Dec 29, 2015

Top 6 Favorite Film Books of 2015

I enjoyed the eclectic mix of film books that I read this year, from bios and a memoir to an entire volume dedicated to one film, and yet another about a film that was never even finished. While I know that Sinatra was best known for his singing, I had to include him, because Kaplan covered the legend's film career in fascinating detail. All titles link to my original reviews, from which I've shared excerpts below.

The First King of Hollywood: Douglas Fairbanks

Goessel goes deep into the events of Fairbank's life, recounting stories of a mischievous childhood troublemaker who was on the stage by age thirteen. She offers a detailed, rich portrait of the times he lived in while staying close to her subject. There's a sort of affection in the way she relates his life, even when there is reason to be skeptical of the actor's almost too perfectly organized tales. Lots of Fairbank's quotes are prefaced with, "he claimed".

The Sound of Music Story

The Sound of Music Story begins just as the famous movie does, with Julie Andrews purposefully striding up a green hillside and effortlessly twirling as she begins to sing. The only difference: this time she is flung to the ground by the force of the helicopter filming her from above. After ten takes, many of them ending with her face in the grass, the rising star screamed that she'd had enough.

Sinatra: The Chairman

While reading Sinatra: The Chairman I was completely engulfed in the world of its subject, so much so that when I reached the last page, I wondered for a moment what to do with myself....It is rare that a biography feels like an all-encompassing journey. Few lives would even inspire that kind of scope. Francis Albert had that epic life and Sinatra: The Chairman pays magnificent tribute.

The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd

I liked that so much of the book focused on the way Todd was in life. She had such a healthy approach to living: cultivating friendships, joining a Hollywood women's group called The Dominoes and taking care of those who didn't have her good fortune. 

That bustling, happy aspect of her life makes it all the more disturbing that the actress seemed to be a magnet for menacing characters. There are also mysterious men she referred to when talking to friends whose identities have never been revealed. It is possible that had she not been protected by the bubble of her bustling social life, she may not have even lived as long as she did.

I Blame Dennis Hopper: And Other Stories from a Life Lived in and Out of the Movies

This is a must-read for classic movie fans. The Illeana Douglas you see on TCM and at TCM Film Festival is as movie mad as she appears to be. She's just like us, though Marlon Brando has probably never sent you roses. (And if he has, won't you please dish in the comments?)

The Making of the Other Side of the Wind: Orson Welles' Last Movie

It can be painful to wade through all the details of the production of The Other Side of the Wind. The book often becomes tedious, but through no fault of Karp. It's a long, drawn out story and the only way to understand why the film has still not been released is to soak up every last frustrating detail. 

Nevertheless, it is overall an entertaining read, full of interesting anecdotes and above all a great tribute to Welles as an artist. It also brings up the question of whether an artist can thrive, or even survive in a world that is increasingly focused on the pursuit of money. This is a world which Welles would never acknowledge. Were it not for that scramble for wealth, it is very likely the film would have been released by now.

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