Tag Archives: books on film

Cine Books on Forgotten Curiosities, Evocative Objects and The Three Stooges in Hollywood


Offbeat: British Cinema’s Curiousities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems
Edited By Julian Upton
Headpress 439pp. £15.99


Rosebud Sleds and Horses’ Heads: 50 of Film’s Most Evocative Objects
By Scott Jordan Harris
Intellect 111pp. £19.95

The Three Stooges

The Three Stooges: Hollywood Filming Locations
By Jim Pauley
Santa Monica Press 304pp. £24.99

As the long-awaited heat and sun of summer has finally reached the UK again after all these years, it is time to pack away all those scholarly and theoretical tomes on cinema and lie back and let some purely pleasurable texts flow over you. And it is in this spirit that the first recommendation for top leisurely reading is the unputdownable Julian Upton book, Offbeat. Now if – like me – you thanked the patron saint of forgotten British films for answering your prayers and delivering the BFI’s Flipside label, then you will feel doubly blessed with Offbeat: British Cinema’s Curiousities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems. This book could well serve as the reference source for future Flipside releases, or indeed be the reference book of choice for anyone who is keen to venture beyond the 23 (so far) releases and track down some of the gems and oddities covered in Upton’s book. In the reviews of over 100 lost (to release, at least) British films, from the rise of the industry in the fifties to the backing of Hollywood in the sixties, to the laissez-faire of the seventies and finally to ‘the dying embers of popular domestic cinema in the early eighties’, a host of well-known contributors enthuse, castigate, advocate and denigrate a cornucopia of little known British cinematic trash and treasures. Expanded thematic essays are indicative of what the reader may expect, for example: ‘Swordplay: British Swashbuckler Films’, ‘Over the Cliff: British Rock and Roll Films’, ‘A Dangerous Madness: Opening the Door to Asylum Horror’, ‘Sullivan’s Travails: The Roldvale Sex Films’, ‘Seen But Not Heard Of: Children’s Film Foundation’, ‘Wings of Death: Demise of the Short as Supporting Feature’ and inevitably, ‘Baby Love: Underage Sex and Murder in British Cinema’. A total treat: who cares if the book’s graphic design and layout is distracting and looks like an over-worked web page, with those annoying spools of film pagination everywhere? This is the kind of must-have book that readers of ES will love.

Scott Jordan Harris’s book, Rosebud Sleds and Horses’ Heads: 50 of Film’s Most Evocative Objects is different in kind and format from the normally recognisable Intellect publishing format, which can be explained by its having first been published in the US under the auspices of the University of Chicago Press. With stylistically linked illustrations for each object discussed, Harris focusses three or four paragraphs of succinct and observant text on various key examples of material culture, which are intrinsic to the narrative and plot of the selected film. Semiotic-lite analyses of such ‘things’ as the discarded Coke bottle in The God’s Must Be Crazy, the chess set in The Seventh Seal, the letters of transit in Casablanca, Marty McFly’s hoverboard in Back to the Future Part II, ‘the worst toilet in Scotland’ in Trainspotting and Dirk Diggler’s (prosthetic) penis in Boogie Nights make for eclectic and fascinating reading about a little-explored aspect of cinematic mise-en-scene. It’s one of those books that demand initial reading at one sitting, and then further reference and reflection subsequently. Delightfully engaging, entertaining and informative – and perfect for outdoor reading.

Finally, and in brief, an excellent exemplar of the dedicated cinephile: the completist fan-geek. And I mean that not as a pejorative statement but as a wide-mouthed admirer. Jim Pauley has tracked down, explored and documented the filming locations – then and now – of the most significant Three Stooges Columbia Picture shorts made in the Los Angeles area between 1934 and 1958. A labour of true Stoogology love, which must have taken years to assemble: there are some 500 archival photographs, 12 maps, and interviews with supporting actors, directors and family and friends of the beloved Moe, Curly, Larry, Shemp, Joe and Curly Joe. The Three Stooges: Hollywood Filming Locations is enjoyable to dip into, but is probably a tome for an American audience and hard-core fans only, although it is beautifully produced and ‘showing the love’.

James B. Evans

This section of my column pays homage to out-of-print and rare film books that link to one of the themes or books reviewed above, and in this installment I recommend seeking out a copy of Last of the Moe Haircuts by Bill Flanagan, ‘self-appointed Director of the American Stooge Synposium’. It’s a clever and hilarious book that mixes scholarship and expertise of the Three Stooges with a cheeky and very witty approach to ‘proper’ analysis of the films, with evidence provided by contextualising the film’s content. One great proof offered of the Stooges prescience is in their dealing with feminist issues, with the suggestion that various Stooges films established their avant-garde thinking in this sociological matter, while another section discusses their spreading of the gospel of Freud through living example. Great fun! JE

Jazz, Jules Verne and another magnum opus by David Thomson


The Big Screen: The Story of Movies and What They Did to Us
By David Thomson
Allen Lane 595pp £25

Jazz on Film: Beat, Square & Cool
By Selwyn Harris
Moochin’ About/Jazzwise Magazine £25

The Future Revisited: Jules Verne on screen in 1950s America
By Françoise Schlitz
Chaplin Books £14.99

In spite of rumours of the demise of printed books and related ephemera, wondrous things continue to be delivered through my letterbox and my heart stirs at the thump on the mat when a padded envelope of unknown contents materialises. This month’s Cine Lit looks at three such recent deliveries.

David Thomson is one of cinema studies’ most prolific authors. By turns enthusiastic, irascible, grumpy, opinionated, personal, fair-minded and judgemental, he is above all deeply passionate, informed and honest. His writing is a joy to read and maintains a rare balance between populism and elitism. A critic and contextualist, Thomson is one of the best cinematic authors that we have. As the author’s modest rear dust jacket description has it: ‘David Thomson has a fair claim to be the greatest living writer on film.’ Can’t imagine who the greatest dead writer is – answers on a postcard please. At any event, it is obvious that any new book from Thomson is to be reckoned with and paid attention to. His propensity for magnum opuses – as evidenced by his authoritative Biographical Dictionary of Film and The Whole Equation, his history of Hollywood – now continues with The Big Screen. His polemical, probing style with its breezy narrative structure and insightful, often provocative, observations has been fashioned over many years. Thomson has been a sharp-eyed critic and writer on film for decades, his first publication arriving in 1967. The new book takes a God’s eye view of movies; it is international in scope and all-encompassing in theme. The reader is taken on a mighty journey from the beginnings of the film industry and through the succeeding decades with stops taken along the route to look at the rise and influence of academic film studies (pro and con) , cultural and social change before, during and after the wars and how these anxieties and pleasures were reflected on the screen and embedded in the textual codes. It ends with a wonderful epilogue reflecting on projection, screen and narrative, which, like the book, is suffused with misgivings about the present and future state of movie-going as a communal cultural experience. The Big Screen is a terrific ‘can’t put it down’ account written by an author who holds back few punches – all at once loveable, charming, irritating and unpredictable. A classic.

In an earlier column I enthused over the terrific CD box set of Jazz on Film: Film Noir and its accompanying booklet. How could this gem be bettered? Well… it has. Moochin’ About has just released a gorgeous new five-CD box-set with another informative 30-page booklet, Jazz on Film: Beat, Square & Cool. Featuring more lost or hard-to-get soundtracks remastered to a high standard, it includes such hipster efforts as The Connection, The Subterraneans (imagine A-Team’s George Peppard as Jack Kerouac! Score by Andre Previn), Shadows (a Cassavetes classic, score improvised by Charles Mingus no less), Paris Blues (score by Duke Ellington) and another wonderful four titles. Lovingly prepared and beautifully presented, this is a must-have set.

Finally, a rather unique title from a little-known publisher. Chaplin Books has released Françoise Schlitz’s The Future Revisited, an examination of Hollywood’s film versions of Jules Verne’s novels with a focus on Around the World in 80 Days, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, Mysterious Island and Journey to the Center of the Earth – a film seen in childhood which mesmerised me. Schlitz takes a multi-disciplinary view of the films and culture in which they were produced, with an emphasis on how Verne’s original novels launched readers into travels to imaginary places and provided them with newly imagined – but somehow plausible – experiences therein. She then goes on to deliberate how these spectacles and marvels intersected with, and were translated into, works that served the concerns of modernism, capitalism, notions of progress and consumption, all in aid of American post-war hegemony. Cinematic textual challenges to gender, politics, domesticity, innovation and science itself are winkled out of the films in question and an interesting account has been articulated. If at times the book has the whiff of a re-worked Ph.D thesis, what with its initial insistence on articulating methodologies and justifying certain contextual approaches before the unfolding of the narrative proper, it is nonetheless interesting for all that and provides a welcome perspective on a rarely examined aspect of film history.

James B. Evans

You’ll pay a premium for securing a copy of this terrific title, Cocaine Fiends and Reefer Madness, Michael Stark’s illustrated history of drugs in the movies. It was a seminal study on the topic, and subsequent writers have borrowed generously from Stark’s research and thorough overview of the topic – though not always acknowledging him. The book was published by Cornwall Press in New York in 1982 and has long been out of print. It pops up on ABE and Alibris from time to time and I was lucky to pay £10 for it a few years ago on Charing Cross Road – you know the Charing Cross Road that used to have lots of used bookshops before the days of designer coffee shops and eateries. It is essential, along with Harry Shapiro’s out of print Shooting Stars: Drugs, Hollywood and the Movies (Serpent’s Tail, London) and the equally essential, though still available Addicted: the Myth and Menace of Drugs in Film by the ubiquitous Jack Stevenson. Save these books! JE