Friday, July 27, 2018

Five Books on Film That Influenced Me

Most classic film buffs not only enjoy watching classic movies, but they also enjoy reading about them. I am no different and over the years I have read dozens of books on classic films. A few of these number among my favourite books I have ever read. Here are five books on classic film that had the most impact on me. I read all of them while I was still very young and all of them helped fuel my interest in classic movies. I am sure many of you haver read some of them as well.

I really could not say which one is my absolute favourite, so I am listing in order of their publication date.

An Illustrated History of the Horror Film by Carlos Clarens (1967):

If you are a fan of classic horror you have probably read this book. In fact, I believe it was the first book to treat horror movies with any seriousness. In the Sixties, horror movies (and genre films in general) were often not considered worthy of critical evaluation. Although considered classics today, such classic horror movies as Frankenstein (1931) and King Kong (1933) were often dismissed at the time. Carlos Clarens's An Illustrated History of the Horror Film helped changed attitudes towards the classic horror movies. Carlos Clarens gives us a history of the horror movie all the way from the earliest years of the Silent Era to the mid-Sixties. In doing so he treats the films with the serious consideration they long deserved. Having been a horror fan since I was a lad, I was delighted when I discovered An Illustrated History of the Horror Film when I was in college. I already knew about the classic Universal horror movies, the Val Lewton movies, and the classic Hammer Horrors, but An Illustrated History of the Horror Film introduced me to all new horrors spanning decades.

The Parade's Gone By by Kevin Brownlow (published 1968):

I am guessing the vast majority of classic film buffs have read this book, and there is a good reason for that. Not only is The Parade's Gone By one of the earliest books on silent movies, but is also still the best book on silent movies. Indeed, The Parade's Gone By helped revitalise interest in silent films. For those who haven't read it, don't expect a history book in the conventional sense. Instead what Kevin Brownlow gives us is a book that combines a critical survey of silent movies with photographs, the recollections of those who worked in silent film, historical accounts, and trivia. Among those whose anecdotes appeared in The Parade's Gone By are such names as Louise Brooks, Buster Keaton, William Wellman, and many others. I checked The Parade's Gone By out from one of our local libraries when I was only a teen and I had not seen much in the way of silent movies (not even Nosferatu). This book helped spur my interest in them.

From Sambo To Superspade: The Black Experience in Motion Pictures by Daniel J. Leab (published 1975):

Along with Donald Bogle's excellent 1973 book Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretative History of Blacks in Films, From Sambo To Superspade: The Black Experience in Motion Pictures by Daniel J. Leab was among the first books on African Americans in the movies ever written. It covers a period from the early days of the Silent Era to the Blaxploitation Era (which was just winding down as the book was published) and addresses the many stereotypes perpetuated by Hollywood throughout the decades. I checked this out from one of our local libraries when I was in college and it taught me a lot about the history of African Americans in film. At the time I had no idea who Oscar Micheaux was and I had never heard of Million Dollar Pictures. This book was a real eye opener.

The World of Entertainment! Hollywood's Greatest Musicals by Hugh Fordin (published 1975):

This book was later republished under the name MGM's Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit. Under any title it is a must read for fans of MGM musicals. It is a book that goes behind the scenes of MGM's musicals, giving an account of the many musicals made by MGM movie by movie. It covers a period from 1940 to 1970 and includes accounts of such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, Singin' in the Rain, and practically every musical made by MGM from 1940 to 1970. I have been a fan of musicals ever since my father talked me into watching My Fair Lady (I believe I had seen Seven Brides for Seven Brothers before that, but somehow it was more palatable to a little boy...), so naturally I had to check The World of Entertainment! Hollywood's Greatest Musicals out from my college's library. I don't think any fan of MGM musicals would be disappointed by it.

Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons  by Leonard Maltin (published 1980):

I would imagine most animation fans have read this book. It is quite simply the definitive history of American animation, from the early days of the Silent Era to modern times. Mr. Maltin not only discusses the key creative personnel involved in the creation of classic cartoons, but also how American animated films evolved over the years. Mr. Maltin even interviewed many of the animators behind some of America's most beloved cartoons. When I found Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons in my college library I was already familiar with Leonard Maltin from the TV show Entertainment Tonight. I had also long been an animation fan and had seen many of the key classic films beyond those made by Disney and Warner Bros. I had even seen the Fleischer brothers' Gulliver's Travels. That having been said, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons taught me a lot, to the point that I used to joke that everything I learned about animation I learned from Leonard Maltin. That is not quite true now, but it is definitely a must read book for any student of animation history.


KC said...

Thanks for sharing these. Haven't heard of the Leab book, but it looks fascinating. I love the Bogle book you mentioned. The book that started it all for me was called "500 Great Films". One of these days I'll finish seeing all of them!

Caftan Woman said...

A grand article on an important part of many a movie buff's life. Thank Heavens for libraries where I could pour over these books and become enthralled movies I had yet to watch.

Laura said...

THE WORLD OF ENTERTAINMENT was a big one for me, too, along with J.R. Parish's THE MGM STOCK COMPANY.

Just about to begin reading Bernard Dick's new book on MGM musicals for a review!

Thanks for sharing a great list!

Best wishes,