Jam-packed, sometimes enlightening collection of current writing about film.
As editor Landis (better known as the director of Animal House, etc.) notes in his introduction, he follows no general theme; the collection, he quips, might be better titled “Many Different Aspects of Film That Interest John Landis.” The eclectic assortment of works of varying accomplishment covers eight subject areas spanning the perennial (“Actors”) to the particular (“Nazis”), with individual selections favoring boomer movie heroes like stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, directors Stanley Kubrick and Sam Raimi, ape designer Charles Gemora. The section on censorship includes intriguing historical studies of All About Eve and Gone With the Wind. The article about the latter shows civil rights groups negotiating with producer David O. Selznick to tone down some of the more offensive aspects of Margaret Mitchell’s portrayal of African-Americans and reminds us that Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar was an early harbinger of advances to come for black people. Straight-up frame-by-frame movie analyses are well represented by Maria Di Battista's keen dissection of His Girl Friday, which applies the concept of time to find new meaning in much-analyzed elements of the film such as its lighting, tracking shots, and the power struggle between Cary Grant’s and Rosalind Russell’s characters. Rick Lyman's “Whoa, Trigger! Auteur Alert!” reveals Quentin Tarantino to be a devoted fan of genre director William Witney (who did most of Roy Rogers’s films); recalling John Waters's homage to William Castle, it may be the jauntiest piece in the collection. The most unpredictably informative is David Geffner's “People Who Need People,” a profile of indie documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick. As a whole, the pieces illustrate what series editor Jason Shinder calls “a major strain of contemporary writing about the movies: variousness of subject and form.” But they also evoke a longing for new influential critical ideas that could trickle to mainstream viewers.
Baroque entertainment and a telling time-capsule of turn-of-the-century film writing concerns.