Film books take you behind the camera to learn about the people responsible for the films, large and small, that have shaped cinema. As lovers of all different types of movies, we wanted to recommend the following books for you to learn about those whose works you carry around with you in your day-to-day lives.
Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Life by Peter Ackroyd
Alfred Hitchcock was a strange child. Fat, lonely, burning with fear and ambition, his childhood was an isolated one, scented with fish from his father’s shop. Afraid to leave his bedroom, he would plan great voyages, using railway timetables to plot an exact imaginary route across Europe. So how did this fearful figure become the one of the most respected film directors of the twentieth century? As an adult, Hitch rigorously controlled the press’s portrait of him, drawing certain carefully selected childhood anecdotes into full focus and blurring all others out. In this quick-witted portrait, Ackroyd reveals something more: a lugubriously jolly man fond of practical jokes, who smashes a once-used tea cup every morning to remind himself of the frailty of life. Iconic film stars make cameo appearances, just as Hitch did in his own films: Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, and James Stewart despair of his detached directing style and, perhaps most famously of all, Tippi Hedren endures cuts and bruises from a real-life fearsome flock of birds. Alfred Hitchcock wrests the director’s chair back from the master of control and discovers what lurks just out of sight, in the corner of the shot.
Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel by Christina Rice
Possessing a unique beauty and refined acting skills, Ann Dvorak (1911–1979) found success in Hollywood at a time when many actors were still struggling to adapt to the era of talkies. Seemingly destined for A-list fame, critics touted her as “Hollywood’s New Cinderella” after film mogul Howard Hughes cast her as Cesca in the gangster film Scarface (1932). Dvorak’s journey to superstardom was derailed when she walked out on her contractual obligations to Warner Bros. for an extended honeymoon. Later, she initiated a legal dispute over her contract, an action that was unprecedented at a time when studios exercised complete control over actors’ careers. As the first full-length biography of an often-overlooked actress, Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel explores the life and career of one of the first individuals who dared to challenge the studio system that ruled Tinseltown. The actress reached her pinnacle during the early 1930s, when the film industry was relatively uncensored and free to produce movies with more daring storylines. She played several female leads in films including The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932), Three on a Match (1932), and Heat Lightning (1934), but after her walk-out, Warner Bros retaliated by casting her in less significant roles. Following the casting conflicts and illness, Dvorak filed a lawsuit against the Warner Bros. studio, setting a precedent for other stars who eventually rebelled against the established Hollywood system. In this insightful memoir, Christina Rice explores the spirited rebellion of a talented actress whose promising career fell victim to the studio empire.
With this Fifth edition Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film it returns, with its old entries updated and 300 new ones—from Luc Besson to Reese Witherspoon—making more than 1300 in all, some of them just a pungent paragraph, some of them several thousand words long. In addition to the new “musts,” Thomson has added key figures from film history—lively anatomies of Graham Greene, Eddie Cantor, Pauline Kael, Abbott and Costello, Noël Coward, Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Gish, Rin Tin Tin, and more. Here is a great, rare book, one that encompasses the chaos of art, entertainment, money, vulgarity, and nonsense that we call the movies. Personal, opinionated, funny, daring, provocative, and passionate, it is the one book that every filmmaker and film buff must own. Time Out named it one of the ten best books of the 1990s.
Charles Walters: The Director Who Made Hollywood Dance by Brent Phillips
From the trolley scene in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’s last dance on the silver screen (The Barkleys of Broadway, 1949) to Judy Garland’s timeless, tuxedo-clad performance of “Get Happy” (Summer Stock, 1950), Charles Walters staged the iconic musical sequences of Hollywood’s golden age. During his career, this Academy Award–nominated director and choreographer showcased the talents of stars such as Gene Kelly, Doris Day, Debbie Reynolds, and Frank Sinatra. However, despite his many critical and commercial triumphs, Walters’s name often goes unrecognized today. In the first full-length biography of Walters, Brent Phillips chronicles the artist’s career, from his days as a featured Broadway performer and protégé of theater legend Robert Alton to his successes at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He takes readers behind the scenes of many of the studio’s most beloved musicals, including Easter Parade (1948), Lili (1953), High Society (1956), and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964). In addition, Phillips recounts Walters’s associations with Lucille Ball, Joan Crawford, and Gloria Swanson, examines the director’s uncredited work on several films, including the blockbuster Gigi (1958), and discusses his contributions to musical theater and American popular culture. This revealing book also considers Walters’s personal life and explores how he navigated the industry as an openly gay man. Drawing on unpublished oral histories, correspondence, and new interviews, this biography offers an entertaining and important new look at an exciting era in Hollywood history.
Hope: Entertainer of the Year by Richard Zoglin
The first definitive biography of Bob Hope, featuring exclusive and extensive reporting that makes the persuasive case that he was the most important entertainer of the twentieth century. With his topical jokes and his all-American, brash-but-cowardly screen character, Bob Hope was the only entertainer to achieve top-rated success in every major mass-entertainment medium of the century, from vaudeville in the 1920s all the way to television in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. He virtually invented modern stand-up comedy. Above all, he helped redefine the very notion of what it means to be a star: a savvy businessman, an enterprising builder of his own brand, and a public-spirited entertainer whose Christmas military tours and unflagging work for charity set the standard for public service in Hollywood. As Richard Zoglin shows in this “entertaining and important book” (The Wall Street Journal), there is still much to be learned about this most public of figures, from his secret first marriage and his stint in reform school, to his indiscriminate womanizing and his ambivalent relationships with Bing Crosby and Johnny Carson. Hope could be cold, self-centered, tight with a buck, and perhaps the least introspective man in Hollywood. But he was also a tireless worker, devoted to his fans, and generous with friends.
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