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Time Out Film Guide (eleventh edition)
John Pym, ed.
Foreword by Geoff Andrew
London: Penguin Books, 2002.
£16.99, 1592 pages, ISBN 0-14-029414-7.

Contemporary North American Film Directors: A Wallflower Critical Guide (second edition)
Yoram Allon, Del Cullen & Hannah Patterson, eds.
Foreword by Neil LaBute
London & New York: Wallflower Press, 2002.
£18.99, 619 pages, ISBN 1-903364-52-3.

Nicolas Magenham

"Et puis ce soir on s'en ira / au cinéma". Like Guillaume Apollinaire, many writers and poets have compared the act of going to the cinema with a trip. In some ways, reading film guides is the same kind of experience: leafing through them is like traveling in the movie world. It is a journey in which aesthetic criteria as well as the distinctions of genres, eras, countries are erased by the alphabetical classification, a strange voyage in which Demolition Man is encountered next to Les Demoiselles de Rochefort.

Among all the annual general film guides, the Time Out Film Guide is undoubtedly one of the most complete and practical. Even though it contains fewer entries than other guides (14,500 to 21,000 for the Radio Times guide for example), the Time Out Film Guide features more useful indexes: films classified by country or subject, obituaries 2001-2002, and so on. It is also the cheapest, which is far from negligible. However, there is only one review for each film (an extract of the review published in the magazine), whereas the Halliwell's Film & Video Guide generally offers two different points of view for one film. The Radio Times Guide to Films, for its part, offers a useful appendix of alternative titles.

Nevertheless, the Time Out Film Guide is much more complete than the other guides regarding the films credits, since it systematically names not only the directors and players, but also, among others, the composers, directors of photography, editors, and producers. It is far from being the case in other guides, in which full credits generally appear for the classics only. Mentioning this list of people is often important because a non-interesting film may happen to have an interesting soundtrack, for example (see Sam Mendes's "academic" film, Road to Perdition, music by Thomas Newman), or interesting cinematography (see Road to Perdition again).

On its back-cover, the Time Out Film Guide boasts an exceptional international coverage. For instance, such French films as Reines d'un jour (plainly translated by A Hell of a Day) or those directed by the New Wave veterans (Eric Rohmer's The Lady and the Duke (L'Anglaise et le Duc) and Claude Chabrol's Merci pour le chocolat) are reviewed here. As for one of the most internationally praised films of the year, the Finnish film The Man Without a Past (best actor and actress, and grand prize at the 2002 Cannes festival), it is regarded as "beautifully tender, funny and idiosyncratic" by Geoff Andrew. The latter (who seems to be specialized in "important" films) also reviews the Palme d'Or—Polanski's The Pianist—and rightly refers to the stereotyped beginning of the film, and to its increasing subtlety as it develops.

There are passages I would not endorse. The guide evokes the fact that at the Berlin festival, 8 Women won an uncommon prize, a Silver Bear "Best Ensemble of Actresses". François Ozon's film is an obvious homage to Cukor, Hitchcock and Jacques Demy, but it is actually an adaptation of a play written by Robert Thomas, the director of the magisterial Mon Curé chez les Thaïlandaises (which does not appear in this guide). In his last sentence, the reviewer Tony Rayns writes that 8 Women is "a style of Camp so broad that even the most bovine straight can get it". First, the best Camp is sometimes the broadest. Secondly, even though the "bovine straight" can enjoy this film (because, as Tony Rayns points out, there is something calculated in 8 Women in order to attract a wide audience), it is not certain that s/he will understand even broad camp. S/he might only see bitchy lines and flamboyant costumes as bitchy lines and flamboyant costumes, without identifying any camp connotations in them.

Of course the outstanding American films of the year are not forgotten, and most of them are reviewed by Geoff Andrew. For Woody Allen's Hollywood Ending, Andrew's review is cut and dried: "undue repetition", "rampant illogicality", "lazy stereotyping", "poor pacing", "heavy-handed metaphor", "mugging and hand-me-down script". Having sharpened his knives against mere entertainment, Andrew could be mistaken for the embittered and frustrating critic whom Allen often amusingly mocks in his works. As for David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, Geoff Andrew disapproves of what makes Lynch's trademarks, such as his "nonsensical narrative cul-de-sacs". Then, as soon as Lynch decides to switch the two girls' identities, Andrew blames him for being prosaic, whereas it is exactly what Lynch wanted to convey: inserting a common trick within his ravings, he reinforces the uncanny impression left by the film.

Though rather complete, the Time Out Film Guide's reviews (as well as all the other general guides' reviews) are nevertheless a bit short, which is sometimes frustrating: for instance, the reviews of the two most significant big budget productions of 2001—The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter—are basic summaries of the films. Admittedly, this is more frustrating for a book reviewer who needs food for thought than for the average reader who simply wants fundamental information about films. For more developed comments on films, the reader will have to consult specialized guides, such as the Contemporary North American Film Directors, published by Wallflower Press.

The second edition of this Wallflower critical guide presents a suitably complete list of contemporary North American directors with detailed entries written by professors, lecturers, film critics, graduate students, filmmakers and other writers. Unlike their predecessors, who came from the theater or simply learnt direction on the job, the directors who emerged during the so-called "New Hollywood" era came (and still come) from television or film schools (Scorsese is a graduate of New York University for example). And unlike their predecessors, many of them have more creative freedom—if they are successful at the box-office at least—and theirs are household names. So this guide will come up with many film-goers' expectations. But though the creators are reasonably celebrated, the guide's contributors do not really use auteur theory, as is attested by the choice of analyzing the directors' works chronologically rather than thematically.

Although the guide features around 600 entries, some debatably important filmmakers are left out, such as Kenneth Ivory Wayans, who directed Scary Movie in 2000. The other directors who specialized in parodies are mentioned in the guide, as the entries on Mel Brooks, Jim Abrahams or David Zucker confirm. In his article on Brooks, Robert Edgar-Hunt values a movie like The Producers (1967) as he should (although he fails to name Gene Wilder's fantastic partner Zero Mostel), but he also evokes Brooks's recent films which, like Abrahams or Zucker's recent parodies, are highly disappointing. For Edgar-Hunt, these films—Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), and so on—parody "something that was trivial in origin and partially parodic anyway" [65]. If the guide had referred to Scary Movie—which is partly a parody of such parodic productions as the Scream films—, it might have constituted a counter-example of Edgar-Hunt's statement that parodies of parodies contribute to the failures of the old masters' recent productions.

Despite such omissions, this guide is undeniably a work of quality. What strikes the reader most is perhaps its cosmopolitan aspect. For example, it evokes the fact that Hollywood has always called on filmmakers from abroad (John Woo, Wolfgang Petersen, and so on), and that "North American" also means "Canadian": Canadian directors such as Jeanne Crépeau, Jean-Pierre Lefebvre, Atom Egoyan or David Cronenberg are featured in the guide, as well as British filmmakers (occasionally) working in the US, like Stephen Frears.

The guide is very varied in terms of aesthetic schools too, since the most independent directors like Jim Jarmusch or Alexandre Rockwell find themselves next to the most impersonal products of Hollywood. Besides, Contemporary North American Film Directors demonstrates that the dichotomy "independent" / "mainstream" is far from being as rigid as it may seem; some directors play with the two notions in a most ambiguous and interesting way. For instance, although directors like Tarantino or Zwigoff (Ghost World, 2001) seem to be independent, their films are in fact produced in parts by majors (or by companies that belong to majors). There are also those like John Waters who begin as independent creators and end up attracting studio money and a wider audience.

The guide is dedicated to "contemporary directors", but this does not mean that veteran directors (that is, directors who emerged before the "New Hollywood" era) are left out—as long as they have worked for the last three decades of course. In other words, you will find in the guide entries about Richard Fleischer, John Schlesinger, Roger Corman or Blake Edwards. The article on the latter offers a good analysis of his 1960s and 1970s production (especially of the Pink Panther films), but as soon as it comes to his 1980s and 1990s films, it becomes rather superficial and even repetitive (Peter Lehman and William Luhr state twice that Victor/Victoria is a remake, even adding "of an already existing film").

Of course, most of the young filmmakers take their inspiration from some of these veteran directors, but degrees of gratitude and enthusiasm vary. Jason Silverman's article on Cameron Crowe shows that despite the trendy subjects of many of Crowe's films (see Singles on the Grunge movement or Vanilla Sky on digital culture), that Billy Wilder admirer turns out to be "too old-fashioned to be associated with the generation of hip, ironic American independent auteurs". Silverman adds that Crowe "has a far deeper concern for his characters than the typical Hollywood director". Such shrewd observations are rather uncommon in film guides. But Contemporary North American Film Directors is a specialized guide, a critical guide, and thus has the advantage of granting its contributors enough space to underpin their ideas, establish nuances or bring out "small" stylistic details.

The guide is full of fine remarks about directors and movies. For example, in his review of Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights (1997), Andrew Syder goes against the detractors of the film who reproached Anderson for presenting an "overly utopian view of the 1970s". According to Syder, "the strength of the film is the way it reveals a profound sadness underlying the hedonism, evident in the way the funky, upbeat disco songs are underpinned by Michael Penn's melancholic, broken-down merry-go-round score" [14]. Andrew Syder's analysis of Woody Allen's games between reality and fiction is also very interesting—see in particular his review of the usually underrated Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993).

The Foreword to this second edition has been written by Neil LaBute, who directed and wrote the screenplay of the appealing In The Company of Men (1997). It makes for very good reading, notably when he reminisces (with excessive modesty) about his first experiences in the cinema. He draws lessons from his experience and uses them as advice for the readers who aspire to be filmmakers [xv].

To conclude, the Time Out Film Guide and the Contemporary North American Film Directors: A Wallflower Critical Guide are both valuable, for film-buffs as well as for anyone who does not like going to the movies or renting a video without a minimum of prior information.

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