Putting movies into focus

27th October 1995 at 00:00
THE YOUNG OXFORD BOOK OF CINEMA. By David Parkinson, Pounds 12.99, Oxford University Press - 0 19 910071 3

Published to celebrate the centenary of cinema, this lavishly illustrated book gives edited highlights of the last 100 years of the movies.

It is organised in five main chapters: Silent Cinema; Sound to CD-i; Subjects and Stories; The Life Cycle of a Movie and Factfile. The writer, David Parkinson, lets the pictures tell much of the story.

Bela Lugosi gazes with blood lust at a virgin's neck while Gene Kelly sings in the rain, James Stewart celebrates a wonderful life while Marilyn Monroe makes music with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.

There are some modern inclusions Arnold Schwarzenegger glowers menacingly down the barrel of a gun in Terminator, while John Travolta just looks cool in an extract from Pulp Fiction.

And herein lies the book's strength, particularly in the chapter on Subjects and Stories, as the old is mixed with the new. Connections are made between the great film noir gangster movies of the Forties and Tarrantino's Reservoir Dogs. And in a section which pays homage to Fritz Lang's Metropolis, there is a cross-reference to Aliens.

In this respect, the book has a clearly educational aim. This chapter not only gives a general chronological overview of each genre, but also recommends certain key films which act as examples, with more detailed information.

The choice is eclectic. In the section on action and adventure, for example, Parkinson considers Errol Flynn's Robin Hood, The African Queen and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Nor does the book deal only with Hollywood, although it does form the main focus. European film movements are included, yet there is little if anything on the contribution made by eastern European film directors. No mention is made, for example, of the work of Tarkovsky.

The tone is descriptive rather than analytical and there are omissions. But it would provide an excellent library resource for any young reader and probably several older people too, who wished to see at a glance what films might be included in a canon of cinema greats.

It would take another book altogether to consider how we create these canons, a question usually associated with the literary world, but now being asked about film.

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