PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... a hefty book with charm to match ... This is a book for those who still revere Hollywood’s past, and that’s fine by this film historian ... My bookshelves are laden with Hollywood memoirs that run the gamut from indispensable to comic to, frankly, a pack of lies. Even so, I found Hollywood had something fresh, revealing and frequently amusing on nearly every page. The AFI talks, while lively, are focused on actual filmmaking, so there is less gossip than in a typical autobiography, where the publisher knows that’s what sells. Ms. Basinger and Mr. Wasson also make good use of lesser-known but vital figures, like Margaret Booth, MGM’s editor for many years, or Ranald MacDougall, a great screenwriter but one with low name recognition compared with, say, Billy Wilder ... You can feel these folks, in the company of others who love and work in the industry, putting up their feet and getting real ... will surely bring joy to any cinephile, but its organization is a bit of a downer. If ever there were a film book that begged for notes and a source list it’s this one, even if the additions would take the size from heavy to immovable. The front matter includes an alphabetical list of contributors, along with their professions, but none of their credits or even their studio affiliations. Readers moved to curiosity about, say, what films Raoul Walsh directed or what exactly Pandro Berman did in the movie industry will probably spend a lot of time on Wikipedia ... It would be useful to know when someone was speaking—how many years after the events? In certain cases, more time means that an anecdote has become more, shall we say, interesting ... These are the moments—art versus commerce, kindness versus hard-headed realism—in which Hollywood earns its page count.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalKeaton fans have often complained that nearly all biographies of him suffer from a questionable slant or a cursory treatment of key events. With Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker’s Life—at more than 800 pages dense with research and facts—Mr. Curtis rectifies that situation, and how. He digs deep into Keaton’s process and shows how something like the brilliant two-reeler Cops went from a storyline conceived from necessity—construction on the movie lot encouraged shooting outdoors—to a masterpiece ... This will doubtless be the primary reference on Keaton’s life for a long time to come ... the worse Keaton’s life gets, the more engrossing Mr. Curtis’s book becomes.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMs. Stevens (who is a professional acquaintance of mine) writes with grace and passion about her idol ... Ms. Stevens dives into subjects many Keaton admirers have merely sideswiped, notably the painful ethnic and racial jokes in his films ... it isn’t just Keaton who emerges with startling precision, but those around him as well ... As a critic, and not a biographer, Ms. Stevens can spark some disagreement ... If you want a sense of passionate attachment to Buster Keaton—either as one of the great comic filmmakers of all time, or as a loyal and likable man in an industry famed for those who lack both qualities—that’s Dana Stevens.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe many ways of being the world’s most famous film director are what Mr. White attempts to pin down in The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock ... Mr. White [...] He takes a middle road in his estimation of his subject as a person, more empathetic than biographer Donald Spoto or critic David Thomson, less reverent than François Truffaut or Peter Bogdanovich. The book presents Hitchcock’s best and worst behavior, and there is a good deal of both ... The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock isn’t groundbreaking, but it is full of such sharp observations, offering a Hitchcock whose art endures alongside—and in some ways depends upon—his insecurities and mistakes.
PositiveThe Guardian“Via a fluent, often witty translation by Shelley Frisch, Wieland draws the portrait of women who were ambitious to a degree stunning in their day. Moreover, by tracking their divergent careers together, she is able subtly to suggest some answers to a question that hangs over every mid-century German artist: what kind of responses were available to the Nazi apocalypse?”