I’ve run out of shelf space for books relating to the life, career, and films of Walt Disney, but it seems there are always more coming along—and a surprising number of them have worthwhile new material to share. But the one even I didn’t know about was published some months ago by the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. When you visit the Museum—which you absolutely should—you’ll find that photographs are not allowed inside the exhibit rooms. That’s why there’s a handsome book called Picturing The Walt Disney Family Museum with photography by Jim Smith, text by Richard Benefield, and an introduction by Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller. It’s the next best thing to actually walking through the galleries that trace—
by Vic Armstrong with Robert Sellers; introduction by Steven Spielberg
He’s doubled for James Bond, Indiana Jones, and Superman onscreen and worked up the ladder from stuntman to stunt coordinator and second-unit director. Now Vic Armstrong can add another title to his résumé: author. Book reviewers usually confer the term “page-turner” on juicy novels, but that’s how I’d describe this breezy and informative volume. I couldn’t put it down.
Armstrong, who now works with his entire family planning major action sequences for such films as The Green Hornet and Thor, has an incredibly good memory about virtually every job he’s had over the past forty-five years and spins fascinating tales about actors, directors, producers, and fellow stuntmen. He doesn’t hesitate to chide himself about mistakes he’s made and discuss dangerous “gags” that nearly went—
DVD and Book Review
A recently-released DVD and a beautiful new coffee-table book celebrate two high-spots in the wide world of animation. Thunderbean Animation’s DVD of the Private Snafu cartoons from World War Two puts these fascinating curios in proper historical perspective—and finally offers cartoon buffs beautiful prints from the original 35mm masters. Independently Animated: Bill Plympton (Universe) by Plympton and David L. Levy, with a foreword by Terry Gilliam, surveys the life and career of a singular talent who has maintained a career—and produced an enviable output of animation—on his own terms for several decades.
One might think that by this time, every conceivable film-related topic has been covered in book form…but the newest releases prove that this isn’t so. Perhaps the most unusual, and exciting, addition to the library of movie books is M-G-M: HOLLYWOOD’S GREATEST BACKLOT by Steven Bingen, Stephen X. Sylvester, and Michael Troyan, with a foreword by MGM veteran Debbie Reynolds (Santa Monica Press). As the authors explain in their Introduction, “Our purpose in producing this book is not to discuss the films that MGM produced. That particular road has been well traveled elsewhere. Our interest here is not in the product at all, but rather the factory responsible for that product. Our goal is to preserve, in print and in memory, if not in brock and mortar, the actual physical place that was once Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for the first time.”
Once you start leafing through this beautifully-produced volume, you won’t be able to stop. The authors have traced the—
There are so many dvds, film books, soundtrack CDs, and interesting blog posts—and so little time to digest them all. Over the past week or so I’ve tried to catch up and want to share some of my thoughts and discoveries. First, I’ve been in the thrall of Frederick Hollander’s marvelous music and Dr. Seuss’ clever lyrics for The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., a brilliant soundtrack reconstructed by FSM Golden Age Classics on a bountiful three-CD set.
A spectacular new book about Ray Harryhausen is cause for celebration—but more about that later. The estimable Mr. H was inspired to pursue his art, and craft, by the films he saw as a boy, especially The Lost World (1925) and King Kong (1933). But the man who created the stunning animation in those films, Willis O’Brien, wasn’t the only person experimenting with the wonders of stop-motion. Steve Stanchfield, Stewart McKissick and Ken Priebe at Thunderbean Animation have compiled a dizzying DVD collection of rare short subjects appropriately titled Stop-Motion Marvels! and it’s a must for anyone interested in this field.
The centerpiece of the disc is the Kinex collection, a series of ingenious silent shorts that were created expressly for the 16mm home-movie market in the late 1920s, and marketed as—
A few weeks ago I did a survey of recently-published film books. Here is a second installment, drawn mostly from quick skims and first impressions. I don’t pretend these are full-fledged reviews based on reading these volumes in their entirety. They all look interesting and I hope they fulfill that promise. I happen to be of the opinion that there is no better, more personal gift than a good book. There is also no better way to treat yourself, especially if you have any “down time” coming up over the holidays.
ERROL & OLIVIA: EGO AND OBSESSION IN GOLDEN ERA HOLLYWOOD by Robert Matzen (Paladin Communications)
Matzen, who co-wrote the wonderful Errol Flynn Slept Here last year, explores the on and off-screen relationship between Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. It was only in recent years that de Havilland, who maintains a well-cultivated public image, admitted that she had feelings for Flynn. Matzen uses interviews and writings from the present day and the past to understand the nuances of that relationship. At the same time, he chronicles the two stars’ working relationship with Warner Bros. studio and provides a valuable production diary of all eight films they made together, from Captain Blood in 1935 (when both were new to Hollywood) through They Died With Their Boots On in 1941, drawing on the copious materials at the Warner Bros. archives at USC. (I never tire of reading producer Hal Wallis’ inter-office memos to stubborn directors like Michael Curtiz, and the like.) We may never know how accurate Matzen’s presumptions are about the stars’ private lives, but this juicy content is counterbalanced by—
Once again, the continuing parade of film books has outpaced my ability to read and properly review them, so it’s time for a survey of recent titles. These are summaries based on skimming and not meant to be full-fledged critiques. I’m also motivated by helping to promote worthwhile books from smaller publishers that might not be on everyone’s radar, but deserve to be…all the more so as the holidays approach and people are thinking about gift ideas. I have a feeling this will be the first of at least two installments this season.
Curator and founder of the film materials archives at Brigham Young University, D’Arc is also a historian of the first order, as this book proves beyond a doubt. If you think moviemaking in the state of Utah begins and ends with John Ford in Monument Valley, you’re in for a surprise, as the author traces productions dating back to the silent era and continuing through the decades with such films as diverse as Buffalo Bill, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, City Slickers, and—
By Sam Irvin (Simon and Schuster)
If you only know Kay Thompson as the charismatic fashion magazine editor in the 1957 musical Funny Face, or as the author of the delightful children’s book Eloise, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Thompson was a force of nature: an innovative singing star on radio in the 1930s, a major contributor to the sound of the MGM musicals of the 1940s who created vocal arrangements and coached such eager pupils as Judy Garland and Lena Horne, the highest paid nightclub performer of the late 1940s and early 1950s, a fashion trend-setter, talent scout, mentor, choreographer, and much, much more.
BOOK REVIEW — EMPIRE OF DREAMS: THE EPIC LIFE OF CECIL B. DeMILLE by Scott Eyman
(Simon & Schuster)
I’ve always been fascinated by Cecil B. DeMille. Not only was he the most famous moviemaker of his time; his name is practically synonymous with the early days of Hollywood. I’ve read a number of books written about him over the years and none of them has fully captured the sweep and scope of the man’s extraordinary life…until now. Finally, DeMille has the book he deserves, thanks to that astute and eloquent biographer Scott Eyman. Not only does Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille (Simon & Schuster) capture the many contradictions of DeMille the man: it also assesses his films and restores their often-tarnished reputations.
The author provides a good summation of his subject in this paragraph: “DeMille’s personality embodied unresolvable tensions bred by a devout Episcopalian father and a flamboyant Jewish mother—lust mixed with God, God mixed with Mammon, with a strangely—
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