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Film Books You Can’t Live Without

The Cinema Book ed Pam Cook

The world of academic film theory can be a daunting one for those more used to “Making of” books, a matter not aided by the wealth of material out there and the closed language set used in theoretical writing. The Cinema Book covers all the main bases of film theory and criticism, from genre to semiotics, soviet montage to Hammer horrors, from history to the star system in a way that makes you feel an expert in any given field. It goes out of it’s way to place ideas in context but more importantly works as the ideal reference work to critical essays by sorting the wheat from the chaff. The ideal springboard to launch you into the world of film theory, you’ll turn to it time and again. The icing on the cake is the fact that the book is also nicely designed, profusely illustrated and sits nicely on any coffee table.

Signs and Meanings in Cinema by Peter Wollen

Wollens seminal text on screen aesthetics has remained essential reading for the 34 years since it’s initial publication. Split into three parts he discusses the aesthetics of Eisenstein and his use of montage to convey meaning, the theory of authorship (auteur theory) and the semiotics of cinema. What is surprising is how much has held up to scrutiny over the years, partly down to Woollens appreciation of the limits of some of the theories he is espousing. Each section is sufficiently in depth to provide food for thought but concisely written to avoid flab. Though academic in nature the tone is never one of alienation to the amateur enthusiast. One day all university text books will be written like this.

Rebel Without A Crew by Robert Rodriguez

Tales of financing your first feature always make fascinating reading but the Rodriguez case is so surreal it really stands out from the crowd. Selling his body for medical science gives the young director a month in which to write his script plus the all important $8000 to fund the film itself. What follows is a set of trials and tribulations as cameras and actors go astray, dark glasses are employed to disguise cue card reading and stunts are performed “on the fly”. And when the filming is over his troubles have only just begun – now he has to sell the thing! What starts as an attempt at a calling card through the Mexican straight to video market turns (eventually) into a major festival release which costs Columbia more money to splice it’s logo on the front than it cost Rodriguez to make his entire film. A funny, amiable and insightful book filled with youthful enthusiasm and joire de vivre Rebel Without a Crew is an inspiration to any budding film-maker and a jolly good read to boot. Bundle that with the screenplay of El Mariachi and a breakdown of Rodriguez’s guerilla “Ten Minute Film-school” and you have that rare combination – informative yet immensely enjoyable.

Adventures With D W Griffiths by Karl Brown

Karl Browns autobiography is a personal account of one of the founding fathers of narrative cinema at work. Griffiths had already directed scores of films when a young Karl Brown joined in as an assistant cameraman to the legendary Billy Bitzer. Through Browns eyes we see the creation of silent cinemas influential and controversial epics like Birth of a Nation and Griffiths remarkable, huge flop Intolerance. This is stiring, pioneering stuff seen from an unusual perspective. Find out how to build Babylon, film an orgy (or not, much to Karls chagrin), battle Goliath or stage the civil war. Warm, fascinating reading about Hollywood in its infancy.

Mondo Macabro by Pete Tombs

To the uninitiated World cinema means Tarkovsky, Fassbinder and Eisenstein – all direct “opposites” to the narrative of Hollywood cinema and worthy subjects. But there’s a whole world of entertainment beyond the English language that doesn’t dwell on dialectical montage and this is where Mondo Macabro fits in. A global tour of the worlds most bizarre and derranged film-making featuring everything you could imagine and a lot you’re glad you didn’t. Find out that Bollywood isn’t all romantic or action but that, yes, there are Bollywood Dracula films. With musical numbers naturally. Gasp at Philopeno horror films, softcore Turkish versions of Bewitched or the twisted world of Brazils “Coffin Joe”. Special emphasis is placed on Hong Kong films (the Crippled Avenger films, madcap martial arts and the unusual goings on in the Ancient Chinese Whorehouse – don’t ask) and Japanese cinema (little in the way of Kurosawa, plenty in the way of tenticular gropings, mutated body horror and ligotage). A real eyeopener and a book crammed full of material you are unlikely to see at your local art cinema and certainly wouldn’t get at Blockbusters. Plenty of pictures go a long way to prove this isn’t just the product of a deranged imagination. Those wishing to cast their nets not so far from home should also consider Immoral Tales, focussing specifically on European esoteria.