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A summer reading update: Reviews and lists.

Ratcatcher

‘Ratcatcher’

In the third part of its remarkable series, “Poets at the Movies,” the Los Angeles Review of Books pairs two pieces by Michael McGriff and J.M. Tyree—actually, it’s not the LARB doing the pairing. The poet and scholar, respectively, are already collaborating on Our Secret Life in the Movies, a book excerpted in February at Tin House (there, they write about Agnès Varda‘s 1985 film Vagabond). In the LARB, McGriff writes: “Foolishly, I think Ratcatcher [1999] is my film. Which is to say, it doesn’t speak to me, it speaks for me.”

And Tyree follows up: “One reason why I often enjoy talking about movies with poets more than with fiction writers is that poets aren’t so relentlessly zealous about adhering to conventional psychological realism…. While Lynne Ramsay is already known as a ‘literary’ film director—having adapted the books Morvern Callar and We Need to Talk About Kevin, and having quit the production of The Lovely Bones, which she was supposed to direct but wanted to adapt against the grain of the novel—she also could be seen as a poet’s filmmaker. For one thing, Ramsay, perhaps more than almost any other contemporary director who has achieved a degree of popular success apart from David Lynch, can build a compelling narrative almost solely from images.”

The Searchers

‘The Searchers’

From two stories, “the abduction of Cynthia Ann Parker and its long aftermath, and the making of John Ford’s The Searchers [1956], and its own cultural aftermath as a belatedly acknowledged masterpiece,” Glenn Frankel “has constructed a powerfully suggestive book.” Geoffrey O’Brien in the New York Review of Books on The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend: “In effect it is two books, of roughly equal length. In juxtaposing them Frankel measures the abyss between…. The more connections Frankel establishes between events that occurred in 19th-century Texas and the uses that Ford’s film makes of them, the more layers of uncertainty and disconnection he exposes…. Frankel asserts no resolution beyond a nagging sense of the ‘relentless ambiguity’ embodied by Ford’s movie. An unhealed historical wound finds expression in a film whose extraordinary beauty cannot assuage the contradictory and painful emotions that resonate at its core.”

David Thomson admires Lynda Obst’s 1997 book Hello, He Lied, “a cross between poetry and bitter piss from the age of Billy Wilder or Ben Hecht“—so much so, that he seems reluctant to set it back down and move on to her new one, Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business. He does, though, eventually get around to reviewing it for the Guardian: “In the rugged way of a veteran, she wants to say Hollywood is a great place, and that its community is one big family of entertainers. That has always been a Hollywood fallacy. Louis B. Mayer spoke of the family as he enforced the blacklist, because some family members had a brain and a conscience. Obst is afraid of the technology and the ‘new abnormal’ (aka runaway change), but the most dysfunctional thing in her work is the attempt to reconcile her stressed comradeship with others and the plain import of her book’s title—that it’s a rat race, so stay sleepless.”

Women in Love

Oliver Reed and Alan Bates in ‘Women in Love’

Jasper Rees in the Telegraph on Robert Sellers’s What Fresh Lunacy is This? The Authorized Biography of Oliver Reed: “Producers, directors, co-stars, brothers, girlfriends, wives, children and, towards the end, straight-to-video actors you’ve never heard of fondly recall the japes and shake their heads at the moment Reed would start swinging fists, upending furniture and whipping out his tattooed penis. ‘But he was totally professional on set,’ they parrot in unison. By Women in Love [1969], the lunacy is already anything but fresh.”

Alan Sepinwall‘s The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers, and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever has just been re-issued and, for the Los Angeles Times, Mary McNamara reviews it alongside Brett Martin‘s Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad: “Along with the r-word and those regrettably long subtitles, Sepinwall and Martin share the same initial thesis: Television is the most significant voice in popular culture because that is where writers are allowed the most freedom…. Sepinwall goes broad and analytical, explaining the narrative importance of 12 shows he considers influential, while Martin goes deep and personal, arguing that the fractured psyches and outsized worldviews of a talented few once again changed cultural discourse. Both provide clear and tantalizing windows on the creative process, and prove, by their very existence, how much things have changed — once upon a time, these sorts of reported analyses were reserved for theater and film.”

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’

As part of the AV Club‘s list of the “best books of 2013 (so far),” Todd VanDerWerff argues that Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made The Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic “is a must, a bright, breezy read about one of the best TV shows ever made…. The most telling section of the book is the chapter on the early reviews of the show, which all assumed that the Mary Richards of the pilot was half-heartedly searching for a man and doing a piss-poor job of it. Only after nearly a full season had aired would most critics get what the program was going for, a good reminder that TV criticism sometimes misses the forest for the trees and is always evolving.” His full review appeared in June.

The Financial Times has listed its favorites of 2013 so far as well, and Peter Aspden recommends (besides Lynda Obst’s book) John Yorke’s Into the Woods: A Five Act Journey Into Story, suggesting that few books “delve more deeply into the art of storytelling than this erudite volume.”

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2 Comments »

  • Peter Novich says:

    “Ramsay, perhaps more than almost any other contemporary director who has achieved a degree of popular success apart from David Lynch, can build a compelling narrative almost solely from images.”

    This is so ridiculous on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin cataloguing it’s ridiculousness.

  • Peter Novich says:

    “Television is the most significant voice in popular culture because that is where writers are allowed the most freedom….”

    Right, of course, except for all of those books published and read every year. Written by writers. Although I guess books don’t count as popular culture anymore, according to someone who worships at the glass teat.

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