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PopGap #19: Movie Books Special Report

PopGap #19: Movie Books Special Report

Written by dorrk
22 July 2016

Reading is fun.

This month I read former-Entertainment Weekly film critic Owen Gleiberman's terrific new book, Movie Freak. Like a damn fool, I thought I'd casually write up some short blurbs on a few of the movie books that have been important to me over the years, but — as I should have expected, given my obsessive nature with regard to these kinds of projects — it became far more involved than that, encompassing 15 books that have mostly been important to me and my movie watching over the span of 40 years.

PopGap #19: Movie Books Special Report


Owen Gleiberman, MOVIE FREAK (2016)


After my disappointment with the knee-jerk moralizing of Patton Oswalt's Silver Screen Fiend last year, I was a little reluctant to crack open Owen Gleiberman's new memoir Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies, but its title appealed to me too directly to pass up. Thankfully, Gleiberman stays true to his obsession, and delivers a passionate, thoughtful, entertaining and mostly mature examination of his life as an avid consumer of pop culture, with the bonus of some behind-the-scenes digs at critic culture and the demise of journalism. Almost too often during Movie Freak I felt like Gleiberman was eerily reflecting my own movie addiction right back at me — and it doesn't hurt that our tastes on key films align so directly (shout out to Michael Mann's Manhunter!) — but even when he diverges from my superior taste, the essence of his love for movies is extremely familiar and comforting to read about from his incisive critical point-of-view.
Patton Oswalt, SILVER SCREEN FIEND (2015)


Up until he sells-out his like-minded readers with a parental lecture in the closing chapters, Patton Oswalt delivers a slight but fun and relatable account of his personal movie mania in Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film. I felt an almost instant kinship with Oswalt, as a fellow owner of a marked-up copy of Danny Peary's Guide For The Film Fanatic, but the best chapter of Silver Screen Fiend concerns a movie almost no one has seen: Jerry Lewis' infamous The Day the Clown Cried. Ultimately, Oswalt's treatment of his movie fandom feels a little light, stopping short of any real introspection beyond his concluding platitude, but it's an amiable read.
Peter Biskind, EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS (1999)


Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood is, in my opinion, the most important book of movie history about the most important era of movie-making. Spanning the late 1960s to the early 1980s, it vividly covers Hollywood's cultural revolution following the collapse of the confining studio system. The subsequent explosion of vital, boundary-pushing talent changed the industry, briefly, into a prolific factory for gritty dramas and edgy comedies, until Star Wars changed everything. Biskind knows this subject as well as anybody, digs into its seamiest corners, and writes about the debauched era with due excitement. The problem this book presents for me, however, is the urge it provokes on every page to stop reading and watch the movies discussed therein before continuing on to the next.

Biskind followed Easy Riders, Raging Bulls with a similar look at the indie film boom of the 1990s, Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film. That one's on my shelf for future reading, but I imagine that both of his books, with producer Julia Phillips' scathing memoir You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again sandwiched in the middle, will teach you anything you ever wanted to know about the movie industry from 1967-2000.

John Landis, MONSTERS IN THE MOVIES (2011)


John Landis' gorgeous coffee-table book is the new, glossy and R-rated version of my childhood favorite, Dennis Gifford's A Pictorial History of Horror MoviesMonsters in the Movies covers the entire history of horror by creature: vampires, werewolves, mad scientists, zombies, ghosts, etc. The book also includes interviews with Guillermo Del Toro, Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker, John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, and more, but it's the thousands of huge, often full-color horror movie stills that make this book a must for any horror fan.

Monsters in the Movies comes out in paperback later this year.



This is arguably the book that started my fixation on movies; at the least, it started my fixation on movie books, and horror-specific ones in particular. I used to check-out Denis Gifford's A Pictorial History of Horror Movies from my library with some regularity in my pre-teen years, and just recently bought a used copy off of Amazon for just a few dollars. With great full-page movie stills from the silent era to the waning days of Hammer Studios, I can easily see why it mesmerized me so much as a kid, and it's still fun to look at today.
Stephen Jones, THE ART OF HORROR (2015)


One my newest acquisitions is Stephen Jones' treasure trove of movie posters and other creepy artwork, The Art of Horror: An Illustrated History. Like John Landis' Monsters in the Movies, Jones' book is organized by theme — vampires, zombies, madmen, Halloween, etc. — offering surveys of the history of depiction of each subject in folk art, fine art, and print, such as comics, book covers and movie posters. Samples of its layouts include a two-page spread of international posters for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, a collection of Weird Tales covers by the legendary Virgil Finlay, and many different representations of oft-revisited characters like Dracula and Frankenstein, and the burgeoning trend of new art inspired by classic movies.
Danny Peary, CULT MOVIES, VOLUMES 1 & 2, AND BEYOND (1981-2014)


From my teen years through my early 20s, three books by Danny Peary were indispensable to me: his two volume series on Cult Movies series — which has more recently expanded into several theme-specific guides — and his more canonical reference tome Guide For The Film Fanatic. On cult movies, Peary is an incredible fount of knowledge and his energetic essay-ish reviews in these two volumes not only provide both insight and context on the subject, but they amount to a kind of educated anti-elitist testimony that movies which may seem like trash, and which outwardly appeal to the basest sensations, can also be important artistic and cultural touchstones. Combined, the two original Cult Movies books cover over 150 movies, from Werner Herzog's visceral Aguirre, the Wrath of God to John Boorman's weird fantasy Zardoz. Peary was writing seriously about movies that excited me, which made his work an important early influence on how I look at movies.


Unlike his great series on Cult MoviesDanny Peary's Guide For The Film Fanatic covers a wealth of canonical titles that should round out any hungry film fan's diet, and, as Patton Oswalt explored in Silver Screen Fiend, operates as a makeshift film appreciation textbook. From international art films to exploitation flicks and experimental porn, Peary approaches movies with an enthusiasm for the challenging and the off-beat. Unlike the popular comprehensive movie guides of the day (many of which I also owned and used frequently), Peary's early books were distinguished by their selectivity. His Guide For The Film Fanatic is as much about developing a hunger for new flavors from the entire movie spectrum and finding one's taste within that quest as it is about the movies themselves. Through his long-form capsule reviews, Peary is throwing down the gauntlet for indulging a spirit of adventurism in approaching movies.
Michael J. Weldon,


Michael J. Weldon's enormous compendium of cult movies was one of my first go-to film guides during my teen years, introducing me to the world of weird cinema. Weldon's perspective is kitschy and fairly mainstream, considering his subject matter, which makes his book a safe introduction to exploitation and B-movies. Avoiding anything really transgressive, he even sneaks in some mainstream titles — preposterously, Casablanca has a listing in here — but his fascination with the quirkier fringes of filmdom is infectious, and The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film is also loaded with fun publicity stills and sensational posters. Weldon continued to publish his Psychotronic fanzine through 2006.


When I chose horror movies as the subject for my mammoth 9th grade research project, Phil Hardy's then-exhaustive Encyclopedia of Horror Movies: The Complete Film Reference was my primary source. Organized by year rather than by title, Hardy's massive volume starts with Georges Melies' 1896 Le Manoir du Diable and concludes with Dan O'Bannon's 1985 zombie punk romp Return of the Living Dead. As one of the largest and thickest books on my shelf, it's impressive both as a statement of intent and as a resource — especially where foreign language horror movies are involved. If anything else, Hardy's impressively researched reference book obsessively catalogs the absurd number alternate titles some movies chalked up during international distribution, like the 1972 Spanish production La mansión de la locura, which was also released as Dr. Tarr's Torture DungeonHouse of MadnessThe Mansion of Madness and The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Feather. In terms of sheer trivia like that, this book was a must-have prior to the internet age, and is still a handsome resource today for collectors.
Zack Carlson's & Bryan Connolly, DESTROY ALL MOVIES!!! (2010)


Zack Carlson's & Bryan Connolly's wonderful Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film partially inspired PopGap's "Punk Movies" theme in March 2015. In noting every pre-2000s appearance of a punk character in a movie, from bit parts in The Accidental Tourist to seminal street kid lifestyle dramas like Suburbia, it's one of the most knowledgeable and passionate guides I've seen of any flavor. It's also a fantastic work of design, full of vibrant movie stills within a creative layout, which is one of the reasons why it's so spendy. With a foreword by Richard Hell and interviews with a staggering selection of influential punk-scene musicians, writers and filmmakers, this book is both a true labor of love and a definitive resource.


John Bloom's humorous alter-ego, Joe Bob Briggs, came to my attention as the host of The Movie Channel's late-night programming in the mid-1980s. Unlike the campy and seemingly omnipresent Elvira, Briggs was loose and witty, paying special attention to the baser aspects of exploitation cinema. By rating movies on objective criteria like the whether or not of heads roll and how many breasts are exposed, he both parodies and celebrates trash cinema and its fans. Where Danny Peary made the compelling case that cult movies can be valuable as art, Bloom as Briggs revels in their simple sensationalism, which is another perfectly legitimate angle of appreciation. The published collections of Briggs' reviews are fun both for his colorful writing, which evokes and lampoons a peculiar rural lifestyle, and his sardonically expressed love for this seedy subject.
Akira Kurosawa, RAN (1986)

RAN (1986)

Having been blown away by the sheer beauty of Akira Kurosawa's epic adaptation of King Lear, Ran, I was thrilled to find this fascinating published edition of Ran's screenplay, which includes a collection of his painted storyboards for the movie, in the bargain bin of a college bookstore during the late 1980s. If you've ever wondered how the Japanese master comes up with his astonishing frames, this book simply adds to the mystery. His paintings are wondrous, but even more spectacular is his talent for impossibly translating them into live action moving images. Kurosawa sees the world through a kinetic combination of expressionist and impressionist styles of art, and his wonderful, turbulent and lyrical images leap from the page.
Jack Scagnetti, MOVIE STARS IN BATHTUBS (1975)


One of my new favorite movie books, simply because I can't believe it exists, is Jack Scagnetti's curious 1975 collection of movie stills featuring, as advertised, Movie Stars in Bathtubs. It sounded so unique, I bought it immediately upon finding it in a used book store earlier this year. (To my surprise, there was another copy for sale on my next visit. There's overstock for this title?) I can't say this book is especially valuable historically, artistically, or even as entertainment, but I sure like seeing it on my bookshelf, incongruously rubbing bindings with Cinema of LonelinessScorsese on Scorsese and Pauline Kael's 5001 Nights at the Movies.
Nathan Tolle, PUMPKIN CINEMA (2015)


I picked up Nathan Tolle's new horror movie guide Pumpkin Cinema: The Best Movies for Halloween too late last October to put it to good use. But it's queued up to play a big role in Octoblur 2016. Tolle, a fellow Portlander, not only writes in-depth capsule reviews of his favorite movies to watch during the harvest month, but he also includes write-ups on notable Halloween-and-horror-themed cartoons, documentaries — including my favorite as a teen, the horror movie clip-fest Terror in the Aisles — TV specials and even the best topical episodes of popular series like AlfCheersCommunitySouth Park and The Simpsons — for which he notes his 10 favorite entries in the animated show's terrific Treehouse of Horror tradition. I'm looking forward to giving this one a closer look this fall.