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SPECTACULAR MOVIE BOOKS

I recently wrote about a new book from Taschen publishers that has the heft of an actual coffee table. The Walt Disney Archives is not only an imposing and rewarding book but takes the prize for sheer heft this season. But it is not the only elaborate movie volume worth knowing about:

 

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THE ART OF THE HOLLYWOOD BACKDROP by Richard M. Isackes and Karen Maness (Regan Arts)

This volume is a collaboration between the authors and the Art Directors Guild Archives. It comes in a gorgeous slipcase, measures 11×14 inches and weighs a ton. More significantly, it reveals a facet of moviemaking that even savvy film buffs may not know about: the history and continued use of gigantic painted backdrops (or “backings,” as they’re known in the trade) for Hollywood movies. The authors trace the history of this time-tested technique—which, they explain, yields a more believable result than photographic blowups—and identify the people who spent their careers creating them, without credit. As the authors explain, “Scenic artists working on backings for film and television had to master an extensive set of skills specific to those media. In addition to a complete command of drawing, color theory, perspective, and an understanding of how light and shadow function in art and nature, the backing artist also had to understand how to render both of these specifically for the eye of the camera. “And, unlike independent fine artists, backing artists had to work in what was a fundamentally collaborative process. Artists needed to surrender strong egos to a procedure requiring close teamwork… A manager for the J.C. Backings scenic studio honestly appraised the most difficult part of his job as keeping peace among the artists.” You will be amazed, as I was, at the number of familiar scenes from films as varied as The Wizard of Oz, North by Northwest, and Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Incidents that make use of these canvases—beyond what we already know about matte paintings and other visual devices. This is truly an eye-opening book and a valuable contribution to our understanding of how movies are created. Buy it HERE

 

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KING OF JAZZ: PAUL WHITEMAN’S TECHNICOLOR REVUE by James Layton and David Pierce (Media History Press)

This incredibly lavish, crowd-funded book celebrates the 1930 Universal musical that was recently restored in 35mm and screened to appreciative audiences around the globe. No one has ever accused it of being a great movie but the music, the sets, the use of two-color Technicolor, and the popular Whiteman orchestra at its peak (including The Rhythm Boys, with a young Bing Crosby) are among the reasons film buffs have great affection for it. In the wake of their milestone book The Dawn of Technicolor, Layton and Pierce have produced another exceptionally handsome, oversized book full of rare photos and background information. They also go into considerable detail about the recent restoration. If you love King of Jazz or early talkie musicals you will want to own this. Go to www.kingofjazzbook.com for a peek at this colorful and informative book. Buy it HERE

 

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MOVIE POSTER ARTISTS – VOLUME 1 – UNITED STATES & CANADA  by Ed and Susan Poole (Learn About Movie Posters)

Ed and Susan Poole are doing heroic work educating us all about movie memorabilia, as I wrote in a column earlier this year (click HERE). Now they have provided movie poster aficionados and collectors with an indispensable resource, the first in a planned series. This volume documents 242 artists responsible for hundreds of movie posters over the years who often toiled without credit. It offers brief biographical information about each person and features an illustration of every one of their posters—2,700 images in all! The obvious stars (Richard Amsel, Bob Peak, et al) are here as well as famous illustrators and cartoonists (Norman Rockwell, Al Hirschfeld, Abe Birnbaum, George Petty, Charles Addams) who dabbled in this field. I’m a fan of The Little King cartoonist Otto Soglow and stumbled onto a window card for the George Arliss vehicle The King’s Vacation (1933) years ago: sure enough, it’s present and accounted for in this impressive reference guide. The Pooles have published their book in softcover and hard, black & white and color: you can take your pick at their website: www.learnaboutmovieposters.com and buy the book HERE

 

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WALT DISNEY’S SILLY SYMPHONIES: A COMPANION TO THE CLASSIC CARTOON SERIES by Russell Merritt and J.B. Kaufman (Disney Editions)

When the original version of this valuable book was published by La Cineteca di Fruili ten years ago, Disneyphiles snapped it up. No one had ever discussed or documented Walt Disney’s pioneering cartoon series so thoroughly…or so thoughtfully. Why should animation buffs purchase the “same” book again? To quote the jacket copy, “Building on painstaking new research, the authors have enhanced their treatment of individual films with expanded animation credits and hitherto unknown details lf production. The book’s lavish illustrations, too, have been updated with lovely and previously unpublished production art from the collection of the Walt Disney Animation Research Library.” Nuff said! This is a must-have. Buy it HERE

 

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NATALIE WOOD: REFLECTIONS ON A LEGENDARY LIFE by Manoah Bowman with Natasha Gregson Wagner; foreword by Robert J. Wagner, afterword by Robert Redford (TCM/Running Press)

Natalie Wood fans and admirers will have a field day browsing through this beautiful photo-and-text book, which covers the actress’ life and career. A family project, it offers observations by the actress’ two daughters, co-author Gregson and Courtney Wagner, a touching essay by onetime husband Robert Wagner, another by Sloan DeForest, and an appealing scrapbook section that adds yet another personal touch. There is also an interview with celebrity photographer Michael Childers about his experience photographing the star and an amusing anecdotal essay by her costar and friend Robert Redford. Scores of stunning photos make this the kind of book that, if you leave it on your coffee-table, visiting friends will pick up and not want to put down. Buy it HERE

 

I will survey a number of other recent books in the days ahead. Don’t forget to sign up for e-mail updates on our home page so you don’t miss any of my posts.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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