September Books

The Daily — Sep 23, 2020
Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in a publicity photo for Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946)

Let’s open this month’s round of notes on new books with two titles whose focus is not on Alfred Hitchcock directly but rather on what was going on in his orbit. In an excerpt up at Vulture from The Camera Lies: Acting for Hitchcock, Dan Callahan writes about an electric scene in Notorious (1946) in which Ingrid Bergman’s Alicia and Cary Grant’s Devlin kiss on the balcony of her apartment in Rio. “There is the sense here that sex will have to work through and burn off all the unhappiness in both of these people,” writes Callahan. “The carnality on display feels like a breakthrough—momentous. Imagine Hitchcock’s buried, stricken feelings as he directed this kissing scene that goes on and on, in love with Bergman and as buttoned-up as Devlin himself.”

At a crucial point in Hitchcock’s career, he hired an assistant, Joan Harrison, twenty-six at the time, “cool, blonde, and beautiful, with the surface hauteur of an educated British lady thinly veiling her penchants for sex, success, and competition,” as Kathleen B. Jones describes her in the Los Angeles Review of Books. When Hitch and his wife, Alma, made the move from England to Hollywood, they took Harrison with them. There, she fell in with the European émigré community and eventually became the first woman producer at a major studio, Universal, where she worked with Robert Siodmak on Phantom Lady (1944). Jones notes that in Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock, Christina Lane explains that “what set the film apart from other noirs was its female-centeredness, upsetting genre expectations with a woman taking on the lead detective role. The film’s success led to a three-picture deal for Harrison at Universal, and opened up a new, independent pathway outside Hitchcock’s influence.”

Life Stories

In the same piece for the LARB, Jones segues into a few thoughts on Veronica, the 1969 autobiography by Veronica Lake cowritten with Donald Bain and reissued earlier this year. Lake’s star rose and fell quickly in the Hollywood of the 1940s, peaking early with her performances in Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels (1941) and René Clair’s I Married a Witch (1942), and her own “mythology falls apart under scrutiny; even she can’t keep her story straight,” writes Jones. Phantom Lady and Veronica tell the stories of “two defiant blondes who played, and played with, the roles Hollywood dealt them until their defiance was rebuked or punished or faded from view.”

Selina Todd’s new biography, Tastes of Honey: The Making of Shelagh Delaney and a Cultural Revolution, takes its title, of course, from Delaney’s best-known play, A Taste of Honey, adapted by Tony Richardson in 1961. Delaney also wrote radio plays and television series for the BBC as well as the screenplays for Lindsay Anderson’s The White Bus (1967) and Albert Finney’s Charlie Bubbles (1968). “While Todd attempts to position Delaney as a programmatic, tactical writer—one to which second-wave feminists owe a debt of gratitude—Delaney’s work and the few interviews that we have of her suggest a much more anarchic, antagonistic approach to the feminist cause,” writes Simon Lee in the Los Angeles Review of Books. “Rather than the institutional form of feminism Todd depicts in the book, Delaney’s feminism seems more likely a precursor to 1970s punk rock through its raw, unencumbered, and largely confrontational tone.”

Last month, we took a look at David Mikics’s Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker, the latest volume in Yale’s Jewish Lives series. Mikics has since written for Air Mail about conducting research at the Kubrick archive in London and striking “pay dirt: script outlines from the mid-1950s centering on his turbulent second marriage to the ballet dancer and designer Ruth Sobotka.” Mikics then explores how that doomed marriage may have informed The Shining (1980) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

As They Remember It

Unquiet, the sixth novel by literary critic and journalist Linn Ullmann, daughter of Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman, came out in Norway in 2015, became a best seller, and won a good number of awards. An English translation was published in the States early in 2019, and now, the novel has finally arrived in the UK. Unquiet is a project that took on its unique form as Ullmann transcribed a series of six conversations with her father that she recorded very late in his life. Profiling Ullmann for the Guardian, Alex Clark calls the book “a powerful and unsettling hybrid of memoir, fiction, and meditation, braided together in a fragmentary structure that reflects, among other things, Bergman’s love of Bach’s Cello Suites.

Deadline has posted three lengthy excerpts from Oliver Stone’s memoir, Chasing the Light. In the first, Stone recalls the trauma of seeing a project fall apart even as Midnight Express (1978), the film he wrote for Alan Parker, was becoming a box-office hit around the world. The project was Born on the Fourth of July, and ten years would pass before he produced and directed it himself. In the second excerpt, Stone revisits the moment he thought he might get gunned down in a hotel room in Bimini, sixty miles off the coast of Miami, while conducting research for his screenplay for Scarface (1983). And in the third, he writes about putting the cast together for Platoon (1986), which would win four Oscars, including best picture and director.

In an excerpt from the new second edition of John Badham on Directing at the Talkhouse, Badham looks back on the day that he was shooting Bird on a Wire (1990) when Goldie Hawn told him that roller coasters “scare the living becraptus out of me” and that she wouldn’t be getting on one no matter what the screenplay called for. Badham then explains how, with a little patience, a recollection of advice from Sydney Pollack, and a bit of nudging from Hawn’s costar, Mel Gibson, he got his roller coaster sequence in the end—with Goldie Hawn.

At IndieWire, Jean Bentley has put together a list of favorite celebrity memoirs, “the juiciest and most salacious stories, but also the most revealing and wise.”

Critical Highs

Literary Hub has an excerpt from the introduction to The Press Gang: Writings on Cinema from New York Press, 1991–2011 by Jim Knipfel, who was a staff writer at what he calls “a viable, cranky, smart and cynical alternative to that dusty and self-righteous Village Voice.The Press Gang collects reviews and essays by Godfrey Cheshire, “a hip bespectacled Southern gentleman, polite, direct and charming”; Matt Zoller Seitz, younger, “but equally sharp and extremely funny”; and Armond White, “a staunch individualist, unswayed by the general consensus about this or that film.”

Sean Burns’s review of The Press Gang for North Shore Movies is an outstanding, personal, and at times, even somewhat emotional appreciation. “Everybody in New York who cared about movies—and for a while there in the ’90s it felt like anybody who cared about what was cool cared about movies very deeply—had a lot of opinions about the New York Press film section,” writes Burns. He notes that “if you don’t count the sideswipes at one another in their respective columns, the writers actually interact in these pages only once, sitting down for a cheerfully antagonistic, 1999 roundtable discussion of the decade in cinema that reads like the three-way lightsaber fight at the end of The Phantom Menace.” And you can read an excerpt from that conversation at RogerEbert.com.

Several of these monthly books roundups have included mentions of Srikanth Srinivasan’s work as a translator. Now he has a new book of his own out, Modernism by Other Means: The Films of Amit Dutta, a critical study of the internationally renowned experimental filmmaker and writer. “Alongside the delineation of key themes (nature and civilization, memory, space) and shifting patterns of working with technology,” writes Omar Ahmed in his review, “there is a deep understanding of aesthetics including the pursuit for an organic film style that runs throughout the chapters with astutely exhaustive close textual analysis of key sequences from virtually all of Dutta’s films.”

Endnotes

Duke University Press has not only made Screening Race in American Nontheatrical Film, a collection edited by Allyson Nadia Field and Marsha Gordon, freely available, it’s also set up a companion site where many of the films discussed in the book can be viewed for free.

For those looking for more tactile pleasures, Film and Furniture’s Paula Benson recommends The Architecture of Cinematic Spaces, a book by designer and graphic artist Mehruss Jon Ahi and filmmaker and writer Armen Karaoghlanian that “investigates scenes from some of my own favorite film spaces including the ‘extra dimensional hotel’ room in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), the Falconer house in Tom Ford’s A Single Man (2009), the apartment in Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967), and the high rise Twombly apartment in Spike Jonze’s Her (2013).”

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