Cahiers du cinema should need no introduction and this new series of books come to us under their banner from Phaidon Press; ten books, ten directors named Masters of cinema and a more perfect Christmas present for the cinephile in your life I could not imagine.
I’m familiar with each of the ten directors here (for a full list see the front covers to the right of the article) and I’ve seen almost every film discussed in the ten books but there was a tangible thrill on starting each one, it was the same sensation I felt when I discovered each director years ago and while I’m not a fan of all I am more than happy to read and discuss the merits, or lack thereof, of the films they produce.
These are beautiful books, and I cannot recommend them highly enough. Present in each are some well chosen commentaries on each director’s popular films interwoven with the story of their lives as well as pages of storyboards and productions stills from some truly classic scenes, and smaller features such as an exploration of the dynamic between the directors and their favourite stars.
The storyboarding of North by Northwest’s crop duster sequence is welcome but it is the scene breakdown from Notorious when the camera lingers on the faces of Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant as the scene carries on around them and behind them, out of focus while we concentrate on the unspoken words passing between the two leads that is typical of the wonders on offer in each of these books.
Seeing Grace Kelly and Cary Grant waist deep in a water tank, dwarfed by a giant camera on the set of To Catch a Thief is a joy when you consider how calm and welcoming the French Riveria seems on screen and a deliberation on the mythological and psychological roots of Vertigo is well stated and typical of the ability of this series to mine a little deeper into the films without pretension nor shying away from the thrill of discovery in each work discussed.
Each of the books comes with a detailed chronology with the director’s early works, education, film shoots and awards noted and there is a filmography in each, with amateur, short and feature films as well as collaborations included.
What stands out in these books is the richness of discussion and presentation of the work of the directors. Kubrick, Burton and Lynch strike me as the most artistic of directors here, and the production sketches of Tim Burton are beautifully rendered here, and often presented alongside the finished character design or model. David Lynch’s artwork is reproduced here and the narrative and thematic threads are always drawn from one medium to the other; they are not included here for the sake of padding a book out.
There is a scene breakdown from Mulholland Drive in the Club Silencio which draws the dark, erotic and ethereal atmosphere back to its roots in Lynch’s earlier works and a picture emerges, and this is true for each of the ten directors included in this set, of an artist radiating lightness of touch and darkness of tone, each has stories and each has shadows in their filmography; there are bruises and beauty spots on their bodies of work and each are examined in detail with insight and discussion at the forefront of every page.
The life of each director is woven into the story each book tells, and while the inclusion of Diane Keaton’s thoughts on her similarity to Annie Hall is no surprise it is touched upon and left, merely a stepping stone on the path of understanding the opaque talent of Woody Allen. Usually the books capture sections of the director’s life into chapters, with themes overarching the films included therein. Allen’s are: From Brooklyn to the Upper East Side, A Time to Laugh, King of Manhattan and Deconstructing Woody.
The books are erudite and unpretentious, beautifully presented and a complete joy to read. That they are going on sale for £5.95 each is impressive and another enticement to buy and the low price is in no way representative of the value of what you’ll get. Each book has an intelligent discussion of the man and the art, the influences and the intricacies of their work are laid bare and poured over with passion and love for the art of cinema.
For my mind the pop art aesthetic of Speilberg should sit alongside the discussion of the painterly influences of Kubrick (Barry Lyndon in particular) as well as the notion of ghosts and spectres in the work of Clint Eastwood. There is no better way of experiencing and enjoying the work of a director than in the cinema, failing that a decent TV and sound system and a collection of DVDs will suffice, but these books are a step beyond that, imbued with heartfelt love for the cinema and for a beneficial discussion on the works of these ten directors they can’t be bettered.
I have books of collected interviews with Alfred Hitchcock and Tim Burton, books of the artwork of David Lynch, Biographies of Kubrick, Spielberg and Scorsese lining my shelves and these Masters of Cinema from Cahiers du Cinema take their place among my favourite series of books on film. They could not come more highly recommended.
You can find out more here, and keep an eye on HeyUGuys as we will soon be running a competition for one lucky winner to receive the complete set.