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DVD Talk Book Reviews
DVDTalk Book Reviews
  By John Sinnott
Before I was a movie buff I was an avid bibliophile, buying, reading, and amassing a fairly sizable collection of books.  That passion hasn't faded over the years and I still enjoy curling up with a good book.  The only real change is that those books are about movies and film history more often than not.  I'm always on the lookout for a good book, and I figured there might be some kindred spirits reading DVDTalk.  So welcome to what I hope becomes a regular series on book reviews.  This time around I have a trio of books that I would unhesitatingly recommend.  First is an intriguing overview of independent films, followed by an autobiography of one of the greatest directors ever, and finally a great look at those TV horror movie hosts of days gone by.
The History of Independent Cinema by Phil Hall (Bear Manor Media $21.95):  Writing a history of independent films is a huge task, but film journalist Phil Hall rises to the challenge with his latest book.  Tracing the origins of independent film to the small companies trying to stay one step ahead of the Motion Pictures Patent Company in the early days of film, Hall hits all of the major landmarks of independents from the black cinema films of the silent era, to underground filmmakers, and up to the current trend in digital cameras and the internet.  In between he discusses such important directors as Otto Preminger, Stanely Kramer, and John Cassavetes.
This isn't just a run down of the independent movies we've all heard of though; the book also covers some important but forgotten films and creators.  Lesser know films are discussed such as Salt of the Earth, a movie created by three filmmakers blacklisted during the McCarthy era.  There's also a section on Spencer Williams, a pioneering and prolific black filmmaker who made one of the biggest hits in the black cinema world of the 40's, The Blood of Jesus. 
Aside from the interesting overview of films made outside of the studio system, Hall's added a great feature to this work.  At the end of each chapter he has a different film scholar or critic present their list of the 10 most important independent films of all times.  These lists are entertaining, informative, and bound to start discussions.  Would you put Bubba Ho-Tep on your list?  What about Deep Throat?  Can you guess which horror film appears on just about every list? 
This is an excellent start for anyone who wants to learn more about independent films and the people behind the cameras.  Well researched and entertaining, this book comes highly recommended.

Something Like an Autobiography by Akira Kurosawa (Vintage $15.00):  One of the greatest directors in world cinema talks about his life and his work.  This isn't a dry and dull listing of his films though, Kurosawa is surprisingly modest when talking about his pictures and the stories he tells that have little to do with film are often the most engaging sections of the book.  He describes life in Japan during WWII, especially at the end, his country's surrender, and the threat of The Honorable Death of the Hundred Million.  (The plan was that if Japan lost the war, the Emperor would address the nation and command all of his subjects to kill themselves, leaving a hollow victory for the Allies.)   He also relates how much more freedom filmmakers had in occupied Japan compared with the wartime restrictions on speech.
The book naturally talks about Kurosawa's films and his relation with the great actor Toshiro Mifune.  It's amazing how close Mifune came to never getting hired at all, and the relation the two film giants had is quite enjoyable to read about.  Anyone interested in Japanese film should pick up a copy.  

Television Horror Movie Hosts by Elena M. Watson (McFarland & Company, $29.95):  Remember the Saturday Afternoon Creature Feature show on the local UHF network?  These shows were usually hosted by an "evil scientist" or "mad doctor" who would introduce the movies and crack horrible jokes just before the commercial breaks.  It was on these shows that many of us film fans were first exposed to the Universal horror movies and even Japanese imports like Godzilla and Gamera.  Elena Watson chronicles the rise of this institution, explaining how the films were packaged and marketed to independent stations and how the creature hosts were encouraged.  She tracks down an amazing number of one-time hosts who tell some amusing stories about their one-time professions.  Anyone who grew up glued to the TV when Sir Cecil Creape or Dr. Paul Bearer were presenting their films should be sure to pick up a copy.


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