Filmmakers and movie stars with a special interest in the inventive, the innovative, and sometimes the outrageous are the focus of new books that cover a wide range of classic activity in world cinema.
OBJECTS OF DESIRE: CONVERSATIONS WITH LUIS BUNUEL, by Jose de la Colina and Tomas Perez Turrent (Marsilio Publishers, 262 pp., $24) is a visit with the late Spanish director, who is known as the greatest of surrealist filmmakers and has even been called the most gifted surrealist in any artistic field.
Luis Bunuel was an unusual character in life as well as in cinema, moreover, earning a towering reputation yet generally refusing to discuss his work with critics or admirers. I remember attending a private party for him in the 1970s, and being warned in advance that any question too "journalistic" might drive him to grab his coat and make a hasty exit. I stayed prudently quiet, missing the possibility of a great interview but avoiding any misplaced word that might deprive the party of its most honored g uest.
During the middle and late '70s, however, Bunuel made an exception to his rule of silence and granted a series of interviews to two of his Mexican friends. Now available in English, their conversations cover everything from the filmmaker's provincial childhood to the making of Bunuel masterpieces from "Un chien andalou" and "L'Age d'or" to "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" and "That Obscure Object of Desire," with such overlooked gems as "Mexican Bus Ride" and his Hollywood epic, "The Adventures of
Robinson Crusoe," in between.
Like his films, Bunuel's discussions aren't always delicate or polite, as his celebrated autobiography ("My Last Sigh") demonstrated a few years ago. The authors acknowledge that their Bunuel interviews overlap a good deal with that book, but the filmmaker's fans around the world are unlikely to find this unexpected new volume superfluous in any way.
MY METHOD: WRITINGS AND INTERVIEWS, by Roberto Rossellini (Marsilio Publishers, 256 pp., $24) comes from a filmmaker who was a less flamboyant artist than Bunuel; but as a founder of Italy's neorealist movement in the 1940s - determined to inject real life into a national cinema that had grown stagy and artificial - Roberto Rossellini was every bit as inventive and influential. He was also a controversial public personality, whose noisily reported relationship with Hollywood star Ingrid Bergman came clos e to wrecking both their careers.
Rossellini was a film critic and a commentator on his own career, too, as this collection of essays, articles, and interviews attests. Subjects are as varied as the neorealist philosophy, the intentions behind such films as "Stromboli" and "The Flowers of St. Francis," and the relationship between cinema and the neighboring medium of television, where he worked a great deal during the latter part of his career. A skillfully chosen array of still photographs rounds out the volume.
REBEL MALES: CLIFT, BRANDO AND DEAN, by Graham McCann (Rutgers University Press, 214 pp., $38) harks back to the 1950s. This is a fairly recent decade, and many of its important films are widely popular and easily accessible today. Still and all, mists of disagreement have already settled over the period's history. For one small example, film scholar James Naremore stated a few years ago that James Dean based his accent on Elvis Presley's drawl, while Graham McCann, the author of "Rebel Males," claims th at the influence went the other way around.
Whether despite or because of the attention given such details, the '50s remains an uncommonly rich decade for analysis and argument. One reason is the emergence of such original and captivating performers as Dean, Montgomery Clift, and Marlon Brando, each of whom exploded long-established rules of traditional acting style.
All of them also earned fame and fortune in the process - even though they developed their innovations during a decade that's famous for worshiping conformity, consensus, and conservatism in most social and cultural fields.
Of the three stars examined in McCann's book, only Brando is still living and semiactive in his profession; and all three subjects faced hard, even brutal challenges during their careers. "Rebel Males" is surely not the last word on the '50s or its frequently tormented screen heroes. Any new study of these subjects is sure to find an interested and receptive public.
QUINLAN'S ILLUSTRATED DIRECTORY OF FILM COMEDY ACTORS, by David Quinlan (Henry Holt, 302 pp., $35) is just what its title says. Starting with Bud Abbott and finishing with Joe Yule, this no-nonsense book about all-nonsense performers is a useful blend of criticism, filmographies, and photos - the last a great help when a name seems familiar but you can't quite recall the face that goes with it.
Although the book's publicity stresses current stars like Rick Moranis and Shelley Long, there are plenty of entries on stars and also-rans whose careers date back to the days of silent cinema. It's not a volume to read straight through, but its encyclopedic scope will give it value for dedicated film buffs as well as casual channel-hoppers deciding which old picture is worth tuning in on tonight. It's a worthy addition to any shelf of reference books for movie-struck readers.