Bright Lights Film Journal

Book reviews: VideoHound’s Soundtracks; VideoHound’s Independent Film Guide

VideoHound’s Soundtracks: Music from the Movies, Broadway and Television, ed. by Didier C. Deutsch. Detroit: Visible Ink Press. 1998. $24.95. ISBN: 1-57859-025-6. 1,024pp. To order, call 1-800-776-6265, or try your local independent bookstore.

In a sea of movie guides, VideoHound has carved out its own cozy niche, becoming in the process a kind of cottage industry for data- and opinion-starved cineastes. One of the things that makes the ‘Hound stand out is the complex web of indexes included. In VideoHound’s Soundtracks: Music for the Movies, Television and Broadway, edited by Didier C. Deutsch, these indexes run 200 pages — as long as many a book. Of course, that’s only a fifth or so of the total 1000+ pages of this massive tome. This makes it possible to look up titles, composers, producers, orchestrators, conductors, performers, and song titles. Kudos!

The text itself, much of it written by editor Deutsch, is in the standard ‘Hound mode — pithy capsule reviews of more than 2,000 currently available CDs, with numerous sidebars devoted to greats like Bernard Herrmann and Henry Mancini. Some readers may find the level of enthusiasm a little grating when applied to overblown crap like Camelot or the tired imperial theatrics of John Williams. And some of the omissions are a bit startling — how could Double Dragon make it and not the brilliant Liquid Sky? (Unless the latter is out of print, in which case apologies!) But such carping is like bitching about a paint chip on a Jackson Pollock painting. These guys — Deutsch and 10 collaborators — know their stuff and detail it with admirable thoroughness and energy. Critical opinion is there for those who want it, but devotees already familiar with the films will find more important the technical information, which includes release companies, year of issue, and a breakdown of song titles and times for every CD. Included is a sampler CD bundled in. (We look forward to the day when sampler DVDs can be included that can pack multiple complete scores into their vast storage space!) In sum, a uniquely valuable reference for the fan of filmmusic.

VideoHound’s Independent Film Guide, by Monica Sullivan. Detroit: Visible Ink Press. 1998. $24.95. ISBN: 1-57859-018-3. Trade paperback, 558pp. To order, call 1-800-776-6265, or try your local independent bookstore.

Also worthy is Monica Sullivan’s VideoHound’s Independent Film Guide, an umbrella title the author uses to examine, in capsule form, 800-odd indies that range from the obvious (the recent I Shot Andy Warhol and the classic Drug Store Cowboy) to the “who-knew?” variety (yes, The African Queen and If… are bona fide independents). Sullivan’s tastes are reasonable and the writing intelligent if not always as snappy as it might be — she wisely praises Atom Egoyan’s Exotica and Anjelica Huston’s Bastard out of Carolina and skewers Peter Greenaway’s navel-gazing Belly of an Architect and Gregg Araki’s brainless Doom Generation. Some of the descriptions are a little too plot-heavy; should it really take a column-and-a-half to say how stupid Paul Schrader’s The Comfort of Strangers is? And her enthusiasm for the execrable Alison Anders flick Grace of My Heart may raise a few eyebrows. On the other hand, Sullivan’s spin on Edgar G. Ulmer‘s Detour is a sound reminder of how great this movie is. And some audiences who weren’t swept away by Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies (I say this as a Leigh fanatic) will relate to the author’s reasoned attack on what she convincingly argues as the “deeply false” nature of that widely lauded film. Wonderful obscurities like Goran Markovic’s Tito and Me (1992) and Wendell B. Harris Jr.’s Chameleon Street (1989) deserve exposure and get it here.

Besides the ever-present fabulously detailed indexes common in all VideoHound productions, the main lure of this book is in its documentation of many treasurable titles that sometimes barely make it past the film festival or midnight-movie circuits. VHS, Beta (!), and laser availability are all indicated, and sidebars on the likes of Paul Bartel, Jackie Chan, Gregory Walcott (the “Ah’m muzzled by army brass!” geek fromPlan 9 from Outer Space), et al. add mondo spice to the proceedings.