TEN GREAT BOOKS ABOUT MOVIES
Most people have coffee tables, and we all know what typically adorns said coffee tables: ugly, large books filled with art that can also been seen in your dentist’s office. Here at the Geek League of America, we won’t stand for such things. We want to load up our coffee tables with great looking, large books filled with tons of info about the things we love. As you know, we love movies here at the GLA. So, in an effort to make your coffee table a geekier place, here are ten (or so) that I can personally recommend to be worth their place on the coffee table in your home.
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1.) Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard
by Matt Taylor (2012, 312 pages, softcover, $49.95 list price, also available in Limited Edition Hardcover – Sold Out)
I want to jump into this book first because of all the books listed, it is the book I am most proud of owning in my entire library. This giant coffee table book is essentially the production of JAWS from the perspective of the residents of Martha’s Vineyard. It is a collection of many previously unreleased photographs (from islander Edith Blake and countless other locals).
The narrative structure of the book is largely interview based from extensive interviews with locals who had acting or extra parts in the film, were around for shooting, or had a role in some aspect of the production. Knowing one of them (Rene Bendavid, pg. 208, I’m looking at you!), I can say that these people have JAWS in their hearts and souls and have amazing tales to tell. Many of these stories, you would never have had the chance to hear until now unless you knew them personally.
Author Matt Taylor and collaborator Jim Beller have assembled, in my opinion, one of the greatest collections of stories, photographs, and memories of a film’s production ever compiled in one place. I give it my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION. (Collector’s Edition Note: It was originally available in limited-edition-of-1000 as a $200+ hardcover edition that comes with a piece of the fiberglass hull of the Orca II aka “The Sinking Orca” that owners Lynn and Susan Murphy donated to the publishers and a DVD of home videos of production from islander Carol Fligor. If you are a JAWS geek, hunt down this edition.)
2.) The Jaws Log
by Carl Gottlieb (30th Anniversary Edition, 2012, 224 pages, paperback, $16.99 list price)
Without this book, many books about movie productions would never exist. The Jaws Log, a smallish paperback, is a unique book. Originally published in 1975, this was the production of Jaws from the inside. Written by Jaws screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, this has an advantage of being written by somebody who was there and had a front row seat of (and role in) the production. Many books about film are written long after the project is completed.
This was published a year after production, so it has the benefit of having fact and stories down on paper long before they are embellished by hindsight and fading memories. This book has been re-released several times (I have the 25th Anniversary edition, there is a recently published “Expanded” edition) and original copies are sought-after collector items by Jaws fans. This book is worth a read if you’d like a firsthand account of the original summer blockbuster.
3.) The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Film
by J.W. Rinzler – (2007, 362 pages, softcover, $35.00 list price, Expanded Hardcover also available) / The Making of the Empire Strikes Back ( 2010, 362 pages, hardcover, $85.00 list price)
The proposition of these books is simple. How about 700+ pages of Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back information and behind-the-scenes photographs? I don’t care how many articles you have read, how many DVD commentaries you’ve listened to, Wikis you’ve authored… There is so much info in these books, some of which, you can’t find outside of them.
Author J.W. Rinzler, Executive Editor at Lucasfilm, compiled photographs, storyboards, and interviews, both new and archived, with George Lucas himself, actors, and production team members. Therein lies what could be the only problem with them (I don’t know if it is): these are compiled by a guy on George’s payroll, so some of the ugly, ugly truths may be withheld. It’s not a deal breaker, though. Apparently, there is a Making of Return of the Jedi on its way and Mr. Rinzler can count me in for my pre-order.
4.) The Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films
by J.W. Rinzler – (2008, 300 pages, softcover, $35.00 list price)
Star Wars not your thing? Indy’s your guy? No problem. J.W.’s got you covered there, too! Done in the same style as the Star Wars and Empire books, this one does it with the four (yes, there were four, people!) Indiana Jones films. Great stuff here, but in a much more abbreviated fashion. 300 pages for four movies, as opposed to 300+ for one Star Wars movie, results in a quicker take on the Indy films. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has the smallest section of the book (since it was released around the time of the film and there is no opportunity for retrospective stuff) and the other three films are pretty equally represented. It’s nowhere near as all-encompassing as the other two Rinzler books on this list, but find me another Indy book. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
5.) Crystal Lake Memories
by Peter Bracke (2006, 320 pages, hardcover, $50.00 list price)
While Jaws, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones have their place in the annals of film history, Jason Voorhees could make a compelling argument to have his own section too. If you’re a fan of the 80’s hockey mask-wearing undead man-child horror icon, this is the book for you. Author Peter Bracke has hunted down (no pun intended) behind the scenes photos and new interviews with casts and crew of every Jason film, from the original Friday the 13th to the largely ineffective Freddy vs. Jason, to get their thoughts on everything from what it was like making the movies, struggles with the MPAA and editing, and the lasting legacy of the character. No other horror series has such a beautiful and meticulously assembled tome dedicated to it. Bring it on your next camping trip.
6.) Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner
by Paul M. Sammon (1996, 464 pages, paperback, $16.99 list price)
This next book I recommend with a little bit of reservation based on its age. The recent Blade Runner DVD/Blu-ray collections have extensive documentaries on the film. The Final Cut didn’t exist when this book was written and the workprint version was not yet available to the general public. The original theatrical version of the film could be found, but you had to visit your neighborhood video store and get an old VHS of it. This book writes as if you are mostly familiar with the Director’s Cut version (as that’s the version that most had the easiest access to in recent years) and when I first read this, I couldn’t wait to see the other versions.
It also talks about some of the great features and newly found footage that were available on the laserdisc at the time (which has now been surpassed by the recent Special Editions). All of these things being ignored, Future Noir is a deep dive into the development and design of Blade Runner, from its initial short story by Philip K. Dick all the way to the finished product. It’s a 400+ page paperback that is worth a read if you are a fan of Blade Runner, and although you may know a lot of the info already (thanks Blu-ray), don’t let that diminish how great it is.
7.) The Music of The Lord of the Rings Films: A Comprehensive Account of Howard Shore’s Scores
by Doug Adams (2010, 416 pages, hardcover, $59.95 list price)
It saddened me not to include a Lord of the Rings book on my initial draft of this list. There is simply no book available that covers LOTR’s extensive production from beginning to end in a fashion that I recommend. The Extended Edition Blu-ray/DVD collections and Costa Botes’ fly-on-the-wall documentaries really do the best job covering all of it. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t include Doug Adams’ (no, not that Doug Adams) mind-blowingly extensive account of Howard Shore’s scores of the films. Loaded with illustrations from Alan Lee and John Howe, this book covers all three films and the musical themes developed therein.
Adams is a musicologist, so this isn’t light reading. It talks about what goes into scoring these films, both from extensive interviews with Howard Shore as well as musical theory, and requires a little music acumen to totally comprehend the finer points of the text. It also comes with an exclusive rarities CD that features original concept recordings and versions of themes that didn’t make it to the big screen. Doug Adams is working on a new book for The Hobbit and like Rinzler’s ROTJ book, my pre-order is ready to go.
8.) The Apocalypse Now Book
by Peter Cowie (2001, 224 pages, paperback, $18.95 list price)
The horror, the horror! No, just kidding. This book is small, but awesome. If Hell itself were a movie production, it would be Apocalypse Now. As a wonderful companion piece to documentary Hearts of Darkness, this straight-forward account of one of the most difficult film productions in history is worth a read. It covers all the way through Apocalypse Now Redux and has tons of material from Coppola’s personal archives, as well as thoughts from cast and crew.
9.) The Evil Dead Companion
by Bill Warren (2001, 272 pages, paperback, Out of print, available used)
Besides Bruce Campbell’s autobiography, If Chins Could Kill, there is no greater collection of info on The Evil Dead and its two sequels than right here. With a soup-to-nuts approach from initial concepts to how they did special effects without a giant budget to poorly received theatrical releases, The Evil Dead Companion is an enjoyable read. More than two-thirds of the book is dedicated to the original Evil Dead, but that’s no real problem since it seems to be the most “on the fly” production and those involved have the best stories about their time during it. This book is out of print, but you can get it on the cheap and you won’t regret it.
10.) Planet of the Apes Revisited: The Behind-The-Scenes Story of the Classic Science Fiction Saga
by Joe Russo and Edward Gross (2001, 280 pages, paperback, Out of print, available used)
Sci-fi classic The Planet of the Apes and its subsequent sequels have a detailed account of their production in this great little book. Divided into sections about the five original Apes movies (with a small section of the “upcoming” Tim Burton reboot), Revisited spends time with each movie, telling of its production, release, and reception. It gives you a great picture of what studio executives and those in charge of the films were thinking at the time they were making them and how they looked back on the process.
Because the Apes films were put out pretty close together (five movies and two TV series in seven years), the book really illustrates the thoughts behind pumping out the sequels, including casting and production challenges, necessary changes in the story to accommodate the speed of production, and what was going on in society at the time. Not a giant book, but a worthy piece for your collection nonetheless.