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New and Notable Film Books—April 2016

As usual, film
books pile up faster than I can read them, so with the exception of the first
title below and the picture-book that follows, I cannot call these reviews.
They are summaries based on skimming the pages of books that all look
interesting and worthwhile. Another installment of this periodic column will
follow soon.

Slow Fade to Black-Richard JewellSLOW FADE TO BLACK: THE DECLINE OF RKO RADIO PICTURES by
Richard B. Jewell (University of California Press)

The
eagerly-awaited follow-up to RKO Radio
Pictures: A Titan is Born
is now here, and I gobbled it up like a box of
popcorn. Longtime USC professor Jewell gained access to RKO paperwork several
decades ago, before it was locked away in storage. Because of this he is able
to document in detail how RKO went from a year of record profits (1946) to a
scramble for survival, followed by an even stormier period under the mercurial
ownership of billionaire Howard Hughes. Jewell refers to his book as a
“business history,” but he is all too aware of film history and how some
box-office flops have stood the test of time. (I Remember Mama lost more than a million dollars in its initial
release!) Jewell’s scholarship is impeccable and his text is plain-spoken and
highly readable. Every studio deserves a similar examination; thank goodness
the right man tackled this particular task.

Hollywood Cafe-Steven Rea
HOLLYWOOD CAFÉ: COFFEE WITH THE STARS by Steven Rea
(Schiffer Publishing

I am a sucker
for publicity photos from Hollywood’s golden age, so I had a great time going
through this handsome hardcover book from the eminent critic who brought us Hollywood Rides a Bike: Cycling with the
Stars
. What’s more, the cover photo of Dick Powell and Ellen Drew reminds
me of one of my favorite lines of dialogue from their film Christmas in July: “If you can’t sleep at night, it isn’t the
coffee—it’s the bunk.” Thank you, Preston Sturges. Besides that wonderful cover
shot there are scores of others featuring Rita Hayworth, Ray Milland, Ginger
Rogers, William Powell, and others right through the 1960s and beyond like
Elvis Presley. There’s even a shot of Bobby Clark (of Clark and McCullough)
with Ella Logan in The Goldwyn Follies.
This is a perfect book to leave on a coffee table—where else?—to amuse your
guests.

Orson Welles One Man BandORSON WELLES, VOLUME 3: ONE-MAN BAND by Simon Callow (Viking)

 This is not
the last volume in actor-author Callow’s sprawling examination of Orson Welles;
it covers the years 1947-64, so there is still more to come. This chunky text
(466 pages) explores some of the great man’s most interesting years, spent
largely away from New York and Hollywood. During that time he produced two
films that many consider among his finest, Touch
of Evil
and Chimes at Midnight,
worked in radio and theater, and acted in other people’s movies (like The Third Man) in order to finance his
own. He also mounted a legendary London stage production of Moby-Dick. He was something of a
chameleon and certainly a contradictory figure in both private and public life,
which Callow doesn’t shy away from. Other books on Welles continue to come out,
each with its own raison d’être, but
it is unlikely anyone will attempt a biography as detailed or intimate as this
one in our lifetime.

 

Two Screenplays-Raymond De Felitta“CITY ISLAND” AND “TWO FAMILY HOUSE”: TWO SCREENPLAYS AND
TOO MUCH INFORMATION ABOUT THE MAKING AND SELLING OF TWO INDEPENDENT FILMS
by
Raymond De Felitta 

 Raymond De
Felitta is one of my favorite filmmakers, and I can’t imagine any aspiring
writer, director, or producer who wouldn’t benefit from the hard-earned wisdom
he shares in this self-published volume. Indie filmmakers who want to put a
personal stamp on their work need guidance, as well as luck, to realize their
dreams. I hope they take a page from De Felitta’s playbook and pay attention to
the characters and situations he develops so well in the screenplays for two of
his finest movies.


Dirty Words and Filthy PicturesDIRTY WORDS AND FILTHY PICTURES: FILM AND THE FIRST
AMENDMENT
by Jeremy Geltzer (University of Texas Press)

With a background
in law and long experience working for major studios, Geltzer brings important
practical knowledge to the subject of movie censorship. Using prominent court
cases and landmark decisions, he cites some of the most notorious examples of
movies that tested the concept of freedom of speech in the United States, from
Thomas Edison’s The Kiss to  Ecstasy
(with the future Hedy Lamarr), The
Miracle
, and Russ Meyer’s Vixen. He
doesn’t devote much space to pre-Code movies and the impact of the Production
Code crackdown in 1934 but moves on to examine films that bucked that
system—like Howard Hughes’ The Outlaw—and
the growth of pornography in the 1960s and beyond. 

3 comments

  1. Terry Bigham says:

    I’m hoping Rea’s book has at least one photo of the "Coffee Time" number with Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer from "Yolanda and the Thief".

  2. Rob Larkin says:

    I recently finished reading "RKO Slow Fade to Black" and highly recommend it and the first volume on RKO. The studio’s sad collapse eerily prefigures what would happen to other film companies such as United Artists and MGM (really nothing more than a logo now).

  3. Lee says:

    I suspect that the people who pushed for the Hays Code would have heart attacks at the things that movies show nowadays.

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