Recommended New Books on Filmmaking: ‘Twin Peaks,’ Steve McQueen, and More (for The Film Stage)

My latest post on new books on filmmaking for The Film Stage ran in early May, just a few weeks before Showtime’s Twin Peaks debuted.

We’re knocking on the door of summer, and that means lots of big properties are ready to be unleashed. But it’s not too late to read books exploring some recent films, as well as some new works about Sherry Lansing, film noir, and Steve McQueen. Let’s start with a unique look at David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

The Essential Wrapped In Plastic: Pathways to Twin Peaks by John Thorne

When Twin Peaks debuted on ABC in 1990, there were no message boards in which fans could argue and dissect the latest episodes. Starting in 1992, however, there was Wrapped In Plastic, the immortal Peaks’ fanzine. Just in time for the series return on Showtime is The Essential Wrapped In Plastic: Pathways to Twin Peaks. Here, WIP co-editor John Thorne brings together some of the publication’s most vital, important essays. Every episode is included, but what makes the book a must-read is the analysis of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Featuring everything from a probing look at the film’s strange critical response upon release to a convincing argument that the Chet Desmond section is actually “the dream of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper,” The Essential Wrapped In Plastic mesmerizes the reader with vivid, startling discoveries.

Marvel Year by Year: A Visual History, Updated and Expanded (DK)

The updated and expanded edition of Marvel Year by Year is heavy — literally — and absolutely packed with details. Starting in the 1940s and running through 2016, this stunning text is big, bold, and deliriously dense. For a casual comic book fan like me, it’s full of new info. (The wedding of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson was “recreated with actors at New York’s Shea Stadium on June 5, 1987”?) Even die-hards are likely to stumble upon new details. 1950s Marvel character Marvin Mouse himself would be impressed.

Film Noir Light and Shadow edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini (Applause)

The visual style of film noir is instantly recognizable, but that does not make it simple. Film Noir Light and Shadow explores just how complex and meaningful this style was. Films like Kiss Me Deadly and Double Indemnity are explored in detail, while a series of noteworthy authors also break down less-known films like Violent Saturday and Crossfire. It’s the kind of book that sends one racing to Turner Classic Movies.

The Great Wall: The Art of the Film by Abbie Bernstein (Titan Books)

There is no other way to put it: Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall was a flop, at least stateside But it was a fascinating flop, a strange spectacle that swung for the fences (or walls) and came up short. Still, the size and scope of the project makes The Great Wall: The Art of the Film a beautiful publication. It’s a sturdy account of how the Matt Damon-starrer came to be, and it’s a reminder that whatever the film’s failings, the cinematography and production design is never less than breathtaking. It’s a film made for the glossy coffee table treatment.

World Film Locations: Cleveland edited by Alberto Zambenedetti (Intellect)

The city of Cleveland has quietly made a major dent in cinema, a fact confirmed by World Film Locations: Cleveland. With maps, stills, and photos, the book explores locations from films like American Splendor, The Deer Hunter, and Stranger Than Paradise. It also spotlights some times when the city doubled as someplace else, including Spider-Man 3 and The Avengers. (I’m volunteering myself to write the Buffalo, New York, version of World Locations.)

Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker by Stephen Galloway (Crown Archetype)

There is no overestimating Sherry Lansing’s impact on Hollywood history. As the first woman to be name president of a major studio (Paramount), she helped pave the way for countless female execs to come. As Stephen Galloway’s new biography Leading Lady demonstrates, she did so with poise, charm, and humility. The book includes colorful backstories of troubled films that eventually worked (Fatal Attraction, Titanic) and some that didn’t (Sliver). It’s compulsively readable, and full of juicy tidbits on her dealings with the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Scott Rudin.

A bushel of LEGO Batman books (DK)

The LEGO Batman Movie was one of 2017’s undeniable pleasures, a fast, fun film that simultaneously worked for LEGO-crazy kids and Bat-moms and dads. DK released a plethora of books to accompany the film’s release, and they run the gamut from a neat-o sticker book and texts for wee readers (Rise of the Rogues and Team Batman) to The Essential Guide (by Julia Marsh) and The Making of the Movie (by Tracey Miller-Zarneke). The latter shows how the character design progressed, and also lets us admire some of the elements that flew by so quickly on the big screen.

Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia by Tricia Barr, Adam Bray, and Cole Horton (DK)

The Star Wars encyclopedia and dictionary bookshelf is ever-growing. When the texts are as painstakingly designed and wonderfully structured as Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia, why shouldn’t it? This latest effort is broken into five sections — geography, nature, history, culture, and science and technology — and is almost absurdly detailed. Looking for an up-close look at Mace Windu’s Jedi Council chair? It’s here, on the furniture spread.

Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror by Don Nunley with Marshall Terrill (Dalton Watson Fine Books)

While the Steve McQueen auto racing film Le Mans was a box office disappointment in 1971, it’s now considered one of the most important and greatest racing flicks of all time. Steve McQueen: Le Mans in the Rearview Mirror is a fascinatingly deep dive into the making of the film, and also serves as a fine bio of the complex McQueen. Packed with gorgeous on-set photos, it’s an essential account of how a film the authors call “a crashing bore” can eventually be seen as “the most historically realistic representation in the history of race.”

Recommended early summer reads

Chuck Wendig’s gripping Aftermath trilogy of post-Return of the Jedi Star Wars novels comes to a fine end with Empire’s End (Del Rey). There are numerous treats here, including cameos from Lando Calrissian and … well, you’ll see. Another recently released Star Wars novel, Join the Resistance (Disney Lucasfilm Press) is for younger readers. However, older fans may find this story of a trio of young Resistance recruits to be of interest. (It’s written by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker.) Irvine Welsh’s 2002 Trainspotting sequel, Porno, has been re-released as T2: Trainspotting to tie in with the film. While the story underwent drastic changes, a number of elements (including Renton living in Amsterdam and Sick Boy’s pub) stayed intact. It’s a worthy followup, if a bit time-intensive due to Welsh’s frequent use of Scottish dialect. Lastly, Leonardo DiCaprio recently bought the rights to Stephen Talty’s nonfiction work The Black Hand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and this story of an early-20th century detective attempting to stop a crime wave is riveting.

 

Review: ‘David Lynch: The Art Life’ explores the creation of ‘Eraserhead’

This Buffalo News review of the documentary “David Lynch: The Art Life” ran just a few days before the return of “Twin Peaks.”

For the first time in roughly a decade, David Lynch fans have reason to be breathless with anticipation. On May 21, Showtime debuts the 25-years-in-the-making return of Lynch’s television masterpiece, “Twin Peaks.” All 18 new episodes are directed by the man himself.

Therefore, the release of “David Lynch: The Art Life,” a feature-length documentary exploring the filmmaker’s work, is a case of very good timing. Director Jon Nguyen’s 90-minute interview with Lynch (and only Lynch) is a rather extraordinary opportunity to hear one of culture’s most unique artists discuss his life, his work, and where it came from.

The documentary is the highlight of the North Park Theatre’s “Lynchfest,” a week celebrating one of cinema’s most unique, unyielding artists.

One of the reasons the film is so successful is its narrow focus: “The Art Life” looks only at Lynch’s childhood, his wild-at-heart teenage years, his time in college as a young artist, and, finally, the creation of “Eraserhead.”

That means no “Elephant Man,” no “Blue Velvet,” no “Twin Peaks,” no “Mulholland Drive,” no Transcendental Meditation. (And no “Dune”!) Still, the DNA of Lynch’s later works can be traced directly to the events and individuals he references in “The Art Life.”

This should come as no surprise. For Lynch, there is no divide between life and art. This makes his work distinctly personal — and utterly inimitable.

“I was always drawing,” Lynch says while pondering his childhood. His mother refused to allow him to have coloring books. “Those would be restrictive, and kill some kind of creativity,” she believed. He calls this decision “a beautiful thing.”

Drawing (and, later, painting) allowed his imagination to flourish. But so, too, did strange occurrences like the sudden appearance in his neighborhood of a completely nude woman, her mouth bloodied. (Shades of Dorothy Vallens from “Blue Velvet.”)

The latter memory is particularly shocking, especially since Lynch’s childhood “was no larger than two blocks.” There were “huge worlds in those two blocks,” he says. (This seems an allusion to the small-town horrors that lurk in “Velvet” and “Twin Peaks.”)

Discovering that a friend’s father made a living as an artist led Lynch to learn of “the art life,” which he defines as “You drink coffee, you smoke cigarettes, and that’s it. Maybe girls come into a little bit. But basically it’s the incredible happiness of working and living that life.”

This was an appealing concept, and it led Lynch and his friend and future production designer, Jack Fisk, to Boston, Europe (“We were going to go for three years, but we came back in 15 days”), and, eventually Philadelphia. It was this “weird town” and its “art spirit” that put Lynch on the path to “Eraserhead.”

It has always been a joy to hear the voice of Lynch, whether as part of interviews or in his shout-y role as “Twin Peaks”’ Gordon Cole. The Lynch onscreen in “The Art Life” is older (he’s now 71), a bit weathered, and perhaps a tad slower. But his voice, his hair and his mind are as glorious as ever. It’s a joy to watch Lynch at work in his stunning home studio, especially when his infant daughter wanders into the room.

“The Art Life” is a must-see for Lynch obsessives, but it’s also worth watching for anyone with an interest in the creation process. It’s hard to watch the film and not feel inspired to create … and to immerse yourself in the filmography of cinema’s darkest poet.