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Spring 1997
(Filed November, 1997)

Reviews this issue include:

Books you should read about movies

Picture Perfect;
Hurricane Streets
Air Force One
Nothing to Lose
The Fully Monty
L.A. Confidential
One Eight Seven (187)
A Life Less Ordinary
I Went Down
Dream with Fishes
I Went Down (Ali's review)
Kiss the Girls
there's more, see the review index

Harlan Ellison once said (paraphrased) that people aren't entitled to their opinion; they're entitled to their informed opinion.

Somewhere in the ideological confusion of the 1990s, a pretty dumb idea that has been seen in nightclubs, late night cafes and other venues of interest. This idea says that everyone's opinion is equally valid. It's demonstrably crap.

If someone has taken the care to learn about a subject, to invest their perceptions and life-span into becoming more knowledgeable on it, surely her opinion carries more weight than that of some other punter who spent the same amount of time watching Baywatch and cultivating micro-fauna in his belly-button.

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Movies are like that. Ask a friend if they liked a given film - say for argument's sake Men in Black - then if he or she gives it a good rap, ask them why it was good. Three out of five times, you'll get them in to the kind of mental short-circuit that says "I just did".

Ask someone else who cares about movies, who knows film and can speak with some depth of knowledge on the subject and you'll get an entirely different response.

They may talk about it in comparison with other movies based on comic books or graphic novels and might opine that it is an essentially facile form which is entertaining as long as you don't try to engage the higher cerebral functions while viewing it.

In other words, it's deliberately two dimensional and has a few pieces of schtick that are mildly amusing.

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Then a third character comes along. He thinks that MIB is the best thing since the Caesarian section and he'll indignantly utter the dire words "Yeah, but that's just your opinion".

This can mean one of several things:

"You're right but there's no way I'm going to admit it" or

"I don't care if you know more about movies than me, my opinion's just as valid because I have one" or even

"How dare you try to burst my cosy bubble of ignorance".

Knowing a lot about movies is easy. You merely watch them. But not passively, or in isolation. Actively search for what the movie-makers are trying to do. (Don't try this on some piece of direct-to-video action crap starring an emotionally limited guy with a broken nose who was once the kick-boxing champion of Butte, Montana. There is no depth to this kind of film.) Hit the vintage video shelves and start your education with classics.

Movie reference books help, too. But, as with the video shelves, there's a lot of crap out there to wade through. Here are a few suggestions in the order that you should read them.

Adventures In The Screen Trade by William Goldman.

This is your bible. Goldman wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, The Princess Bride and the screenplay for the movie of Maverick. He knows of what he speaks. If you want to know why Hollywood is so utterly screwed up, why stars are idiots, why hyped movies with hundred million dollar budgets regularly die in the arse, why movies actually cost a hundred million and why movies aren't as good as they used to be, Goldman tells you. You might have to comb through second-hand shops to find a copy of this, but it's worth it. Goldman writes in an amusing, honest style and he also gainsays that old chestnut about Americans not understanding irony. I keep going back to this one. This is anything but objective but it tells you a lot of insider facts that other books won't.

Any book of reviews by Pauline Kael.

She's retired now but Ms. Kael is the 20th Century's best movie reviewer. Her books span the years from the early 1960s to the late 1980s. She reviews fluffy musicals, domestic dramas, blockbusters and sleepers and does them all honestly and with great humour. In the late 70s, she championed the Australian cinema, bringing it to the attention of American audiences. Her essays on people like Orson Welles and Marlon Brando are perceptive, opinionated and very personal. She doesn't hide herself behind an illusion of objectivity. Her work is gloriously subjective and puts her on my "Imaginary Dinner Party" list.

Suspects by David Thomsen

This is a tour-de-force (which, as everyone knows, is French for 'long bicycle ride'). Thomsen has taken characters from twenty odd films noir and extrapolated their earlier and later lives in capsule biographies which lace together to form a narrative that is in some ways, the ultimate noir narrative. The linchpin of this book is one of the characters you'd least expect to find in such a story and reading it will change forever the way you view a certain movie classic. One of Thomsen's other books, Rosebud is arguably the definitive biography of Orson Welles. Both of them are highly recommended.

Now to the grimy side of the street. Cult movies have their own aesthetic principles. They might not be the stuff of Oscars, Golden Globe Awards or dinner at Spago's, but they are enjoyable in their own sick way.

The Psychotronic Encyclopaedia of Film
The Psychotronic Video Guide

Michael J. Weldon's twin guides to cult and z-grade movies are an awesome resource for anyone cruising the weekly rental shelves of a video shop. Buying both of them might just set you back around $A60 but you won't find them second hand anywhere because only a fool would part with them.

The Encyclopaedia of Film came out in 1983 but don't worry, it's still in print. It takes care of everything up to that point. The Video Guide picks up the baton from there and runs with it, filling in some pre-83 things that the Encyclopaedia missed. The factual errors in this one are minimal - only a pedant like me would pick them up-- and there are just enough illustrations to stop the text from looking like a list.

A Couple of Halliwell's Film Guides

Leslie Halliwell was for many years, the encyclopaedist of films. Go to any film section in a second hand shop and you're bound to find something by him. In my case, I have The Filmgoer's Companion from 1970 - which has a foreword by Alfred Hitchcock as well as the posthumously published Film Guide from 1994. The Companion's got details on actors, directors, producers, and other people involved with movies as well as info on some films. If you want to know other films containing character actors from early years, this is the place to look. The Guide's more like Leonard Maltin's rather prissy and opinionated tomes. A movie list. But together, they make a good pair, particularly if you watch the early morning movies on the ABC which invariably include classics from the early days of British talkies.

The rest I leave up to you. Everyone from Graham Greene to Job-Bob Briggs has written on film. There's bound to be something out there to suit your tastes. Personally, I'd dodge reviews in magazines bought at supermarket check-outs - they are the Home Brand Junk Food of reviews and any factual info you get on movies from them is pure happenstance. (In short, they wouldn't know a good movie if it ate their popcorn.)

Knowing more about movies than you do now is an education and an enrichment. You might even realise why Contact - the recent Robert Zemeckis-Jodie Foster blockbuster, pisses itself away when it should be the definitive hard-sf movie of the decade.

Movie lovers' links More from Terry Frost See you in a darkened room where all the seats face the same way,

Terry Frost

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