Tag Archives: film books

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

House of Psychotic Women: A confessional approach to exploitation films


House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films
By Kier-La Janisse
FAB Press 357pp £19.99

Never speak – or write – too soon. In the last Cine Lit column two new books on horror were reviewed and the speculation posited, ‘What more could possibly be said about the genre with such a tsunami of texts already out there?’ Well, I hadn’t counted on Kier-La Janisse’s House of Psychotic Women dropping through my letterbox. The subtitle alone invites one to wonder what hybrid narrative lies within and the author states very clearly – and contentiously – within what terms this cultural confessional will unfold. It is worth quoting at some length as it gives a precise indication as to the tone and uniquely subjective nature of the book:

When I first started edging into film writing in the mid-’90s, I was all about girl power; how horror films (even slasher films) were empowering to women, how most horror films were about men’s anxieties concerning the nature of femininity and female sexuality, gender relations, castration anxiety – all this great meaty stuff… For a female horror fan/exploitation fan, that’s a great place to start; certainly much more productive than denouncing the whole genre all together as some counter-revolutionary, misogynist exercise… I wanted to explore neurotic characterization as comprehensively as I could, but I didn’t want to write a dense book on horror theory… if I started leaning too much on Freud and Lacan I’d be out of my depth. I needed to focus on what I know: namely, that the films I watch align with my personal experience that every woman I have ever met in my entire life is completely crazy, in one way or another. [A good thing a man did not write this!]

She goes on:

I myself have been the subject of a film Celluloid Horror, 2003… the film delved into some uncomfortable subject matter: my adolescent propensity for physical violence, my history in group homes, foster homes and detention centres, and the years of involuntary therapy…Most painful of all, it captured the disintegration of my brief marriage. My constructive participation in genre film exhibition and promotion has curbed my (often misdirected) aggression to a great degree. As my own neurosis became more subdued I found myself unconsciously drawn to female characters who exhibited signs of behaviour I had recognized in myself: repression, delusion, paranoia, hysteria…my life is enveloped by chaos…Unresolved issues weigh heavily on me: feelings of failure, sabotaged relationships, blinding anger…

As she points out, the book ‘follows her personal trajectory’ as she examines cinematic patterns and weaves in and out of film synopses and critiques as they relate to her, and she is clear on this point: it is primarily a book about her life. Of course, the problem with such a unique autobiographical approach to film writing is whether the reader really cares about the author and his/her life and hard times, and with regard to that I remain ambivalent.

It is a problematic tightrope to walk between film analysis taken as a personal critical odyssey on the one hand, and film analysis as an excuse for self-indulgent therapy on the other. And here Janisse falters, sometimes delivering a fine balancing act, sometimes falling off the wire. For her breadth of knowledge of the genre and her erudite and insightful critiques of individual films there is much to admire in, and learn from, the book, but whether writing it from such a psycho-therapeutic point of view adds to the reader’s appreciation or knowledge of the genre is in question – as is my (male) awareness of the gender politics that bear on it. There was a curious sense of guilt, atonement and apology arising between the lines, which was distracting, and the book – absorbing and even brave as it is – comes off as an articulate and intelligent volume of confessions that frame the films, rather than the other way around. A one-of-a-kind experience to be sure.

James B. Evans

Cine Books on Iran, Conspiracy and Saucy British Cinema

Iran: Directory of World Cinema
Edited by Parviz Jahed
Intellect 293pp £15.95

Conspiracy Cinema: Propaganda, politics and paranoia
By David Ray Carter
Headpress 271pp £24.99

Keeping The British End Up: Four decades of saucy cinema
By Simon Sheridan
Titan Books 287pp £24.99

A rather eclectic group of books this instalment, which range from the serious to the paranoid to the smutty. Fabulous!

Parviz Jahed is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable authorial voice on Iranian cinematic matters to be added to a list which includes, among others, Ali Issari, Hamid Dabashi and Hamid Sadr. Jahed has been close to the Iranian film scene for many years and displays a deep historical knowledge from his unique vantage point as an Iranian and as a transplanted European. He has also been involved with filmmaking as his excellent documentary, Bonjour Mr Ghaffari, demonstrates. All these factors make his account of the historical and critical development of Iranian film, Iran: Directory of World Cinema, as authoritative as could be expected in this concise a book. As is the format for this series of Intellect Books (which seem to pop up like mushrooms on a very regular basis), the book consists of focused thematic essays followed by critical appraisals of key films. There can be a certain unevenness in the editorial quality, consistency and scholarly rigour of some of the titles in the series, but Jahed’s book exemplifies the best of them. He has taken on much of the essay writing himself and has turned a critical eye on many of the films – in many ways this could have been a single author work although there are some fine contributions from others, notably Saeed Aghighi’s essay, ‘The New Wave Movement 1969-1979’. Many claims have been made for New Wave and contemporary Iranian cinema as any recent university syllabus will illustrate, but what is most interesting in Jahed’s book is his overview of the lesser-known territory of early Iranian cinema through the fascinating account of Film Farsi (and the Jaheli cycles) and on to an overdue salute to the forerunners of the New Wave such as Farrokh Ghaffari and Ebrahim Golestan. All in all a fresh and intelligently pithy story of Iranian cinema.

Rimbaud called for a systematic derangement of the senses in order to capture poetic essence and authenticity – to open oneself up to a different world view. And it is a systematic derangement of all historical sense, as the Preface for Conspiracy Cinema points out, as well as logic and sometimes sanity that is called for in reading David Ray Carter’s utterly fascinating book. Little, if any, writing has been focused solely on this topic and Carter has opened up and shed light into this very dark basement of cinematic endeavour. The sheer range of these theories is breath-taking, and encountering them is to bathe in the unprovable, the illogical and the downright paranoid. All the usual conspiratorial topics are present and accounted for: the two Kennedy assassinations, the Martin Luther King assassination, Diana, the ‘extermination’ of Koresh and his followers at Waco, Elvis, 9-11, to name a few of the more familiar subjects. But these barely reach the wilder shores of HIV/AIDS conspiracy theories (Department of Defence experiments run wild, UN’s World Health Organisation administering the virus via smallpox injections in order to depopulate Africa, Soviet plots) or secret ionospheric auditory transmissions sent out by the government to alter planetary weather and chemtrails emitted by all passenger jets doctored with aluminium to reduce skin cancers in the service of insurance companies to cut down on skin cancer payouts – and these just suggest the rich but bizarre pickings to be found in Carter’s book. Having viewed hundreds of independently produced films on these and other topics, Carter organises his findings into eight themes and introduces each with a short synopsis of the facts, the official version and the conspiracy theories around them before he reviews the many films addressing each particular theme. Enough said: this book is a terrific, mesmerising and bizarre piece of weird scholarship. Un-put-down-able! Like Wilde said, ‘Beware the half-truth, you may have got hold of the wrong half’.

Finally, there is only space to sing the praises of another breath-taking piece of wonderfully weird cinematic scholarship of sorts, Simon Sheridan’s fascinating antidote to academic texts, Keeping the British End Up, in a new, revised edition. Scrupulously researched and generously illustrated within the covers of a quality Titan publication, the book recounts – in suitably cheeky prose – the, er, rise and fall of… well, you know what! Anyone with an interest in the ‘other’ British cinema, which takes us on a journey from Nudist Paradise through the Confessions series via chapters entitled ‘Comings’, ‘Doings’, ‘…Goings’ and ends with a who’s who of actors and actresses in ‘Knobs and Knockers’, will be unable to resist this book. “The ‘Wisden’ of British smut’ as Matthew Sweet accurately called it.

James B. Evans

In reviewing Simon Sheridan’s book, Keeping the British End Up, in this month’s Cine Lit column it is only fitting to pay homage to an earlier account of the ruder end (oooh missus!!) of sexy and soft core British cinema once – and still? – reviled and ignored by the critical establishment, the 1992 book, Doing Rude Things: The History of the British Sex Film, 1957 -1981 by David McGillivray. Published by the little-known sun tavern fields press, this was one of the first accounts to historically describe and archive this irresistible stream of sexploitation and low-budget films, which would be screened in only the seediest of Soho’s Macintosh brigade cinemas and no, that ain’t computers we’re referring to! McGillivray lovingly recounts those halcyon and opportunistic days (many a well-known ‘proper’ thespian appeared) and introduces many primary sources in the form of interviews and quotations from those involved. Pamela Green remembers how her nudie films caused such offence to some Women’s Hour listeners that she was invited on the programme to debate them – another time indeed. McGillivray is an informed and hospitable critic when reviewing the period and the films. Illustrations are copious – and copulatory. Copies of DRT are very difficult to find and sell for exorbitant amounts online. Save this book! JBE

Bloody-Minded Auteurs from the Arthouse to the Grindhouse

Andrei Tarkovsky
By Sean Martin
kamera Books 224pp £16.99

Dark Stars Rising
By Shade Rupe
Headpress 559pp. £15.99

Flesh and Blood Volume 2
Edited by Harvey Fenton
FAB Press 95pp £14.99

Many writers will tell you that writing ‘short’ is often a much tougher discipline than writing ‘long’ – a short story can be more demanding than a novel. In the case of writing about a life’s oeuvre, as Sean Martin has attempted with his recent book, Andrei Tarkovsky, the task is daunting indeed, for the Russian director is an idiosyncratic and demanding auteur. Kamera books has a strong track record in publishing short, pithy overviews of directors, genres and national cinemas. The series is largely successful in providing credible and accessible introductory volumes for the interested and curious cinema-goer and fledgling film students. Both groups are well served by Martin’s book, which does justice – in a brief 196 pages of text proper – to the complex, semi-autobiographical visual poetry that constitutes Tarkovsky‘s cinema. In chapters that cover his seven major films, Martin writes with a fine turn of phrase that reveals a firm critical understanding and sensitivity to the filmmaker, to wit: ‘Poetry, for Tarkovsky, is the form of linguistic expression that is as close as we can get to life itself; it is a manifestation of truths beyond language.’ Of Nostalgia he writes: ‘It is as if Tarkovsky is heeding the advice of Robert Bresson in the film – more so than in any of his previous work – “Be sure of having used to the full all that is communicated by immobility and silence.” If Stalker is one of the great films of silence, then Nostalgia is one of the great films of immobility…’ The author’s stated intent for this volume is ‘to serve as a short overview of Tarkovsky’s work for those unfamiliar with it, or as a stimulus to go back and re-watch the films for those already acquainted with them’. It succeeds on both counts.

The appropriately named publishers FAB and Headpress both immerse themselves in the muddy waters of transgressive cinema and liminal spaces and places. What links FAB Press’s Flesh and Blood Volume 2 and Headpress’s Dark Stars Rising is their mutual celebration of authors – cinematic and otherwise – whose integrity of vision or simple bloody-mindedness (literally and figuratively) is enmeshed in their work and often indistinguishable from their lives. Hence, in Dark Stars Rising, Shade Rupe presents a vast collection of interviews undertaken over the years with many artists who may fairly be put into the camp of extremist cinema. In a set of 27 interviews – more conversations really, as the author notes – some fascinating words are spoken by the likes of Gaspar Noé, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Udo Kier and Hermann Nitsch, each of whom takes the reader on a journey – often circuitous – into his mind and work. Rupe is a game interviewer but too often takes a chummy, near-schmoozy approach to his subjects; he occasionally gets lost in his own vast references and misses chances to probe more deeply into his subject’s opinions, observations or downright misguided ideas. A trifle too hagiographic in his approach then – but forget about my niggling: this collection provides an insider’s guide to the fringes of culture and takes us joyfully into the liminal hinterlands of cinema and art.

Not dissimilar in its cultural territory but significantly different in approach and subject matter, Harvey Fenton’s new book is a miscellany of interviews and historical/cultural essays about various fringe or geek (in the best sense of the word) cinematic tastes. It is a delicious potpourri about good old exploitation and ‘cult’ cinema. Indeed, there is a piece by Robert G. Weiner on that hoary old carny barker of a film producer, the legendary Dwain Esper, who, along with those other film biz rascals, Kroger Babb, David Friedman and Willis Kent, made going to the ‘sin pit’ such a satisfactory guilty pleasure. Carl T. Ford contributes a worthy piece on Du&#353an Makavejev and Sweet Movie, while Kier-La Janisse’s piece, ‘Boccaccio’s Bastards: the Decameron from Pop to Porn’, makes a unique cine-historiographical job of tracing the bawdy Italian’s major work as it has evolved in various cinematic interpretations – rarely culminating in a masterpiece to match the source material. Topics range from body horror to Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses – linked nicely in this collection through its connection to the various incarnations of Le Fanu’s vampire novella, Carmilla, which is the focus of Jonathon Scott’s engaging chapter, ‘The Female of the Species: Fantale’s Karnstein Trilogy’. There follow interviews with John Landis (which is not as probing as might have been hoped), Alan Birkinshaw, Geoffrey Wright and Paul Verhoeven discussing ‘the politics of pulp’. Flesh and Blood Volume 2 has been long anticipated and is a worthy successor to the original collection. It is certainly a must-have addition if you enjoyed (and coveted) the first volume. Both Headpress and FAB deserve praise for the kind of tangential cinematic materials with which they so joyfully engage.

James B. Evans