The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Posts Tagged ‘film guide’

Building The Best Library – Cinema

Posted by BigWords on September 20, 2009

Halliwell’s has long been a sore point for me. The reviews (as they are) don’t add up to much, being so brief, and the viewpoint that all horror films are shit niggles at me. I want to respect the views, but damn… The reviewers make it so hard to take the books seriously. I have a couple of editions, yet I don’t look at them very often. They are excellent for information on pre-1930s cinema, but for modern films are less than useless.

Not much more useful, though containing far more informative reviews, is Virgin’s Film Guide. I have an old edition, yet don’t feel the urge to upgrade to a more recent version, so that says something about the amount of times I really use it. Time Out on the other hand, is one of the guides that I feel the need to keep on buying. The books have changed and evolved over the years, and it is interesting to see what gets bumped and what gets expanded upon.

Good Movie Guide by David Parkinson falls between all those big guides, but has its own niche due to the indexing throughout the main body of the text. It has driven my direction to films I would never have thought of watching, and I thank Parkinson profusely for the publication. The cover is bland and uninteresting, but the contents within are well worth trying to track this sucker down. I don’t know if many people have really paid it much attention, but I really like the book.

Roger Ebert’s Video Companion (1997 Edition) doesn’t contain many reviews, but I kept a hold of it for the honest and excitable way in which some lesser films are extolled. There are more of his reviews online now, and looking for other (newer) editions doesn’t seem worth the hassle. I like Ebert, unlike some readers who have complained about his style, but the act of reviewing takes a personal touch. I kinda miss the video era, and this is a final hurrah for the format before the digital revolution stole away my grubby pre-’84 copies of horror films.

The Film Yearbook and Film Review books from the eighties which listed every release of the year are still kicking around, though I seem to look at them less as time goes by. I’ve gone off a lot of eighties product, though looking back I realize that the Buckaroo Banzai coverage was woefully inept. How could so many people ignore an instant classic? Roger Rabbit got endless coverage in some books, and this goes some way to explaining the success of The Matrix. People like innovation.

The how, why and where is unknown, but at some point in the last couple of decades I managed to get my hands on The International Film Guide 1968 (edited by Peter Cowie) which is filled to the brim with information on obscure European short films and actors who most people would be hard pressed to name. I really like dipping into this every now and again to remind myself that there have been more films made than I have ever even heard of. It is an immensely humbling experience reading this.

Ten geek points for anyone who has heard of Jerzy Skolimowski.

Film guides might seem to dominate my cinema book collection, if you have read this far, but they go hand in hand with the film scripts I seem to collect. And novelizations. Whenever I find a film that says something interesting and has an interesting character I try to learn more about the film, hence the increasingly eccentric books as I delve deeper into the stacks of books.

The Action Movie A-Z by Marshall Julius
The DVD Stack ed. Nick Bradshaw & Tim Robey
Film Facts by Patrick Robertson
Illuminating Shadows – The Mythic Power Of Film by Geoffrey Hill
Incredibly Strange Films edited by V. Vale & Andrea Juno
National Heroes – British Cinema In The Seventies And Eighties by Alexander Walker
That’s Sexploitation! – The Forbidden World Of Adults Only Cinema ed. Muller & Faris
The Ultimate DVD Guide ed. Andy McDermott

The Rough Guide To Cult Movies covers much the same ground as Incredibly Strange Film does, but in less detail with added films. It rattles through the twentieth centuries most offbeat and obscure directors and their output, with as much love for Herschell Gordon Lewis and Fellini alike. Nobody is pushed to the sideline as the bottom of the barrel (where some glittering gems have settled) is scraped with the intention of finding gold.

The BFI book Ultimate Film is a Top 100 book I actually don’t hate so much. I know that people are getting fed up with my twenty-minute-long rant when I’m asked on my opinion of the Top 100 television shows that run every so often, but this book serves a purpose, and it is filled with info on the films covered. The BFI Film Classics series (of which I have a couple) are focused on single films, so the coverage is much more in-depth than I get elsewhere. I really like these.

The Bonnie & Clyde Book ed. Sandra Wake & Nicola Hayden is one of the few books that I bought merely upon seeing the cover. I love the silvery quality of the cover, and – despite thinking the film was a bit overcooked – I have actually found the book informative and not as slanted in viewpoint as it could have been. Blockbuster, Tom Schone’s look at the summer hits and the people who make them, is a subject I find endlessly fascinating.

I’m gonna say it again and again, because people don’t understand my reaction to the large summer films – 99.99999% of blockbusters are unmitigated, totally-irredeemable shit. This includes a lot of films I actually own on DVD, so I completely understand if people want to disagree. The braindead, simplistic, brash spectacles with little (or no) sense of logic and plot are a viable commodity in Hollywood, and at least I have one book which covers that aspect of film.

One last mention, before I wrap this up, must go to The Making Of Taxi Driver by Geofrey McNab. I know there are a dozen or more similarly-themed books on the making of the film, but this is – for me at any rate – the best of the bunch. Feel free to disagree, complain, recommend and – I know this is coming – try to get me to pick up your books because y’all are a bunch of geniuses and I’m shockingly behind the times in not acknowledging you as such…

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Five Ponderables

Posted by BigWords on August 23, 2009

#1 Does Every Writer Secretly Want To Be An Actor?

I’ve just watched the episode of Veronica Mars with Joss Whedon as a car rental guy, and I’m wondering just how many writers have the need to spread their time into other areas. Quentin Tarantino’s acting talents aren’t exactly exemplary, though Joss managed to deliver his lines perfectly well. Kevin Smith, another geek-favorite, has managed to carve out a nice sideline in acting jobs, though if you were to base any opinion of his talents on Die Hard 4.0 or Silent Bob appearances then he doesn’t seem so cool.

Is this normal? Gee, I must be a freakish mutant, ’cause I have no intention of wasting a day to deliver a couple of lines. That isn’t lowering the importance of television or film, it’s just a fact that both media take so long to set up scenes that it doesn’t seem worth the hassle. I’ve never had the urge to get involved in front of the camera, but scriptwriting isn’t too bad. The most fun is probably to be had in writing series-bibles or coming up with new formats for old ideas.

Stephen King, who really doesn’t need to do anything but sit on his ass and watch the money accumulate in his bank account, regularly appeared in movies based on his novels. I never thought about this much, but now it seems a strange way to stamp authorial importance in the audience’s minds, exactly the same as the cameos Stan Lee gets in every Marvel feature film. I’m slightly less impresses with Lee, mostly because of the way he claims credit for every good idea to come out of Marvel since he kick-started their Silver Age output.

What is the appeal? Is writing unfulfilling for some people?

#2 Red Faction

Playing Red Faction: Guerrilla reminded me of the original, which was better than Half Life in many, many ways, but there was one aspect of the game I never really understood. In the extras there was a enclosed cave / cavern thing which had a giant greenhouse sitting in the centre of the map, but it was never explained what was meant to occur there. I blasted tunnels in the walls, using infinite ammo cheats to get as far as I could go, but there was a limit to the length of tunnel that could be created.

I tried exposing all of the supporting beams under the greenhouse, to get the building to collapse, but this – again – was impossible. So I gave up trying to work out why the map was there… until the second game was released. I wasn’t partial to Red Faction II because of the shallow gameplay and annoying menu interface. Still no clues as to the reason for the damn thing. Then Guerrilla came along, and I’m still no clearer as the the purpose of that glass building from the original game.

#3 Mystery Disks

America has long been used to double-sided disks, but I’m beginning to get rather fed up with the use of them I have the bad habit of not returning DVDs straight back to their boxes, and I’m finding that the double-sided disks are beginning to gather into a large stack beside the television. The ones which have the tiny little writing near the center are bad enough, but there are some which have no writing whatsoever to identify the film on the disk.

Who decided that it was a good idea to release a product that was impossible to identify unless the consumer wastes five minutes putting it in their machine and checking the content? It isn’t rocket science, and even a schoolkid could tell them that there would be trouble in store if some kind of identification isn’t provided on the actual disk. Am I alone in this? Whenever I think about buying R1 DVDs I always check on various websites to see what the specs are now, just so I am not landed with another mystery disk.

#4 Paper Wastage

There’s so many film guides that it can be hard to choose between them, but I’ve been thinking that the days of giant tomes may be over. With imdb.com and the hit-and-miss Wiki pages devoted to films, what are the purpose of film guides these days? Are there still people buying these books, and – if so – what are they getting from the books that they can’t find online from equally reliable sources?

I’m not counting the hilarious histories (there is an account of Cannon which is a terrifying read for any accountant) or the biographies which scrape away myth and PR bullshit, but the alphabetical listing of films, with their release date, cast, crew and a brief plot.

A million years ago I thought of writing a film guide which would cover all of the films which hadn’t been mentioned in print for five years, which would have been the most obscure text on film ever written, but with the advent of so many sites covering obscure films it no longer seems remotely possible. Every dirty little corner of film history seems to have been picked to death by expert and amateur hands alike. I’m not impressed with most blunt little reviews anyway, which often miss some great moments.

#5 The Odyssey

Remind me – was Telemachus the annoying kid or the silly red robot?

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Even though I tried to ignore them, I have the awful feeling I have created another meme. Ugh. Whatever – if you have five ponderables to get off your chest, then go ahead. Just make sure you give credit where credit’s due.

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