Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall, by Chris Fujiwara. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. Trade paper, $18.95, 328pp, ISBN 0-8018-6561-1.
Fujiwara begins by persuasively rescuing Tourneur from one of Sarris’ gulags: the dreaded third ranking in American Cinema. Sarris’ backhanded praise in phrases like “subdued, pastel-colored sensibility” and “a certain French gentility” has been seconded by many critics, who attributed the virtues of the Lewton-produced films to Lewton and the brilliance of Out of the Past and Night of the Demon to Tourneur’s “intelligent” manipulation of prosaic generic elements. Fujiwara argues that the things that distinguish Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, and Leopard Man —narrative ambiguity, lyrical mise-en-scene, understated dramatics — are also present in such unjustly forgotten thrillers, westerns, and historical dramas as Experiment Perilous, Stars in My Crown, Way of a Gaucho, and others. By examining Tourneur’s early French features and many MGM shorts, he shows decisively that the director’s stylistic maturity occurred before his first widely acclaimed feature,Cat People, and only grew from there.
Fujiwara devotes meaty individual chapters to each of the features, with a close reading and critical analysis leavened with production data and contextualizing commentary. True to the author’s missionary zeal, some of the best material is the most polemical, as when he effectively articulates the minority view that Leopard Man is not the mess that many (including Tourneur) have claimed, but a major work of “precise and inexhaustible poetry” that presaged the anti-narrative cinema that would be de rigeur in Hollywood two decades later. Fujiwara is also strong on the visual beauty of Stars in My Crown, the sense of personal conviction in Night of the Demon, and the connection between the underrated Experiment Perilous and the Lewton films. Overall, a worthy, well-written and -researched tribute to an auteur who deserves a higher ranking than Sarris, and too many other critics, has given him. Included are a detailed bibliography and filmography, along with photos.
Member of the Crew, by Winfrid Kay Thackrey. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2000. Hardcover, $45.00, 272pp, ISBN 0-8108-3940-7.
Thackrey is exceptionally astute on her boss: “He was a master of the wisecrack that so often defends and disguises a troubled insecurity and vulnerability.” She offers a wonderfully close-up view of his unique improvisatory shooting methods, his incessant rewriting, his refusal to accept studio demands for a six-day week, as well as his personal quirks, frequent black moods, and alcoholic binges. His importance to the author, both personally and professionally, is evident in the fact that many of the chapters are titled with the names of La Cava’s films. Those who don’t know or care about La Cava will nonetheless find Member of the Crew a well-written and highly detailed tour of a talented woman working in the hothouse of the Hollywood studio system in its heyday.
John Ford Interviews, edited by Gerald Peary. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001. Trade paper, $18.00, 166pp, ISBN 1-57806-398-1.
George Cukor Interviews, edited by Robert Emmet Long. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001. Trade paper, $18.00, 191pp, ISBN 1-57806-387-6.
The Moving Image, edited by Jan-Christopher Horak. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, Fall 2001. Trade paper, $30.00 per year (subscription, two issues), 198pp, ISSN 1532-3978.
Some of the material here is more for the academic specialist than the casual fan, but the latter will still find much of interest. Charles “Buckey” Grimm’s “A History of Early Nitrate Testing and Storage: 1910-1945” tells the fascinating story of how the studios, scientists, and various government agencies dealt with the highly dangerous, limited-life material of film over a 35-year period. Included are such tantalizing details as the fact that during World War I the Army Signal Corps shot over 1.8 million feet of film of historic events. In “Digital Preservation of Moving Image Material,” Howard Besser admirably explicates this complicated issue with straightforward explanations of the technologies involved and the efforts made to date in the area of digital preservation. Other articles explore the presentation and preservation of home movies, the evolution of preservation from 1967 to 1977, and the “racial body” in early silent cinema. Also of interest are in-depth reviews of Disney’s anniversary rerelease of Fantasia, Disney archivist Scott MacQueen’s look at Image’s DVD Treasures from American Film Archives: 50 Preserved Films, and two reviews of Ken Burns’ Jazz (by Stephen J. Casmier and David Klowden) that beautifully skewer this reactionary series and the tired aesthetic behind it. Well illustrated.
The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies, by Daniel Bubbeo. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2001. Trade paper, $35.00, 272pp. ISBN 0-7864-1137-6.
The writing is workmanlike, if sometimes too casual in the manner of movie zines (starting a sentence with “Oh yeah” may not endear the author to all of his readers). There’s nothing particularly new here, but the book is useful as a one-stop source for longer profiles of its subjects and their films than can be found elsewhere (excluding stars like Bette Davis whose careers have been written up in exhaustive detail). And the lack of Dvorak is at least partially compensated for by the inclusion of such vanishing worthies as Joan Leslie, Andrea King, Eleanor Parker, and Alexis Smith. Fans of these actresses will find this a diverting read.
White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film, by Gary D. Rhodes. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2001. Illustrated case binding, $65.00, 360pp. ISBN 0-7864-0988-6.
Rhodes thoroughly investigates the evolution of White Zombie from a myrid of sources classical (Faust), popular (Trilby), and exploitative (the 1929 nonfiction voodoo book The Magic Island), through preproduction, postproduction, and finished film to its purportedly wide influence on “subsequent voodoo and zombie related books, articles, films, and plays.” Rhodes deserves kudos for seeking out a wide range of original sources, including the director’s widow who supplied him with biographical information on Halperin missing from all other accounts. A series of detailed appendices cover everything from reviews of the film to box-office grosses to pressbook reproductions. If the author’s (freely admitted) obsession with White Zombie sometimes carries him over the edge — the “Victor Halperin Family Scrapbook Photographs” is nice but is it necessary? — it’s easy to forgive him considering the breadth and depth of this obvious labor of love. Included in the feast are 244 images and photographs.
Movie Poster Price Almanac: 2002 Review, edited by John Kisch. Hyde Park, NY: Separate Cinema Publications. Cloth, $49.95, 800pp, ISBN: 0-9661482-4-X.
Price guides have always been one of the more controversial items in the collectibles field. Movie poster aficionados have traditionally had to rely on the whims of self-styled experts deciding on the value of a particular poster — a value that might be based as much on the expert’s desire to sell the item (the author-dealer phenomenon is much too common for comfort) as on an objective, research-based analysis of market value. John Kisch’s Movie Poster Price Almanacs have effectively killed the need for other guides through one simple stroke: basing values on actual recorded sales.
The entries, over 86,000 by my reckoning, are arranged in a simple format: title, date, stars, country (if not U.S.), size, price condition (including whether it’s linenbacked), origin (Internet, auction, ad, or catalog), date of sale, and dealer’s name. One of the intriguing things about these results is the wide range of prices realized on the same poster from different venues. It’s quite common to see a 20 to 50 percent difference in desirable posters like the one-sheet of Attack of the 50-Woot Woman. A near-mint linenbacked copy went for $4,050 from dealer Deke Richards in October 2001; a month later Christie’s auctioned a very fine linenbacked copy for $6,463. The spread shown on Ulmer’s seminal Detour one-sheet is from $1,675 to $3,000 from April 1999 to October 2001. (Kisch: “Because many rarer posters are seen so infrequently, we include several auction results from the past 3 years” — useful in tracking a poster’s increasing or sometimes plummeting popularity.) The rarity of some items can be gauged by their lack of representation here: you’d be hard pressed to find a single Mizoguchi, for example. (There are plenty of Kurosawas on the other hand.) This annual guide is a must-have for any collector of movie memorabilia.