I've been wanting to read about movies for a while, not just watch them. But where do I start?
I'm not really interested in actors (biographies/gossip) or movie reviews, but more some good suggestions for books about genres, styles and history of movies. Ideally I guess it would be some "The Movies 1895-2010: A complete guide to genres and notable works/directors/actors with in-depth analyses of important elements"-kinda book (yeah, I know, they haven't written that one yet).
Although I've spent the last couple of years watching movies in near-chronological order and can tell some of the various "waves" from each other, I still haven't read anything other than the occasional essay included in some of the Criterion Collection DVD sets.
So, where does an absolute beginner in movie "theory"/history begin?
I think there are a lot of different approaches. I'm an obsessive film book purchaser, and I tend to buy books about the aspects of the movie industry that I'm most interested in, i.e. film noir, old Hollywood, and the Oscars. I also have a number of books by critics like Ebert and Kael, and bios of guys like Bogart, Mitch, and Cagney, etc.
One of my favorite fundamental books is Thomas Schatz's The Genius of the System. I have an earlier edition than the one I'm linking to, but this is a great overview of how Hollywood evolved from the early days through the demise of the studio system. It is highly instructive and reads like a novel. I can't imagine a better book to start with.
Oh, and you just can't beat City of Nets.
City of Nets - I don't accept everything the author says, but Prof is right. It's a terrific "collateral" history of Hollywood in the 'forties.
The second book contains Agee's screenplays. He wasn't only a keen critic but also a film artist in his own right. He collaborated on or wrote the scripts for The African Queen, The Night of the Hunter, and a short film version of Stephen Crane's A Bride Comes to Yellow Sky. This last movie actually features him in a small role as an occupant of the town jail. It ain't much, but it was joined to another short, adapted from Conrad's The Secret Sharer, with James Mason as the young captain, in a movie called Face to Face.
Agee was a true critic. He expressed not only his opinions, but also his considerable and acute insights. It so happened that the material he was obliged to review consisted of a good deal of vapid Hollywood studio mainstream product of the 1940s. See, for example, his quickie analysis of MGM's Tennessee Johnson, where he exhibits a sense of what he wants to see in historical films, what he thinks such films are capable of. He does this in a mere sentence or two relating to the performance of a man who'd go on to be a career hack actor, Morris Ankrum, but who has his moment in the sun as Jefferson Davis.
The Genius of the System, somewhat reminds me of a few films. I've seen one narrated by Clint Eastwood on the history of MGM studios (I thought it was), but looked around pretty quick on the web and don't see it. However, if you haven't seen the one called Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese, it's worth checking out.
I can't resist one of Agee's remarks -- that movies about Hollywood are usually better than books about Hollywood. He excepted only Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon and West's The Day of the Locust from this observation.
Of course, he wrote this many years ago. A lotta books about Hollywood have come out since then.
Like The Professor, I tend to buy movie books on a subject that interest me, and if they happen to be on sale, it's a double whammy. A few days back I was in Dallas, and one of the suburbs, Plano, was having a Friends of the Library sale, and it was a good one. I found a huge tome, The Art of Walt Disney: From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdoms by .... It's filled with colorful artwork, history of Disney, and so forth. It was an interesting find if you enjoy Disney.
This is a link to a book I posted earlier called Graven Images by Ronald V. Borst on science fiction and horror, starting with the teens and twenties, going up to the sixties, with an essay before each time period by a different author like Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, and so forth. It's filled with old movie posters and such, it's a great book on the genre if you enjoy that sort of thing.
I have that book! It isn't as useful as it was when printed, but it still includes a few images that are relatively absent from the internet.
Documentary on the pre-history of film available on youtube...
I can't answer your question properly, though I'd like to. To my mind Pauline Kael's I Lost It at The Movies and Andrei Tarkovsky's Sculpting in Time have not been equaled in their respective genres (Kael, in popular criticism and Tarkovsky in auteur (if you like) recollection/observation).
Kael is fun to read -- because she writes so well. But she's a better critic of critics than she is of films.
Yes, her reviews of Lolita and The Innocents and Bonnie and Clyde have a touch of the genuine critic about them. But she's more of a schoolmarm passing out grades and thwacking pupils with her ruler than she is a truly critical intelligence.
I like her for her imperfections, her hypocrisy, and her complete snobbery. Despite the fact that she's dismissive of many of my favorite films, I've always really liked her and appreciated her flair for language.