Daily | Books | Light and Shadow

Painting with Light

The new edition

Before turning to a fresh round of newish book reviews, I want to draw attention to two volumes I’ve got more on in the entry on the currently ongoing retrospective of work by Jean-Luc Godard in New York. Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television, sort of a first draft of Histoire(s) du cinema, collects lectures JLG delivered in 1978, now translated by Timothy Barnard. And it features an accompanying essay by Michael Witt, whose own book, Jean-Luc Godard, Cinema Historian, a study of Histoire(s), will be released on November 5. Again, more here.

“In a much-contested field, he was the original ‘Prince of Darkness,'” writes cinematographer John Bailey at the top of his engaging entry on John Alton. “Yet, his book on cinematography is titled Painting with Light.” And Bailey’s written the forward to the new paperback edition. “The existing edition included a comprehensive biographical introduction of Alton’s career by critic Todd McCarthy, who had been a writer/producer on the 1992 documentary Visions of Light. That film had included a discussion of film noir and Alton’s work on The Big Combo, a late masterwork of the noir decade…. I didn’t want to repeat material from McCarthy’s well-researched introduction in my foreword to his book…. Instead, I read through Alton’s file of the ASC papers, now housed at the Academy’s Herrick Library. I found a revealing record of Alton’s on and off activities as a member of the American Society of Cinematographers from the time of his first initiation in 1937, sponsored by a then relatively unknown Stanley Cortez, who was to achieve acclaim photographing Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons and again a decade later with Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter.” Fascinating stuff, and Bailey plans to followup with a second entry soon.

“Historically, the skillful manipulation of light and shadow has contributed to the distinctiveness of a number of canonical cinemas,” writes Brandon Konecny for Film International. “From Weimar ‘street films’ to the golden age of horror in the 30s, German Expressionism to detective noirs, lighting has provided filmmakers various ways with which to convey the surface manifestations of material reality. In encountering Daisuke Miyao’s excellent new book, The Aesthetics of Shadow: Lighting in Japanese Cinema, one learns that the early films of Japan, too, bare a similarly detailed attention to these two physical phenomena, particularly in their adherence to the ‘aesthetics of shadow,’ a discursive tendency in the nation’s cinematic lighting. Drawing on historical, cultural, formal, and even theoretical perspectives, Miyao takes the readers through a rigorous analysis of the nation’s formative years of involvement with the seventh art.”

Mark Kermode

Hello to Jason Isaacs

Will Self, writing for the Guardian, finds that Mark Kermode’s new book, Hatchet Job: Love Movies, Hate Critics, “as a sustained cry from the heart that over some 300 pages oddly modulates into melioristic mooing, is worth discussing. His anxiety that in the age of the internet and the worldwide web the role of the serious critic may be becoming otiose speaks to the contemporary condition. That he’s unable to grasp the full extent of the change that’s upon us cannot altogether be held against him; after all, very few people can look a wholesale social, cultural and psychological transformation taking place on an unparalleled scale steadily in the eye, especially if they’re under a professional obligation to wear 3D spectacles a lot of the time.”

In my view, Ben Urwand’s The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact With Hitler has already been thoroughly (and expertly) discredited by Farran Nehme and David Denby. But to hear Tom Carson tell it at the American Prospect, the dust has not yet settled on “the kerfuffle over Urwand’s alleged ‘reckless’ misinterpretations and tendentious use of his research materials to make a case that 1930s Hollywood more or less consciously and deliberately did Hitler’s bidding for the sake of retaining the German movie market.” Carson’s found himself quarreling via Twitter with none other than Richard J. Evans, “today’s foremost (though Ian Kershaw may disagree) academic historian of the Third Reich” and “the foremost academic defender” of Urwand’s book. Recounting the run-in, which he finds “says a lot about the ongoing tussle between academics and non-academics for control of the cultural narrative,” he references Jon Wiener‘s “excellent September 30 piece for The Nation” and a timeline of the debate by Alicia Mayer, grand niece of Louis B. One piece from her list of links calls out for particular attention: Jerome Christensen‘s for the Los Angeles Review of Books: “It’s not Urwand’s facts that are the problem. Many are fresh and striking. It’s the conclusions he forces.”

“Librarian-archivist Christina Rice has just penned Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, the first major biography of this star who has been forgotten by the public but still beloved by movie lovers,” writes Susan Doll at the top of her interview with Rice for Movie Morlocks. “Evidently, we Morlocks like to hobnob with the literary set, as evidenced by Greg Ferrara’s recent interview with Kendra Bean, author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, and a previous interview with Ms. Rice by Richard Harlan Smith about her expertise on Dvorak.”

“James Franco’s new book, Actors Anonymous, is being billed as a novel,” writes Steve Donahue for the Washington Post, “but it’s actually a collection of sketches and short stories with bits of anomalous matter lodged here and there like the mystery ingredients in a neighbor’s sympathy casserole…. The book’s appeal is almost acrostic: Fans will parse these stories to detect when Franco is talking about himself and when he isn’t. It’s maddening because the sections of outright fiction here are quite good, decidedly better than anything in Franco’s first short-story collection Palo Alto (2010).”

In the Los Angeles Times, Heather Havrilesky is even a little more maddened. While Lauren Christensen (Vanity Fair) and Leonard Lopate talk with Franco about the book, Ramzi de Coster talks with him for Indiewire about his adaptation of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Meantime, NPR’s Linda Holmes asks, “What, Exactly, Is James Franco Doing?” and Criticwire‘s Sam Adams explains why he’s a Francophile.

Alternative Movie Posters

With hints of the zine era

“More than 100 artists (from 20 countries) and 200 posters are featured in Matthew Chojnacki’s Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground, a visual feast for film nerds who appreciate alt versions of movie posters that represent cult favorites such as The Big Lebowski, Fight Club, and Pink Flamingos.” Alison Nastasi presents a few examples at

“Night after night, in movie theaters across the world, Tommy Wiseau’s dreams die so that we may live.” For Bookforum, Louis Bayard reviews Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell’s The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made.

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