THE FILM BOOK:
A COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE WORLD OF FILM
by Ronald Bergan
(New York: DK/Penguin Random House, 2021)
Review by Dr.
Central Texas Historical Association
October 1, 2023
"Movie obsessive and former video-store worker Quentin Tarantino's
big personality and bravura filmmaking have made him one of the few
directors known the world over. His debut RESERVOIR DOGS (1991) set
the template. The heist thriller grabbed the film world by the lapels
with its sharp dialogue, ever sharper violence, and original structure.
Follow-up PULP FICTION (1994) dialed these same elements up further,
earning Tarantino an Oscar for a script that blended several crime
stories. Later works have seen Tarantino exploring a wistfully reimagined
past, rewriting World War II in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009), the Old
West in DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) and THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015), and,
most poignantly, the studio era in ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)."
So observes film scholar Ronald Bergan in this richly illustrated,
engaging, and comprehensive survey.
The author divides his volume into six sections: The Story of Film;
How Movies Are Made; Movie Genres, including such categories as comedies,
epics, melodramas, thrillers, and westerns; World Film; A-Z of Directors,
which focuses on "100 of the world's most influential" filmmakers;
and Must-See Movies, a "guide to the most important movies of all
time." Bergan also provides a helpful Glossary of "the technical and
critical terminology used throughout" his publication. Among the terms
he includes are auteur, CinemaScope, rapid cutting, Sensurround, and
In his first section, The Story of Film, he offers a valuable chronological
overview of motion picture history. Bergan divides these periods into
The Birth of Film, 1895-1919; Silence is Golden, 1920-1929; Film Comes
of Age, 1930-1939; Film Goes to War, 1940-1949; Film Fights Back,
1950-1959; The New Wave, 1960-1969; Independence Days, 1970-1979;
The International Years, 1980-1989; and Celluloid to Digital, 1990
to the present.
A number of Texans appear in this work, including actors Steve Martin,
Owen Wilson, and Joan Crawford and filmmakers King Vidor, Tex
Avery, Richard Linklater, and Wes Anderson. Assessing Avery, Bergan
contends that at "MGM, Tex Avery's anarchism was given free rein in
a series of crazy cartoons that exploded the boundaries of the genre.
Among the best of these cartoons were SCREWBALL SQUIRREL (1944) and
KING-SIZE CANARY (1947)." And evaluating Anderson's 2014 film, THE
GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, Bergan asserts that, "Anderson's regulars (Wilson,
Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray) and trademark visual quirks…abound
in a hilarious comic caper. Drawing you in with Oscar-winning production
design and a multi-flashback structure, the film is both in love with
building fanciful worlds…and alert to the dark forces that might demolish
Professor Bergan, who passed away in 2020, taught at several institutions,
including the Sorbonne, the University of Lille, and Florida International
University in Miami. Moreover, he wrote for THE GUARDIAN and authored
such studies as THE UNITED ARTISTS STORY (1986), THE LIFE AND TIMES
OF LAUREL AND HARDY (1992), JEAN RENOIR: PROJECTIONS OF PARADISE (1994),
A HAUNTED LIFE: A BIOGRAPHY OF ANTHONY PERKINS (1995), FRANCIS FORD
COPPOLA (1998), and KATHARINE HEPBURN: AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN (2013).
THE FILM BOOK will appeal to cinephiles as well as casual movie fans.
Check it out!
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