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.
"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'OrPolanski's The Pianistand
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 2001The
Lord of the Rings and Harry Potterare 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 freedomif they are successful
at the box-office at leastand 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 filmsRobin
Hood: Men in Tights (1993), Dracula: Dead and Loving It
(1995), and so onparody "something that was trivial in
origin and partially parodic anyway" . If the guide had referred
to Scary Moviewhich 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 outas
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"
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" . Andrew Syder's analysis
of Woody Allen's games between reality and fiction is also very interestingsee
in particular his review of the usually underrated Manhattan Murder
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