book reviews: New And Notable Film Books

Once again, the continuing parade of film books has outpaced my ability to read and properly review them, so it’s time for a survey of recent titles. These are summaries based on skimming and not meant to be full-fledged critiques. I’m also motivated by helping to promote worthwhile books from smaller publishers that might not be on everyone’s radar, but deserve to be…all the more so as the holidays approach and people are thinking about gift ideas. I have a feeling this will be the first of at least two installments this season.

WHEN HOLLYWOOD CAME TO TOWN: A History of Moviemaking in Utah by James V. D’Arc (Gibbs Smith)

Curator and founder of the film materials archives at Brigham Young University, D’Arc is also a historian of the first order, as this book proves beyond a doubt. If you think moviemaking in the state of Utah begins and ends with John Ford in Monument Valley, you’re in for a surprise, as the author traces productions dating back to the silent era and continuing through the decades with such films as diverse as Buffalo Bill, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, City Slickers, and—

Thelma and Louise. He has drawn on primary sources of all kinds, from production records to first-hand recollections, to paint a vivid and unusually broad-ranging portrait of the vital role Utah has played in Hollywood history. Beautifully designed and printed, with many rare behind-the-scenes photos as well as scene stills, this is a rewarding and unique volume.


LEFT IN THE DARK: Portraits of San Francisco Movie Theatres by R.A. McBride
and Julie Lindow

A welcome addition to the growing number of books on regional movie theaters, this handsome paperbound publication includes a number of essays, both historical and nostalgic, covering San Francisco’s various neighborhoods and how various racial and ethnic groups were served in years gone by. The photographs include kitschy closeups, architectural details, and grand views of palaces and neighborhood houses alike.


THE ART OF DREW STRUZAN by Drew Struzan and David J. Schow; foreword by Frank Darabont (Titan Books)

Long the favorite poster artist of leading filmmakers like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Guillermo Del Toro, to name just a few, Struzan created some of the most indelible images of our time. He helped to cement the memories we carry with us of films like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future, The Shawshank Redemption (whose director penned the foreword to this book), and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, to name just a few. In this beautifully printed volume he discusses how many of these posters and advertising campaigns came about, and reveals the (often numerous) concepts that were changed and revised to arrive at the finished product. If you love movie posters you’ll want to have this on your bookshelf, or coffee table.


THE VAULT OF WALT: Unofficial, Unauthorized, Uncensored Disney Stories Never Told by Jim Korkis; foreword by Diane Disney Miller (Ayefourpublishing)

Despite its provocative subtitle, this is not a muckraking book or exposé, as the participation of Walt Disney’s daughter confirms. She writes in her foreword, “Some years ago our son Walt brought to my attention an article on the Mouse Planet website. It was that rare thing; an honest, well written piece that was so authentic, so true to my dad’s spirit, so unprejudiced and non-judgmental that as I read it I could see the twinkle in dad’s eye, hear his laugh… Jim does not put my father on a pedestal, but he does like him, and I do not think that disqualifies him from having objectivity in his opinions of him.”

An animation historian who truly cares about his subject, Jim Korkis has been writing fascinating columns for a number of publications, newsletters and websites for decades. If you’re one of those people who finds Walt Disney an endless source of fascination, as I do, you’ll enjoy Jim’s columns on everything from Walt’s polo-playing days to his religious beliefs. This is material you haven’t read before, and it’s both informative and highly entertaining.


EARLY WARNER BROS. STUDIOS by E.J. Stephens and Marc Wanamaker (Arcadia)

A recent entry in Arcadia’s remarkable—and valuable—Images of America series, this well-produced paperback takes us behind the scenes of Warner Bros. with scores of rare photos showing us their earliest operations, construction of sound stages on their now-massive Burbank lot, films in production, premieres of landmark films, and peeks at every nook and cranny of the studio, from the dining room to the back lot. I defy any true movie buff to pick up this book and not get drawn in right away.





HUGH MARTIN: THE BOY NEXT DOOR by Hugh Martin; foreword by Michael Feinstein (Trolley Press)

Still going strong at 96, the man who wrote the unforgettable songs from Meet Me in St. Louis chronicles his show-business career. A highly readable memoir spanning Broadway and Hollywood, it will hold particular interest for fans of Judy Garland; Martin adored her and served as her accompanist and vocal arranger when she played the Palace Theater on Broadway in 1951. He also sings the praises—pun intended—of many fellow tunesmiths (including one of his mentors, Richard Rodgers) and performers, along with the great Preston Sturges, whose screenplay for The Good Fairy was the basis for Martin’s musical play Make a Wish. But don’t expect a rose-colored portrait of MGM during its heyday, as the songwriter’s time there wasn’t especially happy. He explains that he always suffered from low self-esteem, in spite of having two loving parents, and periodically apologizes for not being able to write more positively about portions of his career. Of his London West End hit musical Love from Judy he says, “It ran a year and a half at the Saville theater and everything about it was felicitous. Everything that is, except its composer, Hugh Martin, who was very sick during the entire period. The experience was so painful I choose not to write about it. It is sufficient to say it was a huge hit, everybody loved it, and it nearly killed me.” Yet he survived, and prevailed.


HARRY POTTER FILM WIZARDRY Written by Brian Sibley (Collins Design)

On the eve of the 7th Harry Potter release comes this elaborately produced and designed volume which takes us behind the scenes of the hugely popular series, film by film, with insights into its casting, settings, and use of movie wizardry. With forewords by the film’s young stars and contributions throughout by members of the creative team, from the producer to the production designer, this book offers a cornucopia of facts, photos, artwork, and anecdotes sure to please any Potterphile.


VON STERNBERG by John Baxter (The University Press of Kentucky)

Prolific film historian and author Baxter has produced a compact biography of the notorious (and gifted) director which has elicited quotes of approval from David Thompson, Kevin Brownlow, and the filmmaker’s son. From his unlikely entrée into the film business in Fort Lee, New Jersey through his spectacular rise and fall and rise and fall in Hollywood, here is the story of a life and career unique in the annals of moviedom.



SAVAGE DETOURS: THE LIFE AND WORK OF ANN SAVAGE by Lisa Morton and Kent Adamson; foreword by Guy Maddin (McFarland)

The unforgettable femme fatale of Edgar Ulmer’s B-movie noir Detour, Savage had a largely undistinguished and somewhat frustrating screen career, but an interesting life, with an unexpected screen comeback (in a film by Guy Maddin) as her finale. The authors got to know her in later years and conducted multiple interviews to piece together that story, which is told in a brisk biography, accompanied by a detailed filmography with commentary on each picture, and a copy of the original screenplay for Detour with Savage’s script notes.



FUZZY ST. JOHN: OUR FUZZY Q. JONES by Bobby J. Copeland (Empire Publishing)

The man who started out in silent comedies for Mack Sennett and his uncle Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and wound up his career as a bearded sidekick in scores of B westerns is profiled by Western expert Copeland in this lively scrapbook-style tribute book, filled with photos, comments from colleagues and fans, and a filmography. There are even quotes from his Westerns: in his final picture, a Lash LaRue outing called The Frontier Phantom, Fuzzy says, “You’d better get some cream and sugar because it’s going to be a little rough going down.” For information go to



HITCHCOCK PIECE BY PIECE by Laurent Bouzereau; foreword by Patricia Hitchcock O’Connell (Abrams)

Few people alive know as much about Hitchcock as Bouzereau, who has produced a number of documentaries and DVDs on the Master of Suspense. This book benefits not only from his vast storehouse of knowledge but access to the Hitchcock family archives, which provided many of the rare (and in some cases never-before-published) photos as well as memorabilia that is reproduced in sleeves throughout the book: facsimiles of hand-written notes and script pages, storyboards, snapshots, and more.



STARSTRUCK: VINTAGE MOVIE POSTERS FROM CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD by Ira M. Resnick; foreword by Martin Scorsese (Abbeville Press)

I have been remiss in not covering this elaborate and beautiful book, published earlier in the year. Unlike some similar compilations, this one has a “through line,” as Resnick charts his interest, bordering on obsession, with movie posters and his education on the subject that led to him building a world-class collection. (Scorsese, a collector and aficionado himself, speaks admiringly and knowledgeably about the subject in his thoughtful foreword.) Even if you know movie posters well, you’re likely to find some discoveries here (check out that title card from A Midsummer Night’s Dream), while other, more familiar pieces are so beautifully reproduced—in a refreshingly large format—that one can’t help but linger and sigh over them.

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May 2024