It’s been a stellar year of cinema and pop culture-themed books, and the texts (and Blu-rays) in this round-up all make fine gifts. One additional book that should be on your year-end list is Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier. It’s a satisfying companion to season three of Peaks, not to mention Frost’s own Secret History of Twin Peaks. So be sure to check out Nick Newman’s recent interview with the Peaks co-creator.
Live Cinema and Its Techniques by Francis Ford Coppola (Liveright)
The legendary Francis Ford Coppola has spoken of “live cinema” with regularity over the years, specifically with respect to 1981’s One From the Heart. That film, a box office flop now held in some regard, is an essential part of Live Cinema and Its Techniques, a fascinating new book authored by Coppola himself. The lessons from that experience, Coppola says, “influenced me later on during the two experimental workshops conducted at OCCC [Oklahoma City Community College] and UCLA.” Those workshops are the focus of Live Cinema, a text that offers a compelling opportunity to hear the great Coppola talk about his latest passion.
It Came from the Video Aisle! Inside Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment Studio by Dave Jay, William S. Wilson, and Torsten Dewi (Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.)
Full Moon Entertainment, the B-movie studio behind the Puppet Master and Trancers franchises, is exhaustively covered in It Came From the Video Aisle! Mind you, that is not a criticism. It’s a treat to dive so deeply into one of the seminal B-movie studios of all time. Some may find thirteen pages on The Gingerdead Man a bit excessive, but to Full Moon fans, the insights and humorous stories here are not to be missed.
The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History Hardcover by Caseen Gaines (Insight Editions)
More than three decades after its release, the puppets from The Dark Crystal are still an impressive sight. They, and the film directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, receive much-deserved praise in The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual History. This hardcover coffee table book from Insight Editions features stunning sketches and designs, memorable on-set photos, and insightful text. The film itself, a somber, fairy tale-infused fantasy, continues to inspire devoted fandom. The Visual History is a book sure to delight the Dark die-hards.
Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How The Graduate Became the Touchstone of a Generation by Beverly Gray (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)
The Graduate has inspired a cottage industry of analysis and behind-the-scenes accounts, but author Beverly Gray finds new ground to cover in Seduced by Mrs. Robinson. We’ve heard many of these tales before — the role of Benjamin Braddock almost going to Charles Grodin, the screen test of an off-Broadway vet named Dustin Hoffman winning over director Mike Nichols, Hoffman feeling intense unease after the first few days of shooting. But Gray shines when analyzing the film’s cultural impact. (Even Wayne’s World 2 warrants a couple pages.) Seduced by Mrs. Robinson is a thoroughly enjoyable book.
Star Trek Beyond — The Makeup Artistry of Joel Harlow by Joe Nazzaro (Titan Books)
It seems like long ago that we awaited the release of Star Trek Beyond, the third Trek film featuring Chris Pine and company. A year and a half after its release, Beyond can be appreciated as an entertaining if minor effort, but one noteworthy aspect was the makeup, and that’s the subject of The Makeup Artistry of Joel Harlow. It takes a close look at the work that went into characters like Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah and Irdis Elba’s Krall. Harlow is an Oscar winner, and the book makes clear why his work has earned so much praise.
The Art of Mondo (Insight Editions)
If there is a “must own” on this list, it is probably The Art of Mondo. The glorious, wildly imaginative posters collected in this Insight Editions coffee table book will be familiar to many; the designs from Scarface, Boogie Nights, The Thing, Drive, and others are oft-shared on social media. What makes The Art of Mondo so impressive, though, is the less-seen work made for films like her, Mood Indigo, Creepshow, and The Master. It’s a stupendous collection, and happily, the names of the artists are presented, in full, at book’s end.
The Art of Horror Movies: An Illustrated History by Stephen Jones (Applause Books)
Poster art is also featured prominently in The Art of Horror Movies: An Illustrated History, a delightful companion to 2015’s The Art of Horror. Editor Stephen Jones has compiled a comprehensive overview of the genre, stretching from “sinister silents” like Pabst’s Pandora’s Box to recent efforts like Crimson Peak, The Babadook, and even Coraline. But the standouts are the depictions of icons like Vincent Price in 1960’s The Fall of the House of Usher and Peter Cushing in 1965’s The Skull.
The Movie Art of Syd Mead: Visual Futurist by Syd Mead and Craig Hodgetts (Titan Books)
The recent release of Blade Runner 2049 brought the work of designer Syd Mead back into the spotlight. His stunning, otherworldly designs for films like Blade Runner and Aliens are collected in The Movie Art of Syd Mead: Visual Futurist. The book even includes his concepts for the Las Vegas-sequence structures in Blade Runner 2049. Even the designs for forgotten efforts like The Core and A Sound of Thunder are impressive. (My favorite? The ultra-cool “head case” from Mission: Impossible III.)
The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049 by Tanya Lapointe (Genuine Entertainment/Alcon Entertainment/NECA)
There isn’t a film released in 2017 that better warrants a large-scale artistic appreciation than Blade Runner 2049. Denis Villeneuve’s wondrous, critically acclaimed but commercially disappointing sequel has as much visual ingenuity and verve as Ridley Scott’s predecessor. The film’s background, design work, and production are brought to vivid life in The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049. Intriguingly, author Tanya Lapointe breaks down the rights issues that slowed down the development process, as well as the reasons why Scott stepped out of the director’s chair. And throughout the book are concept art and production stills that document how sequences like the three-person “sex surrogate” scene and end-of-film “Sea Wall” fight came to be. The Art and Soul is a truly illuminating companion to a modern classic.
Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon: The Collected Reviews by Kim Newman (Titan Books)
Any reader of Empire magazine over the years has likely read Kim Newman, the deliriously entertaining critic known for his reviews of trashy gems, and just plain trash. Video Dungeon handily collects years of his writing, and groups it all together under a variety of clever categories: “Found Footage,” “Confinements and Dangerous Games,” Serial Killers and Cops,” “Weird Hippie Shit,” and more. Newman makes films as WTF as 1980’s Dracula Exotica sound appealing. (“Not exactly good, but also not just a rote sexfest with fang-flashes and cloak-swishing.”)
1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (Barron’s)
There are countless texts identifying bucket-list films, but the finest is probably the newly updated 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. It is the sheer variety that stands out — not just The Conformist, but El Topo; not just Harold and Maude, but The Heartbreak Kid; not just There Will be Blood, but Head-On. Some entries are debatable (2015’s self-consciously stylized Victoria?) but all are written about with passion and insight. Reading each entry and then working through the films you’ve missed could be a winter goal.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial: The Classic Illustrated Storybook by Kim Smith (Quirk)
I’m not sure why an illustrated, children’s adaptation of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has suddenly arrived, but I’m glad it did. Kim Smith’s illustrations are, in the words of my seven-year-old, “adorable.” They’re admirably unfussy, and cute without being overly saccharine. It’s been a huge hit in my house, just like the Steven Spielberg film. I’d love to see more Spielberg classics adapted in this manner; bring on Duel!
Two books from brick-lovers from DK
DK’s latest Lego texts, Lego: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know by Simon Hugo and Ultimate Lego Star Wars by Andrew Becraft and Chris Malloy, are tremendously entertaining.The former offers a history of the toy along with oodles of facts, figures, and images. Ultimate Lego Star Wars is even more fun. This definitive guide includes every Lego Star Wars figure and set ever made, right up to Rogue One. (I want little Ben Mendelsohn!) I asked my Lego and Star Wars-obsessed son for a review. His short and sweet take? “The Lego sets and minifigs are amazing.” I can’t disagree with Evan. Kids (and adults) will find much to covet in both books.
New novels featuring sci-fi icons and the electrifying Lisbeth Salander
A conversation between Princess Leia Organa and USS Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard would be fascinating, wouldn’t it? The closest we’ll get might be first reading Claudia Gray’s Leia, Princess of Alderaan (Disney Lucasfilm Press) and following it directly with The Autobiography of Jean-Luc Picard (Titan Books). The latter, said to be authored by Picard himself (with some “help” from editor David A. Goodman), is brisk (277 pages) and highly readable, even for a moderate Trek fan such as myself. Leia, however, is a much more emotional affair, due to our vivid memories of actress Carrie Fisher. This gripping tale of a 16-year-old Leia features some fun cameos, including Amilyn Holdo, the character played by Laura Dern in The Last Jedi. In fact, Princess of Alderaan would make a fine big-screen Star Wars Story … Another noteworthy new novel with connections to cinema is David Lagercrantz’s The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye (Knopf). Lagercrantz, of course, continued the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series with 2015’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web. This follow-up Lisbeth Salander story is similarly complex, and certainly fun. We learn yet more about the pasts of Salander and her twin sister, Camilla, who was first introduced in Spider’s Web.
A trio of music books touching on the world of cinema
Two books about music icons and one looking at a specific style and time period in music history are certainly of interest to fans of cinema and pop culture. David Bowie: A Life by Dylan Jones (Crown Archetype) is a gripping oral history that weaves through Bowie’s entire life and career, from youth to Ziggy to “Thin White Duke” and beyond. Jones’s focus on Bowie’s late-life and tragic death are especially involving. Cinema is prominent, of course. In just one example, Christopher Nolan explains that if Bowie had turned down the part of Tesla in The Prestige, “I had no idea where I would go.” Bowie’s friend and collaborator Lou Reed is the subject of Lou Reed: A Life, by Anthony DeCurtis (LIttle, Brown & Company). It’s a somber book about a complex individual, and just as gripping as Bowie: A Life. The Warhol years will grab any cinephile. Lastly, I Was Britpopped: The A-Z (Valley Press) is one of the few comprehensive studies of the Britpop phenomenon of the mid-to-late 1990s. Authors Jenny Natasha and Tom Boniface-Webb are fans, first and foremost, and their love for the years in which Oasis, Blur, Elastica, Suede, and Pulp rocketed to stardom is evident on each page. Everything is here, including the importance of Trainspotting and its soundtrack. It’s the book Britpop fans have been waiting for.
The inclusion of Criterion Collection Blu-ray releases in a roundup of books on filmmaking makes sense. After all, Criterion discs tend to be accompanied by essays, while the bonus features are often text-based. Two fine recent examples are Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and Personal Shopper. The latter, director Olivier Assayas’s emotionally thrilling ghost story starring a never-better Kristen Stewart. In an essay included here, the always insightful Glenn Kenny finds that the “disconnectedness” of Stewart’s Maureen, as well as “her search for personal connection … seem to be very personal” for Assayas. It’s a strong analysis of one of 2017’s finest films. Meanwhile, Criterion’s special edition of David Lynch’s Fire Walk With Me was one of the most eagerly awaited releases in the company’s history. Arriving just weeks after the conclusion of season three of Twin Peaks, the disc includes the famous “Missing Pieces” deleted scenes, interviews, and a lengthy excerpt from 1997’s Lynch on Lynch. The director discusses the hostility that greeted the Peaks prequel upon release in 1992, and also notes that Fire is “as free and as experimental as it could be within the dictates it had to follow.” Together with the Blu-rays of season three and Mark Frost’s aforementioned Final Dossier, Fire Walk With Me must be at the top of any Twin Peaks fan’s holiday wish list.
What are you reading? Have you enjoyed any of the above picks?