Books from silver screen to printed page
It’s Oscar time. Catch up on this year’s nominees and winners. But don’t forget the Hollywood classics.
Though one picture is worth a thousand words, these thousands of words are enjoyable to read.
We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie by Noah Isenberg, 336 pages, 24 black and white illustrations, W. W. Norton & Company paperback, 2018.
Fans of the 1942 classic will surely enjoy reminiscing about their favorite film through the pages of We’ll Always Have Casablanca. This cinematic juggernaut was conceived in obscurity and developed without much fanfare. A blockbuster was not foreseen.
While the casting is magnificent, that was not preordained. Find out who turned down the starring role.
Of more historical interest, Noah Isenberg writes about the real immigrants and authentic World War II exiles who were cast in minor roles in the reel. Read about the irrepressible Epstein twins who wrote the screenplay.
Success may have a hundred fathers, as the saying goes, but this account clarifies the many myths that sprang up in the wake of the film’s fortunes. Isenberg also details the echoes of the movie’s iconic dialogue in contemporary culture.
He concludes with tales of today’s cult fan base. The revivals of this Oscar triple header — best movie, best director and best screenplay — will endure as long as we have Paris.
High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic by Glenn Frankel, 400 pages, two 8-page inserts of black and white illustrations, Bloomsbury USA paperback, 2018.
The iconic western of 1952, High Noon, won four Academy Awards. But the making of the movie is almost as riveting as the storyline. The convergence of plotline, setting, writing, directing, acting, cinematography and theme music are told brilliantly by Glenn Frankel.
Revisiting the blacklist and its human fallout makes for thought-provoking reading. Getting an inside look at the Hollywood dream factory is revealing. The myriad elements, the diverging personalities, the clashing egos, and the pall of the Red Scare during the McCarthy era make it a wonder that all the pieces fell into place to create a work of cinematic art.
Frankel delves into the highs and lows of the career of veteran actor Gary Cooper, and the early professional years of Stanley Kramer. Learn about the screenwriter and uncredited co-producer Carl Foreman, a victim of the blacklist.
The book is a worthy backstory about a movie that follows its hero’s choice “‘tweenst love and duty.”
Movie Nights with the Reagans: A Memoir by Mark Weinberg, 288 pages, two 8-page inserts of color photographs, Simon & Schuster hardcover, 2018.
Mark Weinberg, an aide to Ronald Reagan, recounts with panache the movies screened by the First Couple on weekends at the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland.
The author reprises 19 films, mostly from the 1980s, shown at the “Aspen Movie Club.” The book brings back to life E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters and other blockbuster movies of the time.
Weinberg discusses each movie’s storyline in relation to events during the Reagan presidency. He recalls the reactions of the President and First Lady to the movies in the context of their unique perspectives as former movie actors.
Mr. Weinberg writes with great insight. He served in the White House as assistant press secretary and, in Reagan’s post-presidency, as director of public affairs.
The President embraced his time as an actor, was proud of the movies he made, and cherished the fact that he met his beloved Nancy during his years in Hollywood.
Movie Nights with the Reagans touches on the impact of the movies on the president’s philosophy of life, and the importance of show business in honing the skills Reagan employed as a governor and president. As he wrote in his autobiography, “In Hollywood…if you don’t sing or dance, you end up as an after-dinner speaker” — or politician.
Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge by Becky Aikman, 320 pages, 16-page insert of color illustrations, Penguin Press hardcover, 2017 (paperback, August, 2018).
The 1991 movie Thelma & Louise was a groundbreaking feminist flick that broke Hollywood stereotypes: two female — and no male — leads, and a female screenwriter who was awarded an Oscar for the first screenplay she ever wrote.
This quintessential American road story was captured on screen by a director, cinematographer, film editor and music composer who were all British.
Off the Cliff introduces us to the screenwriter Callie Khouri, a first generation American from Kentucky, who floundered in Hollywood on the periphery of the film industry.
Her screenplay draws on her bond with female friends working in the male-dominated milieus of Nashville — the capital of country music and her first destination for fame and fortune — and later Hollywood. Her script, especially the iconic ending, was subjected to second guessing by almost everyone involved in the picture.
Aikman places the movie within the context of its time — the women’s movement, the paucity of realistic roles for women in film, and the struggles of women in the movie business.
The story of the felicitous casting of Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon in the lead roles is pure Hollywood. The description of life on the set is fascinating.
Read about the skill of director Ridley Scott in creating an artistic vision with the assistance of talented costumers, set designers, location scouts and crew. The input of cast members in developing realistic characterizations lends insight into understanding the collaborative process of filmmaking.
Becky Aikman skillfully describes the elements that coalesced to make this film a sensation. The agents, stars, film studio executives and supporting actors provide Off the Cliff with a colorful narrative.
The importance of Ridley Scott’s vision in bringing the script to cinematic life makes for engrossing reading almost as interesting as the plotline itself. You’ll learn why the original version of the climactic ending was preserved. As the character Louise Sawyer explains, “I…don’t wanna end up on the…Geraldo show.”