Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Student's Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 5. April 2 1968

Films — Film books

page 11


Film books

No Contemporary art has been as badly served by the publishing industry as the cinema. Despite a steady flow of annuals devoted to the year's releases in Britain and America, lavishly illustrated, expensive, and lacking any pretention of criticism, the English-speaking world has not been noted for comprehensive cheap literature on the film business.

Ironically the best paperback books on major American directors such as Ford, Hawks, Walsh, and so on are published in French. But, inevitably, as the demand for film books has grown with a greater appreciation on the part of the film-going public for good cinema, British publishers are at last catching up.

Until late last year cheap paperback film books were the sole preserve of the International Film Guide scries edited by Peter Cowie and published by Zwemmers.

The series now contains 11 volumes ranging from comprehensive studies of the French and Swedish cinema through two genres (the musical and the horror) to studies of individual directors (Welles, Hitchcock, and Joseph Losey).

The standard of these volumes varies but in a world of scarcity they are all invaluable until replaced by better studies.

The three most recent volumes are all varied in approach. Allen Eyles' The Western: an Illustrated Guide is as complete-as-you-would-want handbook to this major film genre. Every imaginable person connected with any Western is included along with dates and alternative titles. There are also many small illustrations of the great stars, plus some directors. Those who haunt the Roxy need no longer be at a loss for information.

Ivan Butler's The Horror Film is also for addicts providing a full chronology of all horror films. Butler's definition of horror in films is primarily concerned with the use of horror and thus considers not only the classics of the genre but also films by Bergman, Shindo, Bunuel and such films as The Pawnbroker and Bunny Lake is Missing, Hitchcock's Psycho, Polanski's Repulsion and the outstanding Poe films by Roger Corman.

The third new volume is a survey of Joseph Losey's films by James Leahy. Although competent and respectful Leahy does not quite win the reader's confidence. He relies far too much on esoteric interpretation and his somewhat over-analytic verbiage destroys the visual imediacy predominant in much of Losey's work.

Following the completition of the filming of Accident at the end of 1966 (Wellington is still waiting although it is due soon for the Embassy) Losey gave an extended interview with Tom Milne which has been published in the new Cinema One series published for the British Film Institute by Seeker and Warburg.

Losey on Losey is a first-class book which provides a brilliant insight into the mind of a film-maker who has never achieved recognised "success".

After leaving Hollywood following the purge of "Red elements" and the blacklist, Losey had a chequered career in Britain and Italy often directing films under pseudonyms to avoid victimisation. It is only in the 60s that he has been able to achieve complete control over his films and it is during the last five years that he has made his five best—The Damned (62), The Servant (63), King and Country (64), Modesty Blaise (66), and Accident (67).

The two other volumes in the Cinema One series that have appeared so far are concerned with two leading European directors. The first is Geoffrey Nowell-Smith's Luchino Visconti which examines in detail the films of this Italian director.

The films are not dealt with chronologically. Several films are examined in comparison with the ones they most resemble—Il Lavaro (episode in Boccaccio 70) and Bellissima (51), The Leopard (63) and Senso (54), and Vaghe Stelle dell'Orsa (65) with White Nights (57).

New Zealand has not seen many of Visconti's films, the best known being The Leopard (in a version disowned by the director) and Rocco and His Brothers (60). Vaghe Stelle dell'Orsa may be released here sometime in the future by United Artists (it arrived last October) under the title Sandra.

The other director in this series is, of course, Jean-Luc Godard, Perhaps no other director has achieved the kind of reputation he has with his prolific output of highly successful films (16 features since 1959).

By far the most written about and controversial directorial personality in the contemporary cinema, Godard is hailed as a genius by many but derogated by others. Richard Roud's book is extremely fair in giving Godard his due, but it is hard to judge without having seen the films.

Only two of his films have been released in N.Z.—Vivre sa Vie (62) in 1965 and Bande a Part (64), English title Band of Outsiders, in 1966. After their brief appearance they were immediately sent back whence they came.

They were described in the business as "box-office poison". From then on Godard's films have been eschewed by the distributors, although several more recent films nave appeared in Australia.

One other Godard film, Une Femme Mariee (64), made a brief appearance, but never got beyond the censor's office. Apart from features we have seen a sketch entitled Sloth in Seven Capital Sins (61).

However, chances are fairly hopeful that the Victoria Film Society may be able to get Alphaville (65) from Australia. Otherwise the situation remains hopeless.

Godard's importance is re-inforced by his selection as the subject of one of the first four Movie Paperbacks published by Studio Vista. This time the general editor of the series, Ian Cameron, has got around the Godard mystique by having twelve critics contribute short essays on The Films of Jean-Luc Godard, some of the critics taking different viewpoints on the same film.

The collection is rounded off by Raymond Durgnat's Asides on Godard, a tongue-in-cheek irreverent piece of vituperation which makes an interesting balance to the seriousness of the other critics.

The question is raised—how seriously can we take Godard's films? Or does he really wear dark-glasses because he is "in a permanent state of ocular masturbation, rubbing himself off against everything and anything on which his eye alights ... the flickering glance of his camera the constant dribble of premature ejaculation".

The other books in this Movie series are largely concerned with elaborating various avenues of film appreciation which the magazine pioneered in English film criticism—vulgarly known as the auteur theory. In contradistinction to Sight and Sound, Movie championed the American cinema along with Cahiers du Cinema before it.

It is welcome news to learn Movie is to re-appear this year after a two year hibernation. But far from jumping on the band-wagon of the "cult" directors, the series has decided to deal fully with established directors who have pointed the way for many younger ones.

Joel W. Finler's Erich von Stroheim is valuable largely for its reconstruction of Stroheim's classic Greed. Although never released in its original version (it was cut to a quarter), placed Stroheim permanently among the "greats", but burdened him with the unforgivaeable sin of extravagance so that he was unable to make any more films in Hollywood the way he wanted.

Stroheim will perhaps be best remembered by older New Zealand film buffs for his performance as Gloria Swanson's butler in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard.

Raymond Durgnat returns with a study of Luis Bunuel which covers all of his films from the early surrealist made with Salvador Dali (Un Chien Andalou (28) and L'Age d'Or (30)) through this Mexican films until his return to world recognition in the early 50s with Los Olvidados (50), El (52) and Robinson Crusoe (52).

Durgnat however, was not able to consider Bunuel's latest film Belle de Jour (67) which people who saw it in Australia during the vacation, claim is everything that has been claimed for it.

The fourth volume in the Movie series is The Heavies, compiled by Cameron and his wife. The "heavy" is the staple "bad guy" in every Hollywood gangster, war, or western film. It is very often the 'heavy' who lifts a mediocre Hollywood film out of the rut or contributes considerably to a good movie.

The Heavies includes all those familiar faces who make (usually) brief appearances in all those films you have seen, but remain faces without names. The Camerons have seen a great many films from Hollywood and remember with affection the highpoints in these films for their 84 actors.

With each name is a brief comment on the memorable scenes followed by a full filmography with dates and directors. This book is another one for the addicts only and is ideal for winter's evening parlour game. Did you see the one where ... . ?

All the series have their good points and it is hoped each will thrive. We are in for a feast of film books if the projected titles are forthcoming.

—Nevil Gibson.