Producer and writer Joseph Maddrey’s blog is called Movies Made Me — a great title and a great blog that gazes back at the movie productions influencing his life and persona. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to comment back and forth with author Gary Gerani, of Fantastic Television (1977) fame — a writer who has been immensely influential to me over the years — and my mind went to Joe’s phraseology.
So in the spirit of Joe’s blog title and that conversation with Mr. Gerani, I got to thinking about the film and TV reference books that “made me.”
Now, these are non-fiction reference guides and monographs that I have returned to over and over again across the years, and drawn immense inspiration from. These are all books written pre-1990 (when I was 21), and ones that had an enormous impact on my writing career, and the manner in which I today express myself and my understanding of cinema and television.
So today, I wanted to share with you just a few of the film and TV reference books that I grew up with; that made me who I am.
Again, I just want to be clear: there are innumerable fantastic film and TV reference books being written right now by the likes of Paul Meehan, Alec Worley, Carol J. Clover, David Skal, Matthew Bradley, Mark Phillips, Joe Maddrey, Paul Kane, Brad Duke, Stephen Tropiano, Ray Morton, Barry Monush and many, many others. It’s just that for today I’m focusing on my pre-1990 youth.
I’m featuring these texts (below) in the order I encountered them in my youth.
Fantastic Television (Harmony Books)
This 1977 book by Gary Gerani and Paul H. Schulman features episode guides, background information and cogent critical analyses of thirteen landmark genre TV series, from One Step Beyond through Space:1999. The second part of the book gazes at “American Telefantasy,” “British Telefantasy,” “Kid Stuff” and “Made for TV Movies.”
I still utilize this valuable text for reference purposes, especially for the outstanding entry on Boris Karloff’s Thriller, for example. I purchased this book in the late 1970s, when I wasn’t ten yet, and here I found two authors treating science fiction — and the medium of television — seriously. It was something of a revelation to me. Written with intelligence and wit, Fantastic Television still impresses me (though I respectfully disagree with the authorial assessment of Space:1999).
Memorable quote: “As I as being pushed from behind into adulthood and, not incidentally, as space travel became a reality, the Captain Videos and Flash Gordons became camp. But a younger generation was already waist deep into Batman, Lost in Space and Vulcan lore. In time, of course, even the Star Ship Enterprise will become camp and another new crop of kids will become enthralled by new TV shows.” (Fantastic Television, Introduction, Paul H. Schulman, page 9).
The World of Star Trek (Ballantine Books; 1973)
I must have owned five copies and at least two editions of The World of Star Trek (by David Gerrold) over the years. Among other things, this fine book taught me that you can criticize something (even Star Trek) because you love it; and want it to be better. And you can do it without being a jerk about it. In The World of Star Trek, David Gerrold insightfully pinpointed Star Trek at its best, and at its worst, and meaningfully — and with critical consistency — discussed why certain episodes landed at either end of the spectrum. The World of Star Trek is about TV production, about storytelling, and about wanting something you love to always be great, and not suffer from “hardening of the arteries” as Gerrold put it.
Memorable Quote: “This is the essential appeal of drama. As mentioned earlier, we watch a story because we are really testing ourselves. We are curious as to how we would react in an equivalent situation.” (page 34)
Danse Macabre (Berkley Books; 1981)
It’s strange to contemplate, but my all-time favorite Stephen King book isn’t even a work of fiction. Rather Danse Macabre is about the art of horror, and how one horror icon perceives and practices that art.
I still admire (nay, worship…) King’s incredible review of The Amityville Horror (1979), positioning it as a film not about a haunted house, but as a fear of the “money pit” of home ownership. And while King’s dismissal of Kolchak: The Night Stalker might rankle some enthusiasts, his critiques of The Outer Limits and Tales of the Unexpected among others still make for valuable reading. On a side note, King also helped me develop a thicker skin in preparation for a writing career in an age in which everyone always thinks they know more than you, with these words from his introduction.
Memorable Quote: “You’ll get as many things wrong as you do right. And none of those guys [fans] will pat you on the head for what you got right; they’ll just drive you nuts with the stuff you got wrong.”
With those words, Stephen King forecast the Internet Age. And he taught all of us how to be better writers, and better readers.
The Zombies that Ate Pittsburgh (P.M.A. Communications; 1987)
Paul R. Gagne’s The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh must be one of the most thorough and detailed “films of” books I’ve ever had the good fortune to read. Not only does The Zombies that Ate Pittsburgh feature great color photographs and in-depth interviews with Romero, it lets you know the “hows” and the “whys” behind the artist’s works and creative process. I attempted to model my books An Askew View, The Unseen Force, Best in Show, and Mercy in Her Eyes, on the excellent work achieved by Gagne here. Unfortunately, I’ve read my copy of this book so frequently that it is now falling apart. And replacing it is prohibitively expensive…
Creature Features (Creatures at Large Press, 1987)
I’ve owned every one of John Stanley’s Creature Features Guides over the years, and perpetually found them invaluable resources in terms of finding a film by an alternate title, or learning about a film’s availability on video, laserdisc(!) or DVD. These Stanley books cover thousands of titles, and I remember when I was in college, my roommate and I endeavored to see every damn movie in the first book, starting with the letter “A.” I don’t think we ever even got to “B,: but these Creature Feature Guides remain a great resource. I have fond memories of reading these books at my grandfather’s house in Tom’s River, New Jersey, at the shore. Again, I don’t always agree with the capsule reviews, but Stanley’s books are like a treasure trove. How else would I have discovered titles like Three on a Meat Hook?
Indelible Images (University Press of America; 1987)
Last but not at all least is this monograph by my film professor at the University of Richmond, Bert Cardullo. Trained by Stanley Kauffman and critic for The Hudson Review, Dr. Cardullo was and remains one of the most important influences in my life. His 1987 book, Indelible Images delivers just what it promises — “new perspectives on classic films.”
From this book, and from Dr. Cardullo I learned to question conventional wisdom about film, to always research a production’s historical context, and perhaps most importantly, to ask “why” in regards to a film director’s choices. Cardullo’s film classes and seminars at college were wonderful and illuminating, and this book takes me back to those days and lectures every time I open it to read a chapter. I have a (prized) signed copy that, to this day, I treasure. You can check out Bert Cardullo’s Amazon store here, to familiarize yourself with his other film titles. Cardullo most definitively isn’t into genre film (and we used to have fun butting heads over that on the UR Campus…) but he is one of the finest film critics in the biz.
Memorable Quote: “Cinematic departures from traditional notions of character and empathy interest me precisely because this sort of experimentation has been going on wholesale in literature for some time, but seems to occur only sporadically in films. The reason, clearly, is that, unlike literature, film embodies rather than evokes the human figure; and unlike theatre (where such experimentation has a long and continuing tradition), film most often photographs actual physical reality instead of attempting to re-create it or reorder it. We see real people (be they actors or not) in real settings, and as a result we search for the common bond between ourselves and them; we seek to know them, in their allure and complexity (but ultimate knowability), tell us something about our own lives (page ix).”
This is by no means a complete list. David Schow’s Outer Limits Companion is an amazing book, as is Zicree’s text on The Twilight Zone. I also grew up reading anything and everything “splatter” by the great John McCarty. Other beloved reference books from my youth include Ed Naha’s spectacular The Making of Dune and John Brosnan’s James Bond of the Cinema.
What film and TV books did you grow up on? I may just have to start a meme here (if it already hasn’t been done…) and ask a few of my blogging brethren to pass on their reference book love.
I’d love to know what film and TV books “made you…”