Book Review: MACK SENNETT’S FUN FACTORY by Brent E. Walker
The first book I ever read about movie history was Mack Sennett’s autobiography, King of Comedy. I had been exposed to silent comedy shorts on TV and then in Robert Youngson’s ground-breaking documentary The Golden Age of Comedy. I was hooked, and simply had to know more about these fascinating slapstick films and the people who made them. So I went to my local library in Teaneck, New Jersey and borrowed Sennett’s book—one of the few then available about that era—and read it over and over again.
Sennett’s book was just as colorful as I’d hoped it would be. He told the story of how he drifted into the movie business in New York, attached himself to the great D.W. Griffith, got his first break, met and fell in love with beautiful Mabel Normand, convinced two bookies to finance his Keystone studio, discovered Charlie Chaplin, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Harry Langdon, and—
GEORGE LUCAS’S BLOCKBUSTING(George Lucas Books/It Books) Edited by Alex Ben Block and Lucy Autrey Wilson, with a Foreword by Francis Ford Coppola
This ambitious, indeed sprawling, 945-page volume sets out to trace the history of American film, decade-by-decade. While it ostensibly focuses on 300 so-called blockbuster hits, its chapter-opening essays, sidebar notes and statistics provide an informed and impressive overview of changing trends in moviemaking—and moviegoing—throughout the 20th century and into the dawn of the 21st. While at first glance it appears that the book’s emphasis is on the business end of movies (providing revealing, inflation-adjusted statistics on admission prices, star and director salaries, production costs and box-office figures) it also devotes considerable space to artistic advances and milestones. The silent era is especially well served by contributions by such historians as Robert Birchard and David Kiehn.
I had quibbles and quarrels with John Hughes’ work, but there was never any question in my mind that his most heartfelt films about the pain and awkwardness of growing up (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink) spoke to teenagers everywhere. No one could have foreseen that those films and a handful of others (Hughes’ Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything..., and Joel Schumacher’s St. Elmo’s Fire, co-written by Carl Kurlander) would make a lasting impression and influence a generation of filmmakers and musicians—not to mention an ever-growing legion of admirers. With the passion of a fan and the inquisitiveness of a good journalist,—
After five years I’m proud to announce the publication of a revised edition of Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide (Plume), now available in stores and online. It’s more than 100 pages thicker than the first volume, with many changes, additions, and corrections. In the first Classic volume we reviewed 1,100 titles we’d never covered before in my Annual Guide. This time we have 300 brand new entries, covering films from the teens through the 1960s, and featuring stars like Lon Chaney, Cary Grant, and Douglas Fairbanks, as well as films from such formidable directors as Jean Renoir, F.W. Murnau, Frank Borzage, Yasujiro Ozu, and Ernst Lubitsch. We’ve added silent movies, foreign films, early talkies, B musicals of the 1940s, film noirs (or is that films noir?) and more.
Even as Hollywood survivor Dennis Hopper battles prostate cancer, he is being celebrated in a multimedia show that’s touring the world. I caught a glimpse of it on my recent trip to Australia, where the exhibition called Dennis Hopper and The New Hollywood is on display through April 25 at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne. The touring show of photographs and artwork by Hopper is accompanied by a coffee-table book of the same name, published by Flammarion in conjunction with the ACMI and La Cinematheque Francaise. The book was on sale in the Centre’s lovely gift shop, but I didn’t want to lug it home, figuring it would turn up on our shores soon enough: in fact, it is scheduled for U.S. publication in April. But I did purchase one Hopper-related goodie: a replica of his stars-and-stripes-decorated Harley Davidson cycle from Easy Rider.
by Tom Kemper
There are many ways to discuss the golden age of Hollywood, but to my knowledge, no one has ever charted this territory by exploring the rise of talent agents during the 1930s, and how they affected the running of the studio system. Tom Kemper was researching this subject for a dissertation and thought his subsequent book would come up to the present day, but found such a wealth of first-hand material on the 1930s and 40s that he decided to focus on that period for the first of a two-volume history. His key subjects are two of the most famous and influential agents of their time, Myron Selznick and Charles K. Feldman—figures who were stars in their own right. As it happens, both men left behind massive...
DARK HORSE ARCHIVES; Introduction by Sara Karloff
In 1960, Boris Karloff was recruited to host a weekly anthology show called Thriller. It was an obvious attempt to emulate the success of a not dissimilar show hosted by another movie figure with a “brand name,” Alfred Hitchcock. It lasted only two seasons, although Stephen King has called it the best series of its kind, which is no small compliment.
As it so often did, Dell Comics created a tie-in comic book series which featured an image Karloff on the cover and usually, in caricature form, in the introductory panel of each interior story. After two issues the publisher changed the title of the comic to Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery. Under that name, it outlasted the TV show and outlived Karloff, continuing for a total of eighteen years under the Gold Key imprint.
I love reading film books but I simply can't keep up with all the new titles that come over the transom...so, with holiday gift-giving in mind, I have compiled this annotated listing based on my first impressions of these recent releases, including a few that haven't gotten the attention they deserve. I haven't bothered to list anything that doesn't seem worthwhile. If you click on the book covers or titles, you'll be taken directly to their purchase page at Amazon.com.
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH: THE BRAIN REVEALED BY THE MIND OF MICHAEL POWELL by Diane Broadbent Friedman (Author House) — One of my greatest pleasures this past year was revisiting Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death, newly issued on DVD by the Criterion Collection. In this extraordinary film, pilot David Niven has a near-death experience; then, while undergoing...
This is not, I’m happy to say, a “revisionist” biography of the fabled movie executive, nor is it a goldmine of new information. Yet Mark Vieira has accomplished something quite extraordinary: he amplifies, clarifies, underscores, and illuminates what we already know about Irving Thalberg, to create the most thorough...
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