among others, Hickner here offers simple, straightforward, and sound advice about launching and building a career. His chapter headings (and subheads) pretty well tell the story: Never Turn Down a Combat Mission, Getting the Breaks—and Making Them Happen, Do it Now—Not Later, Breaking Through and Moving Up, Traits to Avoid, to name a few. These are not empty platitudes: he backs up each idea with anecdotes drawn from his own experiences and explores the all-important qualities of leadership, communication, and motivation that propel any successful career.