anthonyslide_slidearea_banner current issue archive.html about.html contact.html anthonyslide_slidearea_bannerend



From January 1989 through July 2001, I published a monthly column of film reviews in Classic Images under the title of "The Slide Area." Each month I would try and comment, in honest and independent fashion, on as many film-related books as possible. However, eventually, I decided to retire the column rather than acquiesce to censorial editorial requirements. I still read, or at least skim through, the majority of film books published, both from major and from specialist publishers, and I still receive the occasional suggestion from friends, colleagues and correspondents that I revive the column in some form. is my response. It will be updated on a quarterly basis, and, hopefully, as time goes on, I will be able to cover a substantial number of new and worthwhile film books. As in the past, my reviews will be fair and honest, descriptive and evaluative, and, above all, independent, based on my knowledge and experience which includes publication of some seventy books on the history of popular entertainment and the editing of a further 140 works in the field. When an anthology of the reviews was published in 1992 by Scarecrow Press, a reviewer in Library Journal commented, "These rollicking reviews are a welcome relief from the bland, pseudo-academic exegeses that have proliferated in recent years through media syndication�They brim with amusing digressions�, snide remarks�, and impetuous wisecracks." Hopefully, this column will continue in that tradition. Publishers are encouraged to submit review copies of their latest film books to me at 4118 Rhodes Avenue, Studio City, Ca. 91604/818-769-4453.

The Slide Area No. 9/winter 2007-2008

How much is an “old” film book worth? Far more than one might imagine. The Fine & Rare Books auction at PBA Galleries in San Francisco on June 14, 2007, had for sale a copy of The American Motion Picture Directory: A Cyclopedic Dictionary of the Motion Picture Industry, 1914-1915, published in 1915 by the American Motion Picture Directory Co. of Chicago. The auction house valued the book in the $10,000.00-$15,000.00 price range. The value seemed positively laughable, and I anticipated a sale of the book for a couple of hundred dollars. Was I wrong! It sold for $6,900.00 – far less than the suggested value but far, far more than anyone might have believed.

And writing of expensive tomes, Heritage Book Shop in West Hollywood, one of the most affluent of antiquarian booksellers, has announced its closure. While not known for selling film books – despite the above sale, they are too cheap for consideration – Heritage Book Shop did count a lot of Hollywood celebrities among its clients, including Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Michael Ovitz. Unlike most bookstores which close because they cannot afford to continue in business, the owners of Heritage, the brothers Ben and Lou Weinstein, are ceasing business because they are selling the property for a reported ten million dollars and because the stock is to be sold to a U.K.-based auction house for a guaranteed minimum of eight million dollars.

Obviously, there is money to be made out of books, but, unfortunately, as far as I can tell not by most authors.

Very few individuals were aware of the death on February 6, 2003, of Milt Luboviski, the founder of Larry Edmunds Bookshop and its principal proprietor until 1980. Milt died at his home in the South of France, to where he had retired after divorcing his wife Git. Even fewer individuals will know that Milt’s brother, Phil, who had been the dominant force behind the bookstore since Milt’s retirement, died in Los Angeles on April 18, 2007. (Phil was born on September 9, 1923.)

Larry Edmunds Bookshop is a legendary institution, the most famous film bookstore in the world, and one that should be considered a major part of Hollywood’s cultural heritage. It is right there on Hollywood Boulevard (its third location since its founding) in the center of an area that is supposedly being revitalized. Yet its future remains in doubt. The bookstore is on a month-to-month lease, and, in large part because of the Internet, sales have steadily decreased.

There is a new Visual Culture catalog out from British publisher, I.B. Tauris, and it features an impressive number of new film titles, although the emphasis is obviously on the academic market. New and available in both hardcover and paperback are Roman Polanski: The Cinema of a Cultural Traveller by Ewa Mazierska, Federico Fellini: His Life and Work by Tullio Kezich, Brazil on Screen: Cinema Novo, New Cinema Utopia by Lúcia Nagib, Live Flesh: The Male Body in Contemporary Spanish Cinema by Santiago Fouz-Hernandez and Alfredo Martinez-Exposito, The Queer Cinema of Derek Jarman: Critical and Cultural Readings by Niall Richardson, Filming the Modern Middle East: Politics in the Cinemas of Hollywood and the Arab World by Lina Khatib, Makhmalbaf at Large: The Making of a Rebel Filmmaker by Hamid Dabashi, Iranian Cinema: A Political History by Hamid Reza Sadr, Religion and Film: An Introduction by Melanie J. Wright, Chasing Dragons: An Introduction to the Martial Arts Film by David West, Hollywood Heroines: Women in Film Noir and Female Gothic Film by Helen Hanson, Elia Kazan: The Cinema of an American Outsider by Brian Neve, Teen Dreams: Reading Teen Film and Television from Heathers to Veronica Mars by Roz Kaveney, Stagecoach to Tombstone: The Filmgoers’ Guide to the Great Westerns by Howard Hughes, a new edition of Britain Can Take It: British Cinema in the Second World War by Tony Aldgate and Jeffrey Richards (paperback only), a new edition of License to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films by James Chapman (paperback only), A New Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema by David Pirie, X-Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker by Alex Cox (hardcover only), Dziga Vertov: Defining Documentary Film by Jeremy Hicks, and Storm over Asia: The Film Companion II by Amy Sargeant. For more information, go to

Its American distributor, the University of California Press, announces the latest group of BFI publications. New in the “BFI Film Classics” series are The Big Lebowski (this is a film classic?) by J.M.Tyree and Ben Walters, Lawrence of Arabia by Kevin Jackson, City Lights by Charles Maland (a good writer and scholar), Night Mail by Scott Anthony, and The Apu Trilogy by Philip Kemp. Also new are 100 Shakespeare Films by Daniel Rosenthal, 100 Road Movies by Jason Wood and 100 British Documentaries by Patrick Russell. As the last group of titles sadly illustrates, the British Film Institute is emulating the American Film Institute with its silly notion of 100 greatest or best thing and 100 greatest of best that. What does the BFI plan next? Perhaps the 100 Greatest Quota Quickies or even the 100 Greatest Maurice Elvey Films.

Actually, maybe the BFI doesn’t have anything planned for the future, as word has it that the publishing division is to be siphoned off and run as a commercial venture. If this is indeed true, all the second-rate British academics that have found an easy publishing home for their worthless projects are out of luck. Of course, I suppose there is still I.B. Tauris.

A British publisher that is to be highly recommended is Persephone Books Ltd., a small house specializing in quality, uniform paperback reprints of little-known fictional works, primarily by women. One book worthy of attention by film enthusiasts is Farewell Leicester Square by Betty Miller (Jonathan’s mother), which is about a Jewish filmmaker in England and “the discreet discrimination of the bourgeoisie.” Another reprint from Persephone is Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall, a 1947 thriller that was filmed as The Reckless Moment in 1949 and as The Deep End in 2001. Finally, Persephone also has available Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s 1924 novel of a house-husband, The Home-Maker, which became a superb 1925 film directed by King Baggot and starring Alice Joyce and Clive Brook.

For more information on Persephone Books and a complete listing of its titles, check out, or write to the company at 59 Lamb’s Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NB.

A legendary name in film literature has died. Rudolf Arnheim, who published the classic text, Film as Art, in 1957, died on June 9, 2007, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the age of 102. Born in Berlin on July 15, 1904, Arnheim left Germany in 1933 with the Nazis rise to power. Eventually, he came to the U.S.A., and published his first major English-language work, Art and Visual Perception, in 1954. He taught at the New School for Social Research in New York, Sarah Lawrence College, Harvard University, and the University of Michigan. As Adam Bernstein reminds us in a first-rate obituary in the Washington Post, Arnheim admired the “artistic purity of expression” of the silent film, arguing that words “significantly limit the expression of the image.”

And now for some book reviews…

There are two new titles in the “Contemporary Film Directors” series. The first is Kathleen McHugh’s Jane Campion (University of Illinois Press, $50.00/$19.95). I would not describe the text as “witty,” as does one of the academics quoted on the back cover, but it is adequate, and the interviews, filmography and lengthy bibliography are particularly acceptable. The text is a mix of straightforward biographical narrative and pseudo-academic discussions of the films themselves. Jane Campion deserves better and more detailed examination than this, but until that “something better” comes along, Kathleen McHugh’s text will suffice.

Juan A Suárez is a professor at the University of Murcia in Spain, and also the author of Jim Jarmusch (University of Illinois Press, $50.00/$19.95). While I would welcome the book as the first major English-language study of the director whose last film was Broken Flowers in 2005, I must note that the text is somewhat stilted, although it is heavy with facts. There is only one interview with the director here, but it is a long one, albeit reprinted from the relatively easily available Projections 11 (published by Faber & Faber).

Also new in the series are Manoel de Oliveira by Randal Johnson and Roman Polanski by James Morrison (both priced at $50.00 in hardcover and $19.95 in paperback). Of course, Polanski is the better known of the two, and the study of his work does make a convenient pocket size reference text. The Portuguese de Oliveira is, in all honesty, little known, but it is quite amazing, as the author points out, that his career as a feature film director dates back to 1942, and that his first involvement in film was in 1928, making him one of the oldest, active filmmakers in the world.

There have been quite a few books on pioneering African-American director Oscar Micheaux, and, in a way, it is surprising that he should be the subject of a biography by a white guy from Milwaukee. However, Patrick McGilligan’s The Great and Only Oscar Micheaux: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker (HarperCollins, $29.95) is as good as any of his previous works on such eminent Caucasian directors as George Cukor and Alfred Hitchcock. As one would expect from McGilligan, the biography is highly readable and both honestly and intuitively captures the spirited life and career of Oscar Micheaux. The research is phenomenal, making extensive use of coverage in the black press, such as the Chicago Defender, and the photographs are, I suspect, rare.

As one quoted scholar notes, there has been “a mad dash to honor Oscar Micheaux,” and it does bother me somewhat that writers (both academic and popular) tend to pay scant attention to the quality of his films. Yes, Oscar Micheaux was a pioneering director, but he was no D.W. Griffith, and we must avoid taking his films out of context and judging them based only on the color of the filmmaker’s skin rather than his artistic and technical virtuosity. After all, while Oscar Micheaux may have given Paul Robeson his first screen role with Body and Soul in 1925, did it really (honestly and truthfully) do anything for the actor’s career? Surely far more important was the stage production of The Emperor Jones that followed or Show Boat (both stage and screen) or the magnificent, and seldom seen, production of Proud Valley in Britain in the late 1930s.

An original approach to comedy, an over-written about subject, is always welcome, and Alex Clayton’s The Body in Hollywood Slapstick (McFarland, $35.00) is certainly original. It discusses the interaction of the body between the mind, the setting, the voices (where the comedy is a talkie) and the machine in the films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, and – oh dear! – Jerry Lewis. The text is certainly readable, despite a large amount of citations of academic works. Ultimately, the book is somewhat disappointing, in large part, perhaps, because there is not a lot here that is new despite a new approach to the subject.

Wild Bill Elliott: A Complete Filmography by Gene Blottner (McFarland, $55.00) is the ultimate encyclopedia of the Western star, popular from 1940 through 1954. The book opens with a detailed study of Elliott’s life, which is followed by listings of his various film appearances, split into categories such as starring roles, short subjects, etc. (Later, the author provides alphabetical and chronological listings of the films in each category.) There is also a listing of various comic books featuring the star, a record of his Las Vegas television programs in the mid 1960s, and documentation on his rating in various Western polls from the 1940s and 1950s. There is even a bibliography, which, surprisingly, does not include the American Film Institute Catalog, which should have been the primary source for credit information. Of course, there are lots of photographs, and, I must admit, a rather nice, nostalgic, full-color cover based on a 1952 Wild Bill Elliott comic book cover. After this publication, let us have no more books on Wild Bill Elliott.

I must admit that an academic text on The Lord of the Rings filled me with fear and loathing, and I must state up front that I could not bring myself to read Kristin Thompson’s The Frodo Franchise: The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood (University of California Press, $29.95) in its entirety. I must also confess that I am incredibly at fault to dismiss this book without due consideration and without intelligent examination. It is incredibly good. It may be academic, and the author goes to great lengths in her preface and acknowledgments to explain that it is not part of The Lord of the Rings franchise and she has made no licensing arrangements with New Line Cinema. (Of course, if she and/or her publisher had paid licensing fees to use the illustrations, it is doubtful that either could have afforded to publish the volume.) All in all, Kristin Thompson has produced an amazing, detailed, sympathetic and, above all, readable study of The Lord of the Rings.

She is obviously highly familiar with the original novels, and her discussion of their writing and publication is quite fascinating. She explains the rights process in detail, the production, the use of digital special effects, and the franchising of the movies that has helped to generate billions of dollars in revenue to a few lucky people. This is a history of modern filmmaking at its best, unquestionably the definitive study of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is something lacking in the biography Brass Diva: The Life and Legends of Ethel Merman by Caryl Flinn (University of California Press, $34.95). The author has done all the research necessary, but, somehow, the text is lackluster and, quite frankly, rather dull. One opens the book expecting to hear Ethel Merman’s voice belting out from the pages, but instead one hears only silence. Perhaps there was simply nothing very exciting about Ethel Merman’s life. A handful of marriages, a lot of hit shows on stage and a disappointing Hollywood career. As an actress, she was never as good as when she was presenting a song in her own inimitable style. Her marriage to Ernest Borgnine deserves our attention, but fascinating and weird as it must appear, the author provides nothing new on the subject – and there is no indication that she tried to approach Ernest Borgnine (whom I must admit has always come across to me as a very nice guy).

The best comment in the book comes not from the author but from legendary critic Wolcott Gibbs (unidentified in the text): “I know Ethel gets terribly cozy with the audience…but you can’t help feeling that she’s never been introduced to the cast.”

The most scandalous revelation in the book is that Ethel Merman’s scrapbooks, which she donated to the Museum of the City of New York “are now ravaged by age, and many book signatures are illegible from mold and deteriorating paper. A few portions have had to be tossed and are lost to posterity.” How shameful that the Museum of the City of New York has failed in its obligation to safeguard and preserve the artifacts that it holds.

For the record, there is a second biography of Ethel Merman, published contemporaneously with the above volume. It is Brian Kellow’s Ethel Merman: A Life (Viking, $25.95). It is a cheaper and shorter work, which I have not read. The Hollywood Reporter (December 5, 2007) notes that “Brian Kellow displays a keen sense of how and why Ethel Merman worked…and his profile of her personal life is an aching refrain worthy of the musical ‘Follies.’”

There is much that is interesting, if not totally original, in Robert Spadoni’s Uncanny Bodies: The Coming of Sound Film and the Origins of the Horror Genre (University of California Press, $24.95), but there is to many quotes from other academic sources (including Kristin Thompson). I wish the author had gone forward on his own, without academic reservations. Very obviously, Robert Spadoni knows film history and has done his research, but no sooner does one read an interesting paragraph or page, with interesting contemporary commentary, than one becomes bogged down in some modernistic, and dreary quotes, from the likes of Russian Yuri Tsivian (don’t ask me who he is – I don’t care).

The “body” on screen is obviously the latest fad with film academics. Another recent text is Jonathan Auerbach’s Body Shots: Early Cinema’s Incarnations (University of California Press, $60.00/$24.95). The original concept here is not without interest: the manner in which early cinema in the 1890s and early 1900s used the body as the center of the action or the frame, as in the body running, posing, kissing, or being shot (President William McKinley). There are nineteen subheadings under the entry in the index for “body.” The text is not too academic, but there are times when one finds the reading of it to be heavy-going. And the illustrations are generally of a poor quality, with bodies clearly visible but faces barely discernible.

There is a new, the 2008 edition of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide (A Signet Book, $9.99). The front cover promises, and I am sure the book delivers, more than 17,000 entries, including 400 plus new ones, more than 8,000 DVD and 13,000 video listings. There is really nothing new that can be said or written about Leonard’s work. It is the best of its type available – and the biggest bargain around. I can only wonder what happens to the many thousands of the previous year’s edition that are sure to be discarded, and I can only hope that the owners recycle them properly.

The historical significance of home movies is “explored” in Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories, edited by Karen L. Ishizuka and Patricia R. Zimmermann (University of California Press, $60.00/$24.95). Obviously, such footage provides a certain view of history, albeit often stilted and boring. Despite what academics might like us to believe, home movies are of primary interest only to those featured on screen. The same is true not only of John and Jane Doe’s home movies, but also those shot by movie celebrities. Viewing the home movies of, say, Preston Sturges, preserved at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, was in struck by how little the fame director knows of how actually to shoot a film.

In a back over “blurb,” B. Ruby Rich notes that home movies are “essential tools of historiography,” and that the visionary essays in the book provide “a way to reclaim devalued work and turn the tables of the cataloguers.” It is a curious, and specious, argument in that the majority of the pieces in the book are written by archivists at various institutions with major holdings of home movies – in other words, the very cataloguers upon whom this work turns the tables.

Canyon Cinema: The Life and Times of an Independent Film Distributor by Scott MacDonald (University of California Press, $65.00/$29.95) contains more than 450 pages, revealing far more than one would ever want to know about the San Francisco-based distributor of independent and avant-garde film, founded in 1960 and, apparently, still in operation. Scott MacDonald writes that “One can only hope that Canyon is able to weather the challenge posed by DVD releases of 16mm films,” a hope that, quite frankly, is incredibly naïve. As anyone who has tried to find a lab in the United States able to handle 16mm knows only too well, 16mm is dead.

Certainly, one cannot and should not criticize this book for its size and minutiae. All aspects of film history should be documented in such detail. However, I am sure many will agree that Canyon Cinema simply does not deserve such coverage – about as many people will purchase this volume as have viewed the films in the Canyon Cinema library. That having been said, I have to confess that the book is worth its cost simply for the hilarious recounting of the antics of the legend in his own mind, Gregory Markpoulos. If you don’t know who he is, you are in the majority. Suffice it to say, he is the ego-clown of avant-garde cinema, who once sent copies of his self-published books to the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and asked – no demanded – that they be subject indexed under a unique category of something along the lines of original film art, with heavy emphasis on the art.

Steve Ricci’s Cinema & Fascism: Italian Film and Society, 1922-1943 (University of California Press, $24.95) examines Italian filmmaking between World War One and World War Two and discusses to what extent the productions from that period may be considered “fascist.” Just as many Nazi films contain nothing that appears offensive, so, apparently, do many Italian films from the Mussolini era contain nothing propagandistic or “fascist.” Relatively short (a little over 200 pages) are presumably intended for use as a textbook, Cinema & Fascism is an OK introduction to the subject but occasionally heavy-going in terms of the academic approach.

I have to confess (I am doing a lot of confessing) that I have little interest in the Marilyn Monroe phenomenon. The never-ending stream of books on the subject leaves me cold, and when I do force myself to read, or at least skim through, one of them, I find little that is new. And so, I am delighted to report on A Marilyn Mosaic by Mark Bellinghaus and Ernest W. Cunningham. A self-published, signed and limited edition in spiral-bound format, the book contains a curious mix of items, including poetry and a four-inch x five-inch, unpublished black-and-white photograph. Best of all, and fascinating to me, it considers all the fraudulent characters involved in the exploitation of her life and career. There is a section titled “The 10 Big Lies about Marilyn Monroe” and, of course a somewhat nasty (although I suppose deserved) look at Robert L. Slatzer, “the main villain in the Marilyn Monroe story,” who claimed to have once been married to her. (Slatzer actually still owes me money for some research I did for him years ago, I think for a book on John Wayne, and so I am more than happy to endorse the attack here – particularly as that now he is dead, I am never going to get paid!)

For more information as to price and availability, check in at [email protected].

Another internet connection to check out is at which may be found information on my own, latest book, Incorrect Entertainment, or, Trash from the Past: A History of Political Incorrectness and Bad Taste in 20th Century American Pop Culture. How is that for a title? Included in the book are chapters on camp, nudity, alcohol, drugs, fascism in Hollywood, popular songs, topical jokes Helen Keller and Eleanor Roosevelt, Hedda Hopper, the Porky’s trilogy, and much more. I guarantee that the book contains something to offend everyone – and at only $19.95 it is a real bargain. Telephone orders at 800-566-1251.