Apr 8, 2020

Book Review--The Short Story of Film: A Pocket Guide to Key Genres, Films, Movements & Techniques

The Short Story of Film: A Pocket Guide to Key Genres, Films, Techniques and Movements
Ian Haydn Smith
Laurence King Publishing, 2020

I’m a fan of Ian Haydn Smith’s concise film guide Cult Filmmakers: 50 Movie Mavericks You Need to Know. With his new book The Short Story of Film: A Pocket Guide to Key Genres, Films, Techniques and Movements Smith is similarly adept at introducing important aspects of cinema with quick brush strokes and great clarity.

The book is arranged as its subtitle reads, with sections devoted to genre, fifty key films, some of the key movements of cinema, and various filmmaking techniques. It was wise of Smith to include a visual guide to how to approach the book, because there is a lot to each page. Each entry consists of four sections, which, depending on the category, can include a list of influencers at the top of the page, a brief explanation of the subject, a sidebar which highlights important advances or moments for the subject or filmmaker, and then a list of cross-referenced subjects to be found in the book across the bottom.

While the busy feel of this kind of organization doesn’t make for a streamlined reading experience, it does enable a reader to easily select which aspects of a subject to explore. It is a lot like an app or a website with all of its menus exposed.

As with his previous book, Smith has clearly made an effort to be inclusive in his brief survey of cinema. His selections cover a diverse range of films and filmmakers which encompass gender, nationality, and race. While he acknowledges the strong influence of Hollywood cinema, his coverage captures a satisfying array of international films, filmmakers, and movements.

While the Technique section was interesting in itself, I found it to be the weak spot of the book. In itself it was a less cohesive category, with a jarring confluence of categories from costumes and special effects, to camera techniques like zoom and slow motion. It also didn’t feel smoothly integrated into the book itself, which for the most part focused on the artistry of film.

Overall this would be an extremely valuable resource for an emerging cinephile. It’s brief, but dense with information. As a lifelong movie lover, I realized how many gaps there were in my own cinematic knowledge when I explored the sections on subjects like Iranian film and the Japanese period drama genre Jidaigeki. There’s great passion and knowledge within these pages and I could see the spark of a lifelong obsession with film being born of it.

Many thanks to Laurence King Publishing for providing a copy of the book for review.


  1. Sounds like an excellent reference book.

  2. I would definitely give this to someone beginning to explore the world of cinema.