Good Movies, Food and Wine to Keep Winter at Bay

The Evening Standard (London, England), December 6, 2012 | Go to article overview

Good Movies, Food and Wine to Keep Winter at Bay


Byline: Nick Curtis

THERE'S only one film book published this year that you conceivably, actually, need to read, as in cover-to-cover, and that's David Thomson's The Big Screen (Allen Lane, [pounds sterling]25). It's a personal, critically acute history of the entire motion picture medium that comes bang up to date to a world where porn, video games and mobile phones shape what we see more effectively than any auteur or mogul. As ever, Thomson wears his scholarship lightly but his prose sings with brio: I was particularly taken by his description of Laurence Olivier as a flag blown in his own breeze.

By contrast, Adam Smith's Rough Guide to 21st Century Cinema (Rough Guides, [pounds sterling]14.99) is one to dip into, probably in the downstairs loo. It consists of robust, middlebrow analysis of individual films released since the Millennium -- a heartening number of them good -- interspersed with thematic musings on actors, directors, the problem of piracy, etc.

Since the celebrity biography market has prolapsed, books by or about actors are thin on the ground this year. The best-written and most enjoyable is Rupert Everett's second memoir Vanished Years (Little Brown, [pounds sterling]20), in which the actor continues to lacerate himself and everyone around him with gay abandon and exquisitely tooled, bitchy prose. Here, we go from his disastrous turn on The Apprentice to triumph on Broadway in Blithe Spirit, via pen portraits of Isabella Blow and Natasha Richardson, and fond reminiscences of drugs and shagging. Best moment: half-recognised by Brits in an all-naked Berlin gay bar, Everett introduces himself as Jeremy Irons. But his description of his father's decline and death is moving because it is unsentimental.

Arnold Schwarzenegger's Total Recall (Simon and Schuster, [pounds sterling]20) is as thuddingly solid as the man himself, 600-plus pages of remorseless forward motion with no room for self-doubt and only accidental spasms of humour. It covers his three careers, in bodybuilding, film and politics, in sapping detail, and reveals a phenomenal will to power. The level of the prose (ghosted by Peter Petre) can be judged by Arnie's description of his first meeting with Maria Shriver, the wife it was recently revealed he betrayed: "She had on an attractive outfit that was both evening-y and casual".

Donald Spoto doesn't crunch the language like that in The Redgraves (Robson Press, [pounds sterling]20). But his quest for accuracy, not least in nailing the myths this family of actors spread about themselves, leads to a pedantic tone. The Redgraves are and were luminous performers with inflammatory political views and a tendency to marry people of the wrong persuasion. Their story is full of sexual repression, betrayal, scandal and tragedy. Why, then, is this book so boring? Onwards, to the books which are meant to be looked at rather than read. …

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