Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Three New Books from McFarland

 The academic framing of KLAUS KINSKI, BEAST OF CINEMA: CRITICAL ESSAYS AND FELLOW FILMMAKER INTERVIEWS prepares one for a heavier and less entertaining book than it actually is. In compiling this overview of Kinski's career, touching upon all its highs and lows, editor Matthew Edwards has assembled a book that manages to be immensely readable, densely informative and insightful, and at times riotously entertaining. There are essays on AGUIRRE, NOSFERATU and his work with Herzog in general; his physical approaches to performance in Italian westerns; even pieces on his contributions to La Chanson de Roland and DR ZHIVAGO (!), as well as 17 pages on his films for Jess Franco and Harry Alan Towers. There are also 50 pages of interviews with various collaborators, and more than 60 pages of well-written reviews by Mark Edwards, Matthew Edwards and Dan Taylor. Expect to come out the other end with a heightened appreciation for him as an artist and perhaps less respect for him as a human being.

It is interesting to me that the giallo has been coming into its own, in recent years, as fodder for academic studies. Michael Sevastakis' new book GIALLO CINEMA AND ITS FOLKTALE ROOTS: A CRITICAL STUDY OF 10 FILMS, 1962-1987 is one that, on the basis of its title and subject matter, might attract readers it's unlikely to satisfy, though its ambition and its actual twist on the subject matter are commendable. Put simply, neither the author (a professor at the College of Mt. St. Vincent in Riverdale, NY) nor his book have any grounding in the popular life of these films in the US, claiming they were "seldom released in American theaters" and "usually distributed as redacted bootlegs," and the bibliography includes names like Georges Bataille alongside Carol Clover and Linda Ruth Williams. Bava père et fils, Argento, Martino, Lenzi, Fulci, Carmineo, Pastore, Bianchi and Bido are all discussed in terms of individual films. All the films covered are addressed (and indexed!) by Italian title. Remarkably, there is only one reference to Bava's BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (under S, for Sei donne per l'assassino), the most seminal of all gialli, in the entire book. A serious treatise, somewhat illuminating in terms of the literary approach it takes to deconstructing such an aggressively visual genre (from Mario Bava's THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH to Dario Argento's OPERA and Lamberto Bava's PHOTOS OF GIOIA), but also pretentious and, on its most basic level, misinformed.

Apart from his own unexpectedly involving Introduction, written in the wake of last year's race killings in Charleston and which manages to connect the Outsider themes of the subject at hand with the tragic circumstances to be written through, editor Johnson Cheu's TIM BURTON: ESSAYS ON THE FILMS is only 2.5 essays shy of being able to boast an entirely female authorship. This, in itself, I find significant because Burton's films rarely manifest a masculine strain that doesn't feature some element of cosplay, transvestism or augmentation/disfigurement, and there is a full chapter here (by Deborah Mellamphy) on "Gender Transgression and Star Persona in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS." My own feeling about Burton's films is that they can be sweet and creatively designed but are rarely original and seldom manifest any real depth. That said, the 14 essays included here - while seemingly oblivious to, or unconcerned with, his heavy debt to artists like Edward Gorey and Ronald Searle - find plenty of food for thought. Topics include body image concerns in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, the adaptation of SWEENEY TODD from stage to screen, malleable identity in DARK SHADOWS, and his uses of German Expressionism. I'm not sure of the extent to which the contributors are genuinely engaging with the material or merely using it as a convenient handle to confront deeper issues, but there is material here that makes the films themselves more worth revisiting from new, more engaging perspectives. PS No chapters on BATMAN or BEETLEJUICE.

McFarland books can also be ordered directly from their website or their telephone order line at 800-253-2187.

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