|Posted on October 28, 2010 at 12:19 AM|
In relation to the recent video I've made about film reviews and critics, below are the books that can probably be primarily cited for many of the video's points, though I threw some in there of my own for good measure. So call this a "bibliography" if you will, or a supplemental resource for those that want to really get to know and understand how to review a film.
My years of studying film and journalism often led me to realize two things:
1: Taking college courses and learning from people is far superior than merely reading about them. Film, especially, as it’s far easier to “see” what someone is talking about than read exposition describing it.
2: Despite that, there are a lot of books about film, some in particular considered “required reading,” that may not even be required in some class you may take – film fans should read them anyways and never stop reading them considering the ever-evolving nature of the artform.
3: Never assume you know everything, and accept the fact that you don’t so you can come to learn about the things you’ve neglected or are ignorant about. Egos can run rampant in film fan circles, turning them into snob circles nobody wants to be associated with. If you love film, express that love and share it with others and they, in turn, will share it with you. Don’t take it all for yourself and hide in some bubble you’ve put on a pedestal.
First and foremost, I always suggest number one if you are a fan of film, take the path of the number three type and be open and accepting to other ideas, other opinions and other views (and other criticisms of yourself for that matter) and never stop doing point two because the fact is you don’t know everything and you should keep up with various thoughts ideas and to understand and comprehend film, you should always be reading.
This little supplemental article to my video about Movie Reviews and Critics is a list of quality materials for any would be reviewer, and fan of film really, to take on the concept of reviewing a movie. Many of the points I bring up in the video are found in the pages of some of these, though I have a few of my own stuck in there for good measure. So here’s just a few to get started with:
Books for Critical Reviewing and Writing
Film Theory and Criticism by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen
I'm pretty sure there's a more recent edition of this, but this book is an absolute standard. There's nothing I can say and I don't know a lot of people that don't have this one.
A Short Guide to Writing About Film by Timothy J. Corrigan
Another fundamental of film texts and I know there's a brand spanking new edition out there, but from my understanding there's little change in this one. Corrigan lays it out out fantastically as a great introduction into cinema and how to "find your voice" when writing about it. Sometimes a writer can ramble on without making a point at all, sometimes they look at the wrong points of a film entirely. It covers all sorts of approaches, from looking at is a basic judgment to interpretation of ideas and themes. This is commonly found in college courses as well.
How to Read a Film by James Monaco
Another great introductory text covering the basic approaches to all things film. It isn't so much about critical reviewing as it is about how to really analyze a movie and look at layers, subtexts, themes and so on. It's a good partner with A Short Guide to Writing About Film, I found.
Film as Film by V.F. Perkins
One from my own personal library. It's not required reading at all, but Film as Film was one of the very first books I read that really took everything to a new level of analyzing film. I would say this is a great third or fourth book for budding film reviewers to read (the three above should be read first, they are absolute) but if you get an itch, this might be one to scratch it.
Introduction to Film Criticism by Tim Bywater and Thomas Sobchack
I haven't read this one myself, but it has come recommended a few times to me over the years, I just haven't quite gotten to it. The reason for that is it's insanely expensive. Ah the markings of a college textbook overprices as usual. But if you can find a used one, pick it up. It seems to be pretty well regarded.
Critical Approaches to Writing About Film by John C. Moscowitz
Finally, last but not least, my old textbook from college. The thing is, Corrigan's is the superior book and both seem to cover the same material almost exactly. Corrigan's is better written as well, I think, but this one is a great one that was the very first book about writing about film I read. It also has some very interesting review selections to use as examples.
Any Number of Review Collection Books
From this example by The Nation, to the New York Times, to Roger Ebert, to Peter Travers, to Time Out, to the NSFC, to Pauline Kael - a number of critics and periodicals have their reviews published in collective works. Reading reviews of others is a great way to look at your own approach, from how they write in certain magainzes and newspapers to what reviewers seem to focus on to basic structure and style to a review.
More books to expand your knowledge.
Books for Filmmaking
I feel a great way to analyze and critique a film, is to understand how they are made in the first place. Required? No, but if you're looking for something, these are good places to start. A lot of the books above, though you should read them first, don't quite get into the bones of a script, the techniques of shooting or approaches to acting. Here's a few I think are great.
Save the Cat - by Blake Snyder:
I don't know a single screenwriter that hasn't read Save the Cat, and you would be smart in reading it too. Every movie begins with a script, and Save the Cat is regarded as the best in the business. There's a few spinoffs of this title as well.
The Screenwriter's Bible - by David Trottier
A great compliment to Snyder's more casual book, Trottier's is far more straightforward and calculated. It also covers things outside the script as well, such as loglines, putting it together, selling your idea etc...
Making Movies - by Sydney Lumet
Still one of the best insights into the world of a director. Lumet's book is still found in college courses today (which is how I got mine).
Any Actor's Memoires
There's no way that's the right way, but reading up on material written by actors about their personal experience and craft is a great way to understand acting. Only autobiographical and personal reflection on the craft, though. Stuff like the books by Michael Caine are pretty standard, but there are more technical books out there too such as About Acting by Barkworth.
When it comes to acting, it's not as much required reading, but I'm putting them out there.
Books for the Industry
If you’ve read my Rules of Hollywood columns, you might be familiar with some of these. They are the fundamentals of movie making in the movie world from a business standpoint. Again, not required reading to critique a movie, but can help give insight into how movies are made and the process of the industry.
Adventures of the Screen Trade - by William Goldman
Screenwriter Bill Goldman has a few books under his belt, but his first is still his best and shouldn't be missed.
The Mailroom: Hollywood History from the Bottom Up - by David Rensin
Required reading as most in Hollywood would tell you. It's old, but isn't dated.
Hello, He Lied - by Lynda Obst
I can't say I'm a huge fan of Lynda, but damn if her book isn't an insightful one, and pretty well written on top of that.
Books for Film History
It's hard to go wrong with a good film history book. I would recommend using any number of college texts that are nice and large and cover the numerous genres, trends and movements not to mention the great directors, writers and actors of our time. From there, look to individual persons. I have a number of biographies myself, such as Kubrick, Wells, Hitchcock, Cassavettes, Herzog on Herzog, Robert Rodriguez (autobiographical, so falls into that memoir category also), Stewart, Bogart, Kurosawa and Wilder (which I haven't had a chance to read yet) that really give even more insight into the history of film.
Other Quick Recommendations
Any book on art and literary criticism and storytelling. There's...a lot. Countless, really, dating back to the likes of Aristotle and his classic "Three Act Structure." But a good book on these basic elements of art and literary theories is a nice attribute to have under your belt. Mine is still rather small in that department.
There's a ton of books on cinema. It's one of the most universally beloved artform that everyone is a part of. These here? Just a handful, but usually looked at as some of the best.