Thursday, November 28, 2013

Autumn reading: film books

Peter von Bagh: Chaplin. Helsinki: Like, 2013. In Finnish, 496 pages. Peter von Bagh has written dozens of books during some fifty years, but Chaplin, one of his best, is his first monograph of a film-maker. (He has written and co-written monographs of music stars.) Von Bagh has written remarkable essays on Chaplin's films over the years, but the new book is not a compilation of them. It is a new whole with a strong, consistent breath, taking us from the earliest Keystone farces to Chaplin's late unfinished projects. The 40 chapters on selected shorts have occasionally a rough note quality, but the chapters devoted to the feature films are compelling to read. My favourite chapters include: The Count, The Kid, A Woman of Paris, Gold Rush, The Circus, and City Lights. A work of cultural history, a history of Chaplin's spirit, its evolution during many phases and stages. In that profound sense von Bagh's work belongs with André Bazin. A work of lasting value, based on a lifelong commitment, it should be published in English.

Glenn Mitchell: The Chaplin Encyclopedia. London: Batsford, 1997. 288 pages in small print. Always a solid reference book, with a comprehensive collection of entries and a lot of rare and fascinating detail besides the basic facts, synopses, and biographical data.

Charles J. Maland: Chaplin and American Culture: The Evolution of a Star Image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1989. 442 p. One of my favourite Chaplin books, a social history of Chaplin's star image, full of original insight.

Frederic Lombardi: Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2013. 370 large format pages. Last summer in Bologna I had not yet access to this seminal study about Allan Dwan. Indispensable in getting facts straight about the great mythomane (for instance about the infamous legend of his last film, Most Dangerous Man Alive). An essential Allan Dwan companion.

Outi Hupaniittu: Biografiliiketoiminnan valtakausi: Toimijuus ja kilpailu suomalaisella elokuva-alalla 1900-1920-luvuilla / [The Reign of the Biografi Business. Operators and competition in Finnish cinema from the 1900s to the 1920s]. Turku  Turun yliopisto, 2013. 525 p. Annales universitatis Turkuensis. Ser. C, Scripta lingua Fennica edita; 367 Arkistolaitoksen toimituksia, 16. Outi Hupaniittu's dissertation from September 2013. Finland belongs to the privileged countries in the world of film studies because we have the unique, detailed books by Sven Hirn about the gradual development from the pre-cinema decades to the early cinema period; there was a long transitional period of co-existence. I had thought that we already know a lot about early cinema in Finland, but Hupaniittu, a skilled historian and archival expert, has unearthed a huge array of sources previously never reasearched in film studies. I have now read a third of Hupaniittu's dissertation, and every page has amazing discoveries.

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