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Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift in A Place in The Sun. Photo: Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images

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Hollywood Confidential

10 New and Notable Recent Books Set in and Around LaLaLand  / BY Nathalie Atkinson / April 22nd, 2021

As the Oscars approach, read between the lines, go behind the scenes, learn Hollywood lore and celebrate cinematic history with titles that will get you ready for your close-up.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

1A Light in the Dark: A History of Movie DirectorsDavid Thomson

This book by esteemed and prolific British critic Thomson, 80, could also be called “Legends Only.” His passionate and highly personal essays address the filmography and legacy of directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Jean Renoir, Jean-Luc Godard, Howard Hawks, Quentin Tarantino and Orson Welles. Thomson outlines a century of developments in directing through the usual suspects, and acknowledges, rather than challenges, the existing white male canon (theres just one chapter on a female director). It’s still brimming with opinionated takes and suggests a reconsideration of what the role of director means today and for tomorrow.

2BlackfaceAyanna Thompson

The latest installment in Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series is a brilliant, succinct, and urgent read that connects the English stage to the birth of blackface minstrelsy, discusses contemporary performances of blackness and examines anti-Black racism. Blackface in popular culture isn’t just distant history, like Fred Astaire’s dance routine in Swing Time or Judy Garland’s in Babes in Arms; it’s still pervasive in film and television as recently as episodes of Mad Men, Scrubs and 30 Rock. Thompson, a professor of Shakespeare, race, and performance at Arizona State University, has said her analysis of Blackface’s meaning and legacy is a “defiant and material act” against cultural amnesia, and it is.

3Elizabeth and MontyCharles Casillo

This is an intriguing high-concept biography about the deep and lifelong friendship between Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor, the box-office stars who first bonded on the set of 1951’s A Place in the Sun. They’re a study in contrasts, told in alternating chapters: his New York melancholy and introverted Method-acting style to her frank demeanour and glamour-girl persona, burnished by the golden era studio system. Casillo, author of books about Marilyn Monroe, suggests how, even after Clift’s death from a heart attack in 1966 at 45, the relationship influenced Taylor’s later years, including her advocacy for the gay community and tireless HIV/AIDS fundraising.

4Film Noir Style: The Killer 1940sKimberly Truler

The movie fashion historian and popular GlamAmor blogger analyses costume design starting on the cusp of WW2 withThe Maltese Falcon and closing with Sunset Blvd, including all the classics in between, from Double Indemnity, Murder My Sweet and Mildred Pierce to the post-war transition to Gilda and The Big Sleep. She covers 20 movies, 13 costume designers and uses more than 250 photographs to extract meaning from the dapper trench coats and shadowy fedoras of film noir — all while celebrating the glamour and slink of femme fatales.

5Glorious Birds: A Celebratory Homage to Harold and MaudeHeidi Greco

It’s the 50th anniversary of Academy Award-winning editor and director Hal Ashby’s May-December romance, and this deep-dive into the life-affirming movie about the relationship between a morose 20-year-old with a death wish and an eccentric, devil-may-care septuagenarian is well timed. The pandemic lockdown gave the British Columbia poet and critic the opportunity to pursue her longtime passion project about the cult-classic, black dark comedy, and she collates analysis and unearths details —including insight into how Cat Stevens’ original songs and score became integral to the movie. It’s an infectious love letter to an offbeat love story, full of solace and hope.

6Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark ClassicGlenn Frankel

As a follow up to his book about High Noon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist dives into John Schlesinger’s masterpiece and its provocative material. “Scenes of heterosexual and homosexual intercourse, sadomasochism, fellatio, gang rape, prostitution, and illegal drug use,” Frankel notes of the unlikely hit about a Texas hustler trying to make it in New York, are ”so bleak, troubling, and sexually raw that no ordinary film studio would go near it.” Frankel widens his the lens to encompass the grimy climate of 1960s New York and the history of an industry on the cusp of a new era in filmmaking.

7Silver Hair and Golden Voice: From Halifax to Hollywoodas told to Ernest Dick

He was captain to William Shatner in the CBC’s sci-fi series Space Command and later worked with Tony Curtis, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles and Sean Connery (and played cards in Goldfinger). Yet Dick, a Nova Scotia media historian and archivist, argues the Canadian-born actor and television host Austin Willis is an overlooked star. Despite being a familiar face, Willis didn’t attain the fame of contemporaries like Lorne Greene and Raymond Massey, but this recent, as-told-to memoir will renew appreciation. Like its subject, this book slipped under the radar when it was published late last year.

8The Cinema of Sofia Coppola: Fashion, Culture, CelebritySuzanne Ferriss

Sofia Coppola studied art and photography, and this wide-ranging analysis of her work pays close attention to the references that construct her distinct visual style. Scholar Ferriss traces and deconstructs how Coppola’s knowledge of interior design, fashion, architecture, art and music informs every aspect of her movies – and their carefully crafted, painterly compositions – and illuminates how deftly style becomes substance. 

9The Seventies: The Decade That Changed American Film ForeverVincent LoBrutto

Dirty Harry. American Graffiti. Shampoo. The Godfather. This book tracks, year by year and through specific movies and creatives, how Old Hollywood became New Hollywood 

with the rise of more freewheeling, unflinching content and difficult stories. LoBrutto, a longtime instructor at New York’s School of Visual Arts, considers how the dissolution of the classical studio system and new ownership structures, as well as the impact of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, affected the cultural and cinematic movements and redefined the art form.

10The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock: An Anatomy of the Master of SuspenseEdward White

Who was Alfred Hitchcock? Depends on who you ask. Each of these 12 chapters considers a different aspect of the famous persona, from “the voyeur” to “the family man,” and posits an answer. It not only examines his directorial style, but his relationships with ice-cool blondes Tippi Hedren and Grace Kelly, leading men like Cary Grant, as well as his wife and closest collaborator Alma Reville. It’s a refreshing approach to the life and filmography of an already well-documented celebrity filmmaker and cultural icon.


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