Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Film: The Critics' Choice

It’s rare to find a coffee-table book about cinema that is truly of value to both the casual reader and the serious cinema-lover. One of them is French New Wave (1999), edited by Jean Douchet. I’ve just discovered another: Film: The Critics’ Choice (2001), edited by Geoff Andrew, with a foreword by Bernardo Bertolucci (Billboard Books, 2001). It’s out of print, but used copies are going for under a dollar at Amazon.

The book has a simple, clean structure that invites browsing. There are ten sections, each written by a different critic. Each critic takes on about 15 films. Every film gets 2 pages, one of which is devoted to a mini-essay and the other to a large still photograph.

The sections include “The Silent Era” (David Bordwell); “America: The Studio Years” (David Thomson); “America: Years of Change” (Philip French); “America: The Modern Era” (Amy Taubin and Kent Jones); “Europe: The Golden Age” (Gilbert Adair); “Europe: The New Waves” (Jonathan Rosenbaum); “British Cinema” (Peter Wollen); “Europe: A New Fin de siècle”; “International Cinema” (Tony Rayns); and a final section on animation (Paul Wells).

The essays are unusually insightful, especially given that they are working within the constraints of the coffee-table book format, and some of the film choices are pleasantly startling in their unlikeliness. There’s lots to savor here, but let me limit the scope of this post by reproducing, as a tribute, some passages by the recently deceased Gilbert Adair.

Adair on Fritz Lang’s M (1931):

Here is a curiosity: The sinister prominence with which the letter “M,” one tailor-made for the branding iron, figures in Fritz Lang’s filmography. His best known, although far from finest, film was Metropolis (1927), whose heroine’s name was Maria. His most celebrated creation, the protagonist of two silents and one late sound feature, was the verminously arachnoid mastermind Dr. Mabuse. Three of his most memorable Hollywood productions were Man Hunt (1941), Ministry of Fear (1944), and, long the favorite of cultishly minded Langians, Moonfleet (1955). (A whimsical case can even be made that the title of another work from the American period, The Woman in the Window, 1944, contained two inverted Ms.) Lang himself made a moving valedictory appearance in 1963 in Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris.

On Julia Solntseva and her 1970 film The Enchanted Desna:

Solntseva was the widow of Alexander Dovzhenko, a great filmmaker and a matchless celebrant of the Soviet Eden, whose loyal helpmate she had been throughout his life. When he died in 1956, she proceeded to film, one after the other, his handful of unrealized scripts almost as if they had been bequeathed to her, as if she were executing his deathbed request; and when there were no more left to film, she simply downed tools and retired.

If ever a film were a poem, it is The Enchanted Desna. A pantheistically phosphorescent hymn to nature as equally to the gleaming tractors and plows which were destined to transform it (and a personal favorite, intriguingly, of Jean-Luc Godard), it must be, at just 81 minutes, the briefest of cinematic works to ever have been shot in the 70mm wide-screen process [...] The visual motifs that we have to come to associate with Dovzhenko's cinema--the skies so low-hung we feel the characters will have to hunker down on all fours to crawl beneath them, the cornfields waving goodbye in unison (Dovzhenko himself once said that his was "a cinema of farewells")--are just as present in The Enchanted Desna.

On Manoel de Oliveira's first feature, Aniki-Bobó (1942):

...whose mystifying title is a Portuguese variant on "eeny-meeny-meiny-mo," it is a film about, and to some degree for, children. Set in Oporto, the director's native city, its slight plot centres upon the rivalry--for the affection of the local stunner--of a pair of matching mop-haired tots, one of whom, a blond cherub who might have stepped down from a Tiepolo altarpiece, is unjustly accused of having shoved the other onto a railroad track. [...]

What makes Aniki-Bobó unique, though, is its blatant theatricality, a word scarcely ever used to describe children's films. As witness the endearingly actorish performances which Oliveira coaxes from his diminutive performers, his film is unequivocally a melodrama. And even if its loose and deceptively artless shooting style (it was filmed wholly on location) seems to anticipate the revolutionary strategies of neorealism, the result is less reminiscent of De Sica's work, say, than of Pagnol's Marseillais trilogy, Marius, Fanny and Cesar (1931, 1932, 1936), by virtue of both the dockside setting and the tiny if nevertheless eternal triangle so solemnly, so touchingly played out before it. Like Pagnol's own films, what Aniki-Bobó offers is a persuasive illustration and defense of cinema as open-air theater.

* * *

Any suggestions of good coffee-table books on cinema--books that might contain something of interest for both the casual film buff and the more serious film-lover or film critic? I'd love to hear them.

I know that publishers such as Taschen and Phaidon have produced a number of cinema books in this format, although I know only a few of them. I recently picked up a couple of volumes in Phaidon's recently released budget series--on Hitchcock and Kubrick (both by Bill Krohn) and Lynch (by Theirry Jousse)--and they look interesting and insightful.

* * *

Some links:

-- Sight & Sound has made available a great little trove of Gilbert Adair's writings online. David Hudson's post at MUBI collects a number of pieces on Adair.

-- Adrian has a tribute to Adair at Filmkrant. And here's a wonderful text that is a critical 'duet': Adrian and Cristina Álvarez López's two-part, dual-language essay on Philippe Garrel at Cine Transit.

-- At Moving Image Source, critics, writers and artists share their highlights of 2011: part one; and part two.

-- As usual, plenty of recently posted, wonderfully engaging reading at Jonathan Rosenbaum's place on subjects as diverse as middlebrow cinema, Errol Morris, Iranian politics, black cinema, and Samuel Fuller.

-- Polls for best films of the year: Indiewire's round-up; and Film Comment's best released films and best unreleased films of the year. Also: Cahiers du Cinéma's top ten of the year; Andréa Picard's choices for best experimental films of the year; and Reverse Shot's best films of the year. Finally: Michael Z. Newman's "Faves, 2011."

-- The new issue of Cineaste has several web-exclusive pieces but is particularly worth picking up for a fascinating symposium (not online) on "the prospects of political cinema today" featuring such figures as John Gianvito, Travis Wilkerson, Sally Potter, Kelly Reichardt, John Sayles, Pere Portabella and John Hughes.

-- A new DVD release that seems to have slipped under the radar: Gilles Deleuze from A to Z, available for the first time with English subtitles. The translation is by Deleuze scholar Charles Stivale. (via Jason LaRiviere)

-- A wonderful close analysis of the prologue to Melancholia by Manohla Dargis.

-- The new issue of Senses of Cinema includes articles by Jacques Rivette and Murray Pomerance, and a roundup of the Toronto film festival by Darren Hughes. Also: the new issue of La Furia Umana is just out; it includes this Luc Moullet piece on Eric Rohmer in conjunction with MUBI.

-- Film Studies for Free's "Favorite Online Film Studies Resources in 2011".

-- The new issue of Film-Philosophy includes essays by Steven Shaviro and Rowena Santos Aquino, and a review of a recent collection of writings by Alain Badiou on cinema.

-- Ignatiy Vishnevetsky puts up a post collecting 22 capsule reviews he wrote this year for the Chicago film weekly Cine-File.

-- Ben Sachs, at Chicago Reader, on his best films of the year.

-- At Moving Image Source: Chris Fujiwara on "The contradictions of Cuba in the work of Nicolás Guillén Landrián"; Bilge Ebiri on the use of language in Malick's The New World; and an excerpt from Jordan's Mintzer's recent book on James Gray in which Gray is interviewed about The Yards.

-- Charlie Kaufman's next project is ... a musical about online film criticism??

-- At Artforum: Tony Pipolo on Robert Bresson; and on Jean-Marie Straub.

-- Links to several recent articles by film scholar David Rodowick (srcoll down). Also via his page: the archives for Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image.

-- "Passionate Utterances: Learning from Stanley Cavell," at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

-- A restoration and revival of the films of French comedian Pierre Étaix.

-- Zach Campbell on some "recent commercial cinema." Also: Zach is now on Twitter.

-- Kent Jones on the documentaries of Vittorio de Seta.

-- Gilberto Perez on Alexander Dovzhenko in Film Quarterly.

-- The Anthology Film Archives just concluded the fascinating retrospective "Anarchism on Film" curated by Cineaste editor Richard Porton.

-- B. Kite and Alexander Points-Zollo's complete "Vertigo Variations".

-- Jonathan Romney on the recent DVD releases of films by Miklos Jansco.

-- In The Guardian: "Friedrich Kittler and the rise of the machine."

-- Via Adrian: Writings on Indian cinema at Projectorhead magazine and Silhouette.

-- The new issue of the journal World Picture.

-- At eFilmCritic: "2011 Whores of the Year."

-- At The Nation: "The Making of the 99%" by Barbara Ehrenreich and John Ehrenreich.


Anonymous adrian said...

My head is spinning with all these links, Comrade G !! Happy New Year to you !

January 03, 2012 9:33 AM  
Blogger girish said...

And a Happy New Year to you, dear Adrian!

I waited too long to post--and found that I had way too many links I couldn't leave out!

January 03, 2012 9:37 AM  
Blogger The Siren said...

David O. Selznick's Hollywood, by Ronald Haver, is a history rather than a work of criticism, but it's absolutely wonderful. Just to name a few, there's a thorough rundown on Vorkapich's montage at the end of What Price Hollywood?; a look at how a still of Dietrich appeared at each stage of the Technicolor printing process; all sorts of contemporary correspondence and reviews. Covers his entire career. And it's about $3.50 on Amazon at the moment. And it's big enough to double as a breakfast tray.

January 03, 2012 9:46 AM  
Blogger Just Another Film Buff said...

Thanks for the new year gift, Girish!

Haven't come across as many coffee table books on film as I'd like to have (barring a few Bollywood titles, which I've had the chance to flip through in bookstores). I own just one: Beat Presser's WERNER HERZOG - a collection of photographs of Werner Herzog on the sets of his films as captured by his still photographer Presser accompanied by a set of writings by Herzog and his friends. I'd written something about it a long time ago.

And here's one that's costlier than the costliest coffee table.

Thanks again for some terrific links Girish. I just have to read Dargis' article now.

January 03, 2012 9:54 AM  
Anonymous Andy said...

It wasn't necessarily intended for this purpose, but the book on my coffee table is Picasso, Braque, and Early Film in Cubism, the catalog for a 2007 exhibition at the PaceWildenstein gallery in New York with the same name. I don't fully agree with its central premise (that, per the title, the films Picasso and Braque saw in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century were a major influence on the Cubist style they developed together), but it's definitely thought-provoking, and the book is stylish and full of pretty pictures! At present the cheapest copy available on Amazon is $55, but I got mine for $1.50, so keep looking, maybe?

January 03, 2012 10:24 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Siren: I just ordered the Selznick book! I'd never heard of it before.

Srikanth, the Kubrick link reminds me of Jerry Lewis' THE TOTAL FILM-MAKER, which I looked up at Amazon the other day, only to discover that the paperback is going for $1000. Shall have to try other means--like an inter-library loan!

Andy, I didn't know of the Picasso/Braque book but I noticed this recent DVD release, PICASSO AND BRAQUE GO TO THE MOVIES. Here's the blurb:

"Produced by Martin Scorsese and Robert Greenhut and directed by Arne Glimcher, PICASSO AND BRAQUE GO TO THE MOVIES is a cinematic tour through the effects of the technological revolution, specifically the invention of aviation, the creation of cinema and their interdependent influence on artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. With narration by Scorsese and interviews with art scholars and artists including Chuck Close, Julian Schnabel and Eric Fischl, the film looks at the collision between film and art at the turn of the 20th Century..."

January 03, 2012 11:41 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Does Tim Lucas' book on Mario Bava count? You need a table to read it. Considering the size of the book, plus it's weight, against the number of films Bava worked on, I'm glad Lucas didn't choose to take on Raoul Walsh.

January 03, 2012 11:47 AM  
Anonymous Andy said...

Actually reviewed that for Library Journal, I did is how I am aware of the existence of the book! (By the way, just in case: "cineaste" was my editor's word choice, y'all, not mine.)

January 03, 2012 12:00 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

So many links!

In the "coffee table" books department, might I recommend Jordan Mintzer's Conversations with James Gray? One of the best English-language film books of this past year (second, I'd say, only to the Dave Kehr collection in importance), and just an absolutely beautiful thing to look at, too: productions stills, reproductions of script pages and even sheet music. The interviews (not just with Gray, but with all of his major collaborators -- Joaquin Phoenix being the one exception) are nothing to sneeze at, either: smart, exhaustive, etc.

January 04, 2012 2:35 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Actually, Peter, I've only heard of Tim Lucas' Bava book, never seen it. And you just reminded me to go to my college library website and put in an inter-lib loan for the Edinburgh film fest-published book on Raoul Walsh (ed. Phil Hardy, 1974): I've been meaning to do that for a long time!

While I was poking around online doing that, I came upon this: a link to an article by British film scholar Peter Stanfield in Film International on the history of the Edinburgh Film Festival.

Thanks much for the link to your review, Andy: I'm now definitely interested in both the book and the movie!

Ignatiy, sorry about the link overload! But I waited too long and hated to leave any of them out, especially at this prolific end-of-year time for Internet film folks. That Gray book looks absolutely amazing: a must-have.

January 04, 2012 7:56 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

I do think the coffee table book (often a museum catalog) has produced some highlights in film studies, despite the common perception that such books are pretty but can only offer fluff as criticism: indeed, Haver's massive Selznick book (along with Christopher Finch's THE ART OF WALT DISNEY) may have set the standard years ago, and yes, the recent PICASSO BRAQUE book (with essays by Tom Gunning and Jennifer Wild) is excellent too. Here are some other favorites: Robert Benayon, THE LOOK OF BUSTER KEATON (which makes brilliant arguments through the juxtaposition of images), the MoMA book JEAN-LUC GODARD: SON + IMAGE 1974-1991, edited by Raymond Bellour and May Lea Bandy (and one of the first major studies of the video work), Richard B. Jewell's THE RKO STORY (released in a series of similar studio histories, but the only one that is a substantial work of research), John Kobal's GOTTA SING GOTTA DANCE: A HISTORY OF MOVIE MUSICALS (still one of the few attempts to provide international coverage of its topic), and Stephen Harvey's DIRECTED BY VINCENTE MINNELLI (if not the best book on the director, still a genuine critical work rather than just pretty pictures). Perhaps the greatest coffee table book on an avant-garde figure is BRUCE CONNER: 2000 BC - PART 2. While Taschen books tend to be light on useful criticism, I'll note that their volume THE ART OF BOLLYWOOD has amazing reproductions of early film posters not found easily elsewhere. On the other hand, B.D. Garga's pioneering SO MANY CINEMAS: THE MOTION PICTURE IN INDIA remains a major historical study.

January 04, 2012 10:25 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Brilliant! Great suggestions--thanks as always, Corey!

January 04, 2012 11:50 AM  
Anonymous Jon L said...

I think the Truffaut interviews of Alfred Hitchcock, "A Definitive Study of Alfred Hitchcock by Francois Truffaut," is the best film related book I've ever read. Entertaining, very informative and easy to read.

January 04, 2012 6:34 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Jon, I think this was the first oversize cinema book I ever fell in love with. I remember giving it as a gift to friends for a few years.

Bad news: Since the corporate New Times group acquired Village Voice 5 years ago, they've been firing critics left and right. The latest is their worst offense: J. Hoberman.

January 04, 2012 6:42 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

By far the best recent books in the genre in my opinion are in the Cahiers/Phaidon "Filmmaker X at Work" series, maybe they've been mentioned here before. Some were written in French and some in English. I don't know them all, but there is Godard (Alain Bergala, no English edition that I know of); Hitchcok (Bill Krohn, original English edition appears to be out of print); Truffaut (Carole le Berre, can't vouch for the English edition); Welles (François Thomas and Jean-Pierre Berthomé, great English translation); and, just published, so far in French only, Lang (Bernard Eisenschitz, I haven't seen the book yet but Eisenschitz never does anything substandard. Unfortunately it appears to be a glued paperback instead of a sewn-binding hardcover). Maybe that's all of them? The volumes reproduce production stills, scripts, all sorts of things you never see, with intelligent commentary.

January 04, 2012 8:07 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

They fired Jim Hoberman? And the Grinch really did steal Christmas, and summer is cancelled this year?

January 04, 2012 8:16 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Caboose, I still can't believe Jim Hoberman is gone from the Voice. He said he was "shocked, but not surprised."

Of the books you mentioned, I only have Bill Krohn's "Hitchcock at Work". The Welles sounds great: shall track it down. The recent $10 books that Phaidon has released as the "Masters of Cinema" series have some interesting titles, esp. Krohn on Hitchcock and Kubrick, etc.

January 04, 2012 8:37 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

The Godard is worth it just for the pictures even if one doesn't read French!

Do you know, Girish, or anyone, if the Hoberman thing is primarily about money - maybe he pulls down a nice salary and they envision replacing him with a stable of $50 a column freelancers, which, while unacceptable, at least follows a certain captalist logic - or is it purely and simply a deliberate dumbing down?

January 04, 2012 9:13 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Caboose, I can't say for sure, but I get the impression from Twitter conversations on the subject that it's likely the former.

January 04, 2012 9:35 PM  
Blogger girish said...

David Hudson collects several links related to the J. Hoberman/Voice story.

January 05, 2012 12:40 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Matt Singer at IFC posts some notes/advice from when he was a student of J. Hoberman's.

January 05, 2012 12:49 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Hi girish, long time no posting; sorry bout that.

Geoff Andrews' book also mentions I believe Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, by Lino Brocka. Singular honor for the film, and an excellent choice (if not my personal choice).

January 05, 2012 9:36 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hi Noel, good to hear from you. If you happen to read this, I wonder if you could post a link to your all-time favorite Filipino films list (perhaps that's where I first encountered WEIGHED AND FOUND WANTING?)? I'd love to see that post again, and add some titles to my Netflix queue. Thanks, and happy new year!

January 05, 2012 10:03 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Ignatiy launches a series of posts on Robert Bresson at MUBI.

January 06, 2012 2:23 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Wow, talk about mainstream crossover: TIME magazine names HISTOIRE(S) DU CINEMA the DVD of the year.

January 06, 2012 3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife gave me a hardcover copy of The Total Film-Maker as a Christmas gift this year. She found it for less than $100, so it is possible to find a copy that does not require taking out a 100 year loan. In fact, I think the shop that sold it, Illiad Books, still has copies for less than $150, although they do not appear to have them listed online.

Film: The Critics' Choice was published ten years ago. Shops such as Barnes & Noble carried it, and HamiltonBook.com carried it as a remainder. As a book author, I'm genuinely interested in why it took so long for you to discover it.

My fave "coffee table" film book is Michel Ciment's Kubrick.

January 07, 2012 11:42 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

I forget about Ciment's KUBRICK book -- a real revelation to me as a teenager. Oh, and while quite old-fashioned in approach, Walter Kerr's THE SILENT CLOWNS was one of the first books I read on silent film comedy, and remains a favorite.

January 07, 2012 9:24 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

"100 Filipino Films"

With pleasure and if you ever feel the need again and don't have the link handy, just google my blog's name and that's the first thing to pop up, at least nowadays.

Here you go!

January 08, 2012 12:56 AM  
Anonymous Corey Creekmur said...

Thanks for posting that list, Noel -- very, very helpful. If only more of the films were easily available with subtitles. I'm about to teach an Asian Film History course using Jose B. Capino's very interesting recent book DREAM FACTORIES OF A FORMER COLONY: AMERICAN FANTASIES, PHILIPPINE CINEMA. Linked to the book, I will show one of the "Blood Island" films, and perhaps MACHO DANCER.

January 08, 2012 11:45 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, David, Corey and Noel!

David, I'm not sure why I'd not heard of the Geoff Andrew book until now. I do remember spending a lot of time browsing in B&N in the years around the book's release.

Corey, the course sounds great. I'd love to hear more about it when I see you in Boston in the spring.

Noel, that's a beauty of a list!

January 09, 2012 7:21 AM  
Blogger girish said...

I just caught up over the weekend with Judd Apatow's first two films as director, THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP, and found them to be so-so: interesting, but not great. And I resonated with this excerpt from an old post by Zach Campbell about the latter film:

"What I am intrigued by is the likelihood that Apatow is contemporary Hollywood's greatest apologist for suburbia: strip-mall, pop-culture, consumerist suburbia. Apatow is all about his characters having tons of at-your-fingertips pop culture knowledge (as even Mann's neurotic anti-geek whines at one point, "I like Spider-Man"), Macs, DVDs, posters, sports, mass-market junk food. It's all about watching TV, surfing the Net, going to the movies, buying knick-knacks, eating at godawful-looking chain restaurants (including the upscale ones): this, plus monogamy with a gorgeous woman, is "life." I wish someone would take footage from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, perversely turn it to high-contrast b&w, and edit it to some noise music to make a short film about the visual horror of strip malls & megastores & food courts flanking eight-lane roads. From these two movies, anyway, Apatow is totally at home in this world of PF Chang, RadioShack, Starbucks, Home Depot, and Sam Goody, and the houses we live in to fill with products from these places. It's his milieu in the same way that Woody Allen fictionalizes his New York, or that Larry David fictionalizes his Los Angeles. And I don't think he's critical of it at all--the closest he comes to it is in suggesting that pop culture and consumerism shouldn't be pursued to the points where (a) they keep you from being a productive worker in society (start a company on eBay! just go out and grab a web programming job!) and (b) they keep you from devoting attention to your hot love interest."

January 09, 2012 8:52 AM  
Blogger girish said...

The new issue of FILM COMMENT includes this online exclusives section.

January 10, 2012 8:08 AM  
Blogger girish said...

23 critics and curators pick their DVDs and Blu-rays of the year at Sight & Sound.

January 12, 2012 11:03 AM  
Blogger girish said...

And a tribute to Peter von Bagh at the Rotterdam film festival.

January 12, 2012 11:40 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Corey, Tatlo Dalawa Isa, which features 'Hellow, Soldier' is available on DVD. I think kabayan central should have it (if you google the name).

Here's my best of 2011

January 14, 2012 5:42 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Fantastic news: A collection of translations of Jean Epstein's writings, from Amsterdam Uni Press.

January 14, 2012 9:39 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Not only that, Girish - they're giving it away. For free. I'm not sure if it's Amsterdam UP as a whole or what, but the spiel is that they've done dry runs and found that giving books away on their site to anyone who wants to download them has no effect on their sales. Which can only suggest that only libraries buy this kind of book anymore. I guess the problems will come when libraries stop buying...

January 15, 2012 7:01 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Caboose, I'm curious: have they made the Epstein translations book available for digital download? I was poking around the Amsterdam Uni Press site (like this digital downloads page) but couldn't seem to find it.

But speaking in general, I've also noticed the trend you point out, e.g. this post by Catherine Grant that collects links to dozens of open-access books available for free download.

January 16, 2012 9:42 AM  
Anonymous Marina Uzunova said...

I didn't know publishing companies have started to do this, but "opening up" textbooks as open access works has been becoming more and more popular among professors, of economics at least - starting from Ariel Rubinstein of the Tel Aviv uni to Preston McAfee of CalTech.

They say it's an alternative and a response to the traditional and mutated academic publishing model, wonder how publishers explain it...

January 16, 2012 10:27 AM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Well, the book hasn't been published yet, so that would account for it not reaching their digital downloads page.

Unless I was hallucinating that day, at a recent film conference in Montreal I heard Vinzenz Hediger, who if I recall correctly is the series editor of the Amsterdam series in which the Epstein will appear, talking about the press's plans to make the book - and several others I believe - available for free download. I think I heard Vinzenz say something about a test run in which 20,000 downloads of a title at the press had not affected its sales.

I meentioned above that this suggests that only libraries buy this sort of book anymore. That may have been an exaggeration. Perhaps anyone serious enough to want to really read Epstein is willing to pay for it and will not be swayed by the free download, and those downloading are happy for the freebie that they'll glance at but hardly read "cover to cover". Who knows? (I'd add a comment here along the lines of "And who would want to read Epstein on a little screen anyway, surely he's an author that requires some old-fashioned contemplation with a book", but we've all seen how readily and quickly, the past few years, many people are prepared to read anything on a screen.)

In line with the above comment, I can add that I was chatting with a bookstore owner here who does textbook sales twice a year. (Have I told this story here before?? Sorry if so!!) He had a very expensive Cambridge UP book on his list and ordered something like 70 copies for a class with an enrolment of 100. Sold 3. Finally a student said to him: Oh, everyone's downloading it. He said: you mean some pirate site? And the student said no, the publisher's. So he went and had a look and sure enough the publisher was simply giving that book away with a click of the mouse.

January 16, 2012 1:00 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Wow, some strange changes here, Caboose. The motives of corporations are usually so incredibly transparent, which is why I'm baffled by the "business logic" that would give away texts for free.

Many of my colleagues are moving to e-texts for classes (I have and will continue to resist), and I see more and more students each semester who read textbooks off their iPads in the (increasingly book-less) library.

January 16, 2012 1:08 PM  
Anonymous caboose said...

Marina (comment above) has told me of some interesting research to the effect that things read on a screen are, phsyiologically, scanned and not read. A book becomes a picture to scan and not words to be read. I know that a good friend of your site, Girish, Jonathan Rosenbaum, staunchly defends screen reading, saying that the Internet has more people reading more than ever before, but (and I apologise for sounding like an elitist; if that's what one becomes by articulating this position so be it) I confess to being sceptical as to the quality - sorry, I can find no other word - of a lot of that reading. I think anyone claiming that the experience and value of the two forms are equal would pretty much have to argue the same thing for DVDs and big-screen movies. We can all agree that DVDs have brought some new things of value to the film-viewing experience, but these things are different from the overall aesthetic and contemplative experience of watching the film, not to mention the social component of collective viewing and many other things besides. So it would be interesting to see someone argue that e-books are as good as books but acknowledge that DVDs aren't as good as 35mm, or argue that both e-books (or screens in general) and DVDs are better than books and films.

January 16, 2012 1:20 PM  
Anonymous Marina Uzunova said...

Surely not all downloads of a freely (and legitimately) online-available book equal a deferred sale? I am prone to think that a PDF version of a valuable book, like the Epstein or a solid textbook for that matter, is largely perceived as a complementary good and not a substitution of the paper version. There are many advantages of having a book both in a paper and an electronic version - the former is obviously for reading and the latter would come in handy for quick referencing or printing out a page and not "damaging" the actual book through photocopying. I'd imagine that no one would sit down and read a whole book, cover to cover, on a screen - they'd perhaps print it out and again read it the traditional way. I feel that the true advantage of electronic books is their "searchability" - they allow you to locate a section, a quote, a paragraph you've perhaps forgot to mark very quickly.

So, viewed from this angle - e-books as complementary and not substitution goods to the paper versions, - the contradictory new model of publishers is perhaps less baffling. But, of course, this would entail all - or at least most - readers obtaining both versions and not feeling satisfied with the free one... That's a bold assumption but still - having a little more faith in people, I'm sure that readers who find a particular book valuable will purchase it even if they have already downloaded it.

Another popular explanation is that providing freely downloadable versions gives the chance of "pre-screening" a book before buying it - seeing whether you like it. But I doubt publishers would risk having their less interesting titles "exposed" in this way.

January 16, 2012 1:43 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Great news: Robert Kramer's MILESTONES and ICE now out on DVD.

January 17, 2012 5:27 PM  
Anonymous Adrian said...

Amazon.com automatically informs me that those who buy MILESTONES/ICE are most likely to next buy either TREE OF LIFE or THE HANGOVER 2. Girish, having you been buying in bulk again ??

January 18, 2012 3:33 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Haha! THE HANGOVER 2? I think Amazon needs to work on its algorithm a little bit!

January 18, 2012 5:46 AM  
Blogger Jonathan Rosenbaum said...

Caboose, I'm sorry if I gave the impression that I think screen reading equals book reading and that one is as good as the other. One rather sobering experience during my two semesters of teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University was assigning Chris Fujiwara's "Defining Moments in Movies" in one course, following the assumption that students nowadays prefer to read shorter texts, and then assigning each of them to pick a particular text about a particular film, see that film on their own, and then write a one-page critique about both the text and the film in question. To my eternal dismay, some students critiqued the first paragraph of the text they selected and never bothered reading the second paragraph--even when this meant invalidating their critiques! More generally, the frequent complaint of young people that they hate both reading and writing, despite the fact that they appear to devote most of their lives to doing both on the Internet, may be partially explained by the discrepancy between screen reading and book or journal/magazine reading.

February 03, 2012 3:21 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Jonathan, Caboose -- The reason I've resisted (actually opposed) joining my colleagues in using e-books rather than printed books as texts has to do with my own cognitive limitations (although I suspect I'm not alone here): I can only read a text of a couple of thousand words on a screen with close attentiveness before my attention slackens, and I have to switch to doing something else. This is not the case with printed texts, for which I have a much greater 'endurance'.

I must say, though: I do a considerable amount of screen reading each and every day, even if it is broken up into chunks and distributed through the day. They are mostly short or medium-sized essays (like Jonathan's invaluable essay-posts at his blog that appear several times a week), film reviews, news stories, and medium-sized blog posts. Broken up in this way, I find "screen reading" (and I mean careful, close reading as opposed to skimming or scanning) a skill that can be learned and developed to a decent degree. It's the lengthy texts that completely defeat me. I could never imagine reading a textbook on a computer.

February 03, 2012 4:15 PM  

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