I OWN A BUNCH of movie books. Well, more than a bunch. Dozens. Too many, I suppose. I think the hobby (or is it habit?) started about the time that VCRs came into being–about 1979–a milestone for my latent movie fanaticism. I had been awakened to a world of movies that previously had been unavailable for viewing.
I think the first book was Donald Spoto’s excellent film-by-film analysis, Hitchcock. I’d borrowed the Oak Lawn Public Library’s copy a couple of times, gotten completely immersed in it, and then finally plunked down the $8.95. Next, if I recall, was a little paperback, The Golden Turkey Awards-a sort of oddball collection of lists–lists of bad movies–turkeys, some of them in the so-bad-they’re-good category, a la MST3K; others just plain awful and unwatchable. A fascinating, fun read.
Eventually, my wanderings in Waldenbooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kroch & Brentano’s led me to my most treasured film book, Guide for the Film Fanatic (1986; Fireside Books) From the Introduction:
“If you flipped through the pages of this book, you may have noticed that, unlike many movie-list books, this one does not have a star rating system. I love those books, but I worry that rating systems have the adverse effect of discouraging people from seeing certain movies that should be equally recongnized. It’s only natural to choose a movie that has a three-star rating over one that has just two stars, but in many cases the two-star movie is more interesting–indeed it may have a cult made up of devoted fans who appreciate things that a particular review overlooked. I may attack a film, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want you to see it. This book is meant to encourage readers to see movies, not discourage them.”
Danny Peary’s is untypical of most movie review books in that every one of the films he discusses is worth your time, in some way or another. Each entry is a pleasure to read, even if it doesn’t convince you to watch the film. Peary might consider how absolutely great a movie is, or place some high value on it even if solely for its pure entertainment value, or occasionally only for historic reasons. Many of the book’s movies have a strong, cult-like following–not everyone’s cup of tea, but maybe it will be yours, if you give it a try. I discovered movies I would’ve otherwise overlooked–movies that Maltin gave just two stars to, that Siskel & Ebert rated “dogs of the week”, or films that arrived and burned brightly then for various reasons faded quickly from memory. Some films I had seen before, multiple times, took on a new light.