Combustible Celluloid

Film Books: October, 2017

A Duke and a Dude

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In October I happily received two new books on three of my favorite filmmakers (and one of my favorite movie stars). Here are my short reviews.

Wayne and Ford: The Films, the Friendship, and the Forging of an American Hero
By Nancy Schoenberger
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday
October 24, 2017

John Ford is one of my top five favorite directors, and it always thrills me when I find a fresh article or book about his work. Author Nancy Schoenberger's Wayne and Ford narrows its focus on the unique relationship between the poet and the icon, providing just enough background material to enlighten her remarks. It tells the familiar story of Wayne's near-rise to stardom in The Big Trail (1930), his purgatory of "B" movies for nine years, and then his actual rise to stardom in Stagecoach (1939). The book carries the story through the Cavalry films, The Searchers, and so on, to its logical end: Wayne's downfall, and his eventual resurrection with movies like True Grit and The Shootist. The author describes how Ford shapes Wayne, and how Wayne's presence affected Ford. Best of all, Schoenberger begins her book with an explanation that, yes, she is a woman, and that, yes, she loves Westerns. It's this particular facet that I found most fascinating, and Schoenberger uses it to her, and our, advantage in this smart but very readable book.

The Coen Brothers: The Iconic Filmmakers and Their Work (Unofficial and Unauthorised)
By Ian Nathan
Aurum Press
November 9, 2017

I once almost interviewed the Coen brothers (a family emergency called them away), but I have of course heard stories about how notoriously difficult they are; they simply don't like to speak about the deeper meanings of things. Author Ian Nathan has interviewed the Coens, and he spells this out right up front, and bravely goes ahead anyway. (He amusingly sprinkles their wry, opaque comments throughout the book.) The Coen Brothers goes chronologically through their career, beginning with their childhood and homemade movies and their friendship with Sam Raimi. The book is filled with facts and quotes and lots of wonderful full-color pictures that bring back many memories. And while Nathan doesn't offer much personal commentary on the Coens' few failures, he does posit plausible explanations as to why things just didn't click. As of 2017, I would already argue that the Coens are a strong candidate for the best filmmaker(s) working today, but reading through this book made me appreciate their work even more; it highlights how disparate their work is, how many settings and time periods and genres they've tackled, while always remaining true to their own unique voices.

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