Sunday, October 21, 2007

New Film Books

Arriving back in the UK yesterday (huzzah!) I finally got a chance to pop into town to spend some book vouchers I'd been given as a leaving present from the folks at Intelligent Environments when I finished my contract work with them back in May.

For once computer books were NOT on the agenda :)

This is, of course, the time of year when books with titles like '<insert name of vaguely related magazine here > Film Review 2008' appear on the shelves. This consistent naming style of such annuals has always struck me as somewhat ridiculous, given that most of these books will have had to go to print less than half way through the year preceding the one advertised in the book's title.

I resisted the temptation to update one of my annual review guides - all becoming increasingly redundant in these days of internet access to sites like imdb and Rotten Tomatoes. My preference in these 'all movies you might see' review volumes is for the series from The Radio Times, although I haven't updated my copy since 2004. Apparently the newest volume, as one would expect, features more films. But it also features less pages which, given the miniscule, barely readable, print of my 2004 volume means that either they've made the reviews even shorter than the one or two sentence critiques they've used in the past, or that you're going to spend more than the cost of the book on a magnifying glass to be able to read anything. I think I'll pass on that one then!

One annual review I do look for every year - not least because, thanks to the joys of Ebay, I have every edition published since 1942 - is the Film Review annual which restricts itself to mini-reviews of the year it represents. Alas there are a few weeks to go before that one is published.

In the end my money went on the latest (and seemingly final) Movies of the...' series produced by the wonderful Taschen Books, and edited by Jurgen Muller. These lavishly produced books comprise the editor's choice of the 'seminal' 5-7 films of each year in the decade each volume covers. The series started with 'Movies of the 90s' and with each successive volume has moved backwards, a decade at a time. The 2007-published volume breaks the rules of previous titles in the series by covering films released between 1895 and 1920 in a section that would normally cover just a single year - but of course this makes sense given the paucity of quality and promotional material for that period.

cover image of 'Movies of the 20s'

This latest book is as luxurious as previous versions have been - consisting primarily of lots of black and white stills from movies with the accompanying short synopses and essays of appreciation almost passing as mere side notes. The 'white text on thick glossy black paper' approach is distinctive but does make keeping them in tip-top condition pretty much impossible as every finger print and smudge seems to get highlighted in a way that wouldn't be possible if a more traditional approach to printing had been taken.

But that's a minor criticism for what is arguably my favourite series of film criticisms ever. I don't always agree with the authors' selections for the given year (in fact often, I disagree - sometimes violently!), but for someone whose film knowledge prior to the mid 1970's is seriously lacking, the volumes are a God-send when it comes to hunting out essential gems from the past.

Shiny Disc reviews (or at least links) will start reappearing on this blog over the next few weeks, as background fller to the ongoing work on preparing for launch of the web site which will require a not insignificant amount of programming. As one of my ongoing mini film projects, now that the final (or, more accurately, chronologically the first) volume in the series has been printed, I'm going to start a separate series of reviews based on films highlighted in these volumes that are available on shiny disc format, in an attempt to catch up on the history of modern movies.

First up will be The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916) - expect reviews to appear here when get around to delivering the copies I ordered yesterday.

Both films were, of course, directed by legendary film-maker D.W. Griffiths and it will be interesting to find out if watching them feels more like work than pleasure given how far we've come in the more than 90 years since these classics were made.

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