Books That Illuminate the Silver Screen
The feature film is just about a century old, and all those years of history have produced a landslide of books about the medium. These five books, ranging from the glamorous silent era to the cusp of the 1960s renaissance, help bring it all in focus.
1. Silent Stars, (1999), by Jeanine Basinger.
Movies got by on less before the arrival of sound. But thanks in part to stars like Chaplin and Keaton, Gilbert and Garbo, Valentino and Swanson, they can seem to have delivered more. This is an impassioned guidebook to the era in which, as Swanson put it in "Sunset Boulevard," "We had faces then."
2. The Genius of the System (1988), by Thomas Schatz.
An astute guide to how the Hollywood studios adapted factory techniques to movie-making and somehow still managed to turn out terrific films.
3. The Runaway Bride (1990), by Elizabeth Kendall.
The brilliant book that a brilliant genre -- romantic comedy -- deserved. Kendall argues that movies like "It Happened One Night," "The Awful Truth," "Bringing Up Baby" and "The Lady Eve" are so good to their female stars because the directors were seriously smitten with them.
4. City of Nets (1986), by Otto Friedrich.
A chronicle of Hollywood in the 1940s -- the decade of noir and alleged communist infiltration -- by a master of storytelling.
5. I Lost It at the Movies (1965), by Pauline Kael.
Appearing just as American movies were about to enjoy a revival, this may be the most invigorating book of American criticism (about any art-form) ever written.
-- Dennis Drabelle
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