Thursday, June 04, 2009

Books - Very Lush and Full of Ostriches

First - goodbye to David Carradine - I can't say I watched a lot of Kung Fu as a kid, but it was one of those shows everyone seemed to breath - at least, everyone my age.... Every time I've seen him since he's held the screen... Keith probably means more to me, given my Altman worship, but David Carradine's presence in anything was reason to watch it.


Now - trying to keep from backsliding into the postaweek mode of this spring, I think I'll try my hand at one of the memes going around - the Reading the movies meme, courtesy of The Dancing Image... I don't know if I've been tagged, but it looks like everyone's diving in with enthusiasm, so me too. The twist is - I did this 2 1/2 years ago, during Andy Horbal's Film Criticism blogathon: two posts of it, in fact! But that's no reason not to do it again...

I'm not sure I can improve on the 10 books listed then (see below, or the posts linked above) - but I can add to them.

1. Noel Burch - To the Distant Observer - on Japanese films. Probably where I became a formalist. Not that I bought everything he said, especially his value judgments - but I loved that he dug into the formal elements of films, how they work, and how they relate form to meaning. My interest in the difference between representational and presentational art, between expressionism and formalism (and my ideas about what those things mean) come from reading Burch. I stilll find myself thinking in those terms, usually hearing Burch's claims in the back of my head....

2. Godard on Godard - probably not surprising how often this comes up in these lists - Ed Howard, Glenn Kenny, etc. - for good reasons, Godard is simply a superb essayist, a characteristic that carried over to his films. He's also, when pinned down, as clear and careful an analyst of his own work as any filmmmaker gets - his essay on Two or Three Things I Know About Her got me a paper once - about McCabe and Mrs. Miller...

3. Sergei Eisenstein - though Eisenstein was no slouch. I read a few of his books - Film form or Notes of a Film Director, maybe Lessons with Eisenstein, a long long time ago - I saw Ivan the Terrible on TV one night, out of the blue with no preparation, and decided I had to learn more... I read all of them, before I read anything else about film, or before I had seen much more than Ivan the Terrible of the films one might see as a cinephile... I was probably a film formalist before I'd seen an appreciable number of films, come to think of it...

4. Paul Schrader - Transcendental Style in Film - This is another book I don't quite believe, but I still admire it deeply. It's a fascinating attempt to put films in the context of the rest of the culture - philosophy, the arts, religion, and though I can't accept all his claims, the attempt is inspiring.

5. Rick Altman - any of several, but The American Film Musical is one that really set me going a few years ago. Though the truth is - the Busby Berkeley films touring a few years ago sent me to Altman, and Altman sent me on from there... I could list a couple other of his books - A Theory of Narrative, for instance, from last year, was a treat - I find myself thinking in his terms: single focus narratives, double, multiple...

6. More recently, by German Film Class put me onto a couple works that live up to any standards: Siegfried Kracauer's From Caligari to Hitler is a seminal work, and argument aside, is one of the most detailed broad scale works of criticism I know....

7. and Tom Gunning's The Films of Fritz Lang is, like the books on Ozu, Capra and Kurosawa noted below, a magisterial assessment of the career of one of the essential directors.

8. And the class reminded me what a great book the Herzog on Herzog volume is. Herzog is as good a talker as anyone alive, and Paul Cronin guides him through his career in a fine way. It's revealing and fascinating (though I doubt I'd take much of it as gospel truth) - though, as he might say, that's just the accountant's truth. What he says illuminates the films, the ideas behind the films, himself, and he is endlessly fascinating....

9. Speaking of filmmakers who are totally compelling speakers, and writers - Guy Maddin's From the Atelier Tovar is another wonder. Trtuth is, Maddin's commentaries might rival Herzog's - and this book is a marvellous read. I can always find a quote there (or a post title.)

10. Oh god - another dozen possibilities occur to me, from Christian Metz (Film Language) or Peter Wollen (Signs and Meaning) to Jane Feur on the American musical (again) to Bunuel's My Last Sigh to Robert Ray's ABCs of Classical Hollywood Cinema - but no - let's actually dial it back: to Halliwell's Film Guide - which one? I don't know - 1994, I think, is the one I bought, way back in, about, 1994. And used as just that in those dark days before the IMDB. I'm not sure I ever agreed with its judgments - it didn't matter, because it was where I could find information, about pretty much anything, as long as it had been released in the UK.....

So that's that! And for old times sake - here are the first 10, from 2006 - all of which I value as much as ever now...

1. David Bordwell on Ozu
2. Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto's Kurosawa book.
3. Stanley Cavell - Pursuits of Happiness
4. Ray Carney on Frank Capra
5. Pier Paolo Pasolini - Heretical Empiricism.
6. Sarris' American CInema
7. Audie Bock - Japanese Film Directors
8. Stephen Teo - Hong Kong Cinema
9. Truffaut/Hitchcock
10. James Sanders' Celluloid Skylines (on New York in the movies)

2 comments:

MovieMan0283 said...

I did not know that this meme had, more or less, been taken up before - jeez, even in a relatively new medium like blogging it's all been done already...

I really, really liked the older two posts you linked up to, particularly the one which broke down the different elements of movies - and reading abotu movies - which interested you. Curiously, around the same time you wrote that (I was not yet a blogger) I would say I was primarily a formalist too. Yet I find that, as my own work recedes into the past and as I begin to WRITE about movies more, my formalism tends to ebb away. Empahsis on that latter point - it's since I started blogging that I've noticed I talk far more about themes and ideas and even moods and auras than I do about concrete formal elements, about execution, even though I still hold that those aspects of cinema are the most crucial, and the most rewarding to celebrate. I suppose it's because it's easier to go off in a more impressionistic direction when writing longer essays. Not that I don't like this kind of writing - Pauline Kael epitomizes this approach and she's always been my favorite - but it is a surprising departure from what I would have considered my sensibilities to be before starting a blog (actually I was not so long ago worried about not being able to see movies the way casual viewers did, conscious of their methods as I was. Now - and here I think it's the lull in my own (however scrappy) filmmaking that's the culprit - I'm as much taken in by the spell as the most naive moviegoer).

weepingsam said...

Well, it was a good idea that didn't really get taken up before - I did it in the middle of a blogathon on criticism, and I remember 2-3 other people doing something similar - but it's definitely worth a meme of its own.

I suspect blogging tends to highlight my formalist tendencies - maybe because formal properties are something specific to write about. It's a kind of discipline. I suppose it's also a hedge against feeling like I have to say something important every time I post - if I stick to the text, I'll find something there to talk about...