FILM BOOK REVIEWS

By Barbara Peterson



Please scroll down to see each review, or to purchase the book.

Arrows of Desire, The Films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Ian Christie, Faber and Faber. 1994.
Brigitte Helm: From Metropolis to Gold, Portrait of a Goddess. Peter Herzog and Gene Vazzana, Corvin. 1994.
Conrad Veidt, From Caligari to Casablanca. Jerry C. Allen. The Boxwood Press. 1993.
Fritz Lang. Lottle Eisner, De Capo Press. 1976.
Fritz Lang, The Nature of the Beast. Patrick McGilligan. St. Martin's Press. 1997. 1994.
The Haunted Screen. Lotte H. Esiner. University of California Press. 1994.
A Second Life, German Cinema's First Decades. edited by Thomas Elsaesser, Univeristy of Amsterdam Press. 1996.
The UFA Story. Klaus Kreimeier, HIll and Wang. 1996.

Arrows of Desire
This book, first written in 1986 and now expanded, is a valuable document about the film ofs Powell and Pressburger, but disappointing in some ways. At least a fifth of the book is given over to a list of their films with complete cast lists - pages that could have been better spent as additions to their reviews and comments on the movies themselves. It is touted as the first comprehensive analysis of their films - the word comprehensive is an overstatement. Many of their earlier films are dismissed with a couple of paragraphs. (I wanted info on Conrad Veidt from Spy in Black and Contraband, only Spy in Black was mentioned in any detail - it got three paragraphs, Contraband got one). Nevertheless, there is a lot of information here about Powell and Pressburger's backgrounds, and their more famous films. Recommended.

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Brigitte Helm: From Metropolis to Gold
The only reason to buy this book is the photographs. It is profusely illustrated with 64 pages of stills and publicity shots from Helm's movies, including some from Metropolis that I had not seen before. However, there are no personal photographs. Helm gave few interviews as an actress, valuing her privacy, and after retiring from movies in 1935 obviously continued the practice.

Other than the photographs, this slim book is disappointing. I found it difficult to read because of the typeface. The lower bar of the 'e' is not very distinct and gives the text a faded appearance. The book is full of typographical errors - glaring mispellings, sentences run together without periods, hyphens in the wrong place, etc. - occurring every couple of pages! It is written in an unsophisticated style, as if written in German and then translated into English by someone who is not himself a writer. It is also inexpertly written - the writer makes a statement and then contradicts himself in the next sentence, and information and opinions are frequently repeated two or three times.

This is not an in-depth biography of Brigitte Helm. There is a smattering of biography - and I do mean smattering. Names of her four children aren't given, her father's name isn't given, etc. This book deals with her films, and her impressions making the films, culled from magazine articles. And the book ends after she made her last film. The rest of her life (sixty years or so) is dealt with in a couple of paragraphs. I did not get the impression that the authors, Herzog and Vazzana, had ever talked with Helm or anyone who knew her.

The book is very short. Only a few of the films are covered in depth. Of these is, of course, Metropolis but nothing new is covered. (Except for those delightful photos!

In summary - buy it for the photographs.

To order Brigitte Helm: From Metropolis to Gold, from Amazon.com, click HERE.

Conrad Veidt: From Caligari to Casablanca
This is an excellent book about Conrad Veidt. Like the book about Brigitte Helm, it's either a small press or vanity publication, but with an important difference - no typos. It is well written, though the editorial 'I' occurs to often for my taste (''I'm going to digress here to talk about this....let me say here that I think....'').

The author knows his subject, and does Veidt justice. We learn about his childhood, his movement into acting on the stage, into the films, to England and America, and his death. Certain subjects aren't covered as thoroughly as I wish - Veidt's first wife Gussy Holl divorced him and married Veidt's friends Emil Jannings; when Veidt remarried the two couples remained friends. This is stated but the emotions behind the divorces and marriages weren't covered! His divorce from his second wife is also mentioned rather perfunctorily - with none of the inner details one would like to know! Veidt's feelings about his colleagues who remained in Germany and became Nazis (Jannings) aren't covered. However, the author spoke with many people who knew Veidt (including his daughter, Viola) and the 'human' Veidt does come through.

This book is also profusely illustrated with family photographs and stills and publicity stills from movies. I definitely recommend that anyone who likes Veidt, or German film, or the 30's-40's film industry in general, acquire this book.

You can order this book through Amazon.com by clicking HERE. However, The Boxwood Press has gone out of business, so it might take a while for Amazon to track down a copy for you. (What's nice about Amazon.com is they have a search service). You can buy it directly from the author by writing to Jerry C. Allen at 1535 MESCAL STREET, SEASIDE, CA 93955-4620

Fritz Lang
Lotte H. Eisner seems to be writing this book for the classroom, and also expecting that her readers will have seen all of Lang's films. No plot synopses are given - you're just expected to know what all of the films were about. Certain points about each movie are discussed - how they illustrate the talents of Fritz Lang as director. Profusely illustrated, but the illustrations aren't captioned as well as one could wish. You're told the name of the movie, but not the names of the actors within the movie. Still, for people who like Fritz Lang's work and want an 'insight' into it - this book is excellent.

To order Fritz Lang from Amazon.com, click HERE.

Fritz Lang, The Nature of the Beast
A very revealing book about Fritz Lang. A biography, covering his childhood, teenage years, manhood, directing career, private life. Lots of myths about Fritz Lang are debunked - his first wife, whom he never mentioned, committed suicide; he did not 'flee' from the Nazis in 1933 after an interview with Goebbels, he left with much of his fortune and possessions intact. His sadistic directing style is revealed. His 'by the numbers' directing style is revealed. His amorous adventures are revealed.

It also casts its light over the film people of the times - the emigres in England and America who fled from the Nazis, different production styles between Germany, France and America. A fascinating book, with lots of illustrations.

To order Fritz Lang, the Nature of the Beast from Amazon.com, click HERE.

The Haunted Screen
Another scholarly book by Lotte Eisner, with the same strengths and the same weaknesses as her book on Fritz Lang. She covers alot of the more well-known German films (Caligari, Waxworks, etc) and discusses how they were influenced by Expressionistic art and - from a different side - by the theatrical innovations of the great Max Reinhardt.

She names a theme - the obsession with corridors and staircases, use of shadows, use of geometric shapes, use of crowds, then cites examples from various films to illustrate the topics and how various directors and/or designers presented them. There's a good long piece on F.W. Murnau and one on Fritz Lang, and she discusses Peter Lorre's only directorial effort, Der Verlorenen, as well.

She knows her subject, is a good writer, and name drops her opinions of several directors, actors and actresses. But, again, no plot synopses are given - you're expected to know all the twists and turns made in the movies she's discussing. But she also piques your attention so that you wish you could see these movies! Photographs again aren't captionsed as well as they might be - the actors within the stills generally remain anonymous. It is the kind of book that makes you wish it had come with a pack of videotapes so you could toss in an appropriate tape and watch the scenes Eisner describes.

To order The Haunted Screen from Amazon.com, click HERE.

A Second Life
An excellent book, though it suffers from the fact that it is an academic volume - some of the essays contain nothing but three-syllable words and academic jargon which causes the layperson to just shake their head and wonder why they don't just speak English! Also sparse on biographical detail - there are short bios of director Stellan Rye and Max Mack, but while Asta Nielsen has a chapter there is no bio of her included there. There's an essay on the German detective films of the 19-teens which is a fun read, and makes one long to see them. There are essays on: Oskar Messter, Paul Davidson, Ernst Lubitsch, and Franz Hofer, amongst a total of 28 essays that fill out the book. Overall, a must-have book.

To order A Second Life from Amazon.com, click HERE.

The UFA Story
UFA was the largest film producer in Germany, and is the most famous. This book covers it in detail, from its founding in 1917 to its 'glory years', to its floundering in the late 1920's due to Fritz Lang's ruinously expensive Metropolis to its takeover by the Nazis. Very informative about well-known, and not-so-well known, personalities of the day. Interesting sidelight on people that during the '20s, when they were in the depression after their defeat in the war, movies were a booming business and there was enough money to make good movies and pay star actors sums equivalent to that given to American actors. But people needed escapist and otherwise good entertainment to forget their woes, and movies houses boomed. Prior to World War II, it was taken over by Nazi sympathizers (thanks in part due to financial needs created by the disasterously expensiveMetroplois.) We learn what yhappened to many Jewish actors and other cinema personalities during this time period. Well written, well illustrated. Recommended.

To order The UFA Story from Amazon.com, click HERE.

As the database grows, so too will this list of books in the bibliography. Please check back frequently.

To visit a REVIEWS SECTION for fiction books featuring real cinema personalities as characters, (for example, Peter Lorre, Fritz Lang, James Whale) go to Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited.

To visit a REVIEWS SECTION of my favorite mystery books that evoke the times of the '20s through the '40s, go to Dated Death.

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