Feast of films for all the fans

24th October 1997 at 01:00
Since it was first shown, David Cronenberg's film Crash has been the subject of an on-going, artificial and ill-informed controversy. To make sense of the director, it helps to read Cronenberg on Cronenberg (edited by Chris Rodley, Faber, Pounds 9.99), revised and updated, one suspects, in the knowledge that the director was about to become interesting.

It will not necessarily make fans of the disgusted - on the contrary, it confirms Cronenberg's interest in gruesome medical and sexual subjects since Shivers in 1975 (all about a sexually transmitted virus with aphrodisiac properties) - but they will at any rate know what they are talking about.

For all the contempt sometimes shown in media studies departments for old-fashioned, "print-based" materials, books remain an essential element in film studies.

Some volumes can immediately be seen to be indispensable. The success of movies such as Jane Campion's The Piano makes Tom O'Regan's study of Australian National Cinema (Routledge, Pounds 14.99) timely. This is a thematic study of Australian film and society, with reference to influences from Britain and Hollywood.

In the field of genre studies, The Movie Book of the Western (edited by Ian Cameron and Douglas Pye, Studio Vista, Pounds 16.99) is now out in paperback. The slightly odd title derives from the magazine, Movie, which Ian Cameron helped to found (though in fact only two of the 29 chapters in the book originally appeared in the magazine). Most of the contributors are concerned with masculinity, class and history in the Western, and this is by no means a comprehensive survey of the genre. Some quite well-known films (The Outlaw Josey Wales, Brigham Young, Silverado) are entirely or virtually ignored; so, too, is the spaghetti Western. On the other hand, there are exhaustive analyses of the films that do interest the writers: Rancho Notorious, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and so on.

Another collection devoted to a particular genre is Imagining Reality: the Faber Book of the Documentary (edited by Kevin Macdonald and Mark Cousins, Faber, Pounds 20). This is not, however, a bunch of academic essays, but an anthology of writings by documentary film-makers, including Dziga Vertov, Chris Marker, Robert Flaherty, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Marcel Ophuls and Nick Broomfield, classified according to period, movement or style.

This is an indispensable volume for anyone studying documentary films, from the earliest days to the most recent developments in television reportage, though one can regret that it does not reach many broad conclusions about documentary as a form.

The basis of the Faber film list is made up of books by directors writing or talking about their own work. One of the latest is Wim Wenders's The Act of Seeing (Pounds 14), the third collection of his essays, which includes a poem, "Notebook on Clothes and Cities", and an interview with Jean-Luc Godard.

Less pretentious and far more informative is Andre de Toth's series of conversations about his own work with Anthony Slide, in De Toth on De Toth (Pounds 9.99), in which as well as recalling his days with Alexander Korda,Jack Warner, Randolph Scott and others, he chats about sculpture, Hungary,the Danes and how to behave on meeting Prince Charles.

Finally, there are now paperback editions of Hitchcock on Hitchcock (edited by Sidney Gottlieb, Pounds 9.99) and Scorsese on Scorsese (edited by David Thompson and Iam Christie, Pounds 8.99), which will prove less relaxing, but more useful for the media studies bookshelf.

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