It's a real dilemma: Watch a movie or read about them? If you're reading this, you may have the same problem, especially when there are so many great books published about film these days. I read several this year, but these are the ones I enjoyed most in 2022. I look forward to hearing about your favorites. (Books are presented in the order I read them.)
Hang ‘Em High: 110 Years of Western Movie Posters, 1911-2020 (2021) Mark Fertig
Don’t miss this tremendous book of Western posters from the silent era up to the year 2020. Mark Fertig gives a concise history of Westerns and the history of its posters while displaying some spectacular art. Trust me, you can look at these stunning images for hours. Sadly, Fertig passed away several months ago, yet this book is a worthy tribute to his work, vision, and passion. Highly recommended.
Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century (2022) Dana Stevens
Slate film critic Dana Stevens not only chronicles the life and career of Buster Keaton, but also cultural and cinematic history. The book shows how Keaton transcended film and continues to do so today. Essential reading.
Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road (2022) Kyle Buchanan
Okay, I’ll admit it. I picked up this book to find out if anyone was killed or seriously injured in the making of Mad Max: Fury Road. How could that not have happened? This is a meticulous look at how the film came to be in 2015, 30 years after the previous Mad Max movie. Dare I say it? It’s a wild ride.
Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy (2022) Erich Schwartzel
In 2021 China surpassed the United States as the leading box office movie market in the world with 7.3 billion dollars in revenue compared the 4.5 billion in the U.S. (Statistica) Does that surprise you? Then you need to read this book.
Cimino: The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate, and the Price of a Vision (2022) Charles Elton
I don’t think I read a sadder book on movies in 2022 than this one chronicling the rise and fall of director Michael Cimino, a fascinating yet complex individual.
Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life (2006) Stephen Michael Shearer
Speaking of complex, the story of Patricia Neal is a roller coaster of jubilation and tragedy. Her marriage to writer Roald Dahl would be enough to fill a book, but there’s so much more to this fascinating woman’s life and career.
The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror (1993, revised 2001) David J. Skal
If this book is any indication, I suspect I’m going to read everything Skal has written. Making connections to culture, literature, art, and more, Skal taps into what makes horror work, how it has developed, and why we keep coming back for more. I read the 1993 edition (right), but the updated 2001 edition (left) is probably the one to seek out.
Vertigo: The Making of a Hitchcock Classic (1998) Dan Auiler (video)
Another book I covered in a video review:
20th Century-Fox: The Complete History of Hollywood’s Maverick Studio (2021) Scott Eyman
It’s not easy to condense a movie studio’s entire history into 336 pages, but to do so in a manner that is readable and page-turning is quite a feat. Essential reading for anyone interested in movie history.
The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era (1988) Thomas Schatz (video)
Another video review:
Making The Best Years of Our Lives: The Hollywood Classic That Inspired a Nation (2022) Alison Macor
When I was a teenager many years ago, my good friend Joe and I - avid movie fans - were discussing our favorite movies when Joe’s dad asked us if we had ever seen a film called The Best Years of Our Lives. We hadn’t. A veteran himself, Joe’s father began telling us about the movie. At a certain point tears welled up in his eyes, and he couldn’t continue speaking. When I saw the film just a few years later, I understood why. Each time I watch it, tears well up in my eyes as well. Looking back we might wonder why so many Americans went to theaters to see a three-hour movie about returning World War II veterans only one year after the end of the war. Apparently something more than escapism at the movies was on their minds. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) was a film that transcended mere entertainment, although it certainly entertained audiences. More importantly it brought to America’s attention the plight of returning veterans, those suffering from strained relationships, the inability to find meaningful work, and a problem we would later refer to as PTSD. Alison Macor’s tremendous book Making The Best Years of Our Lives is not only a great book about a great film, it’s a testament to the courage of those who served as well as those who made the picture. That courage is present both in front of the camera, with the double amputee veteran Harold Russell, and behind the camera with director William Wyler, who suffered from deafness due to the war. With meticulous research Macor chronicles the enormous challenges Wyler faced in getting the film cast, produced, and approved by the Production Code. But the story is far more than a motion picture moving American audiences emotionally. People came away from the film with a greater understanding of just how much our veterans actually did give the best years of their lives for their country. Billy Wilder called the film “the best directed picture I have ever seen.” Roger Ebert stated “As long as we have wars and returning veterans, some of them wounded, The Best Years of Our Lives will not be dated.” The Best Years of Our Lives is a film that has resonated with audiences at home and abroad for generations. May it continue to do so, and may this outstanding book help keep the film alive for many more generations.
That's my list of the best books on movies I read in 2022. Please share yours! Happy New Year, everyone.