Sunday, June 23, 2013


Shockingly, there once existed a world where the ability to see any movie at any time was not at the touch of your finger. Yes, even before the VHS vs. Betamax intergalactic war. You may ask: "How did you even survive?”, “Did you just stare into nothingness?” and “Was there a good pants salesman nearby?” Well, for those times when we weren’t able to watch a movie on one of the three available channels and we didn’t have money for a matinee movie, we read books (no, not books on the history of slacks) but books on movies. Each successive trip to the Blue Earth County Library, I would always check to see if some new book on movies, Hollywood or one of my favorite actors would be available, and if not, I would just check-out (for the nth time) one of the huge coffee table books on, for example the history of United Artists or MGM. At the time, I was just fascinated with motion pictures and never really gave thought about ‘who, why or what’ were specifically and creatively behind the making or storytelling of these movies.

Within the last 30-40 years there has been an amazing output of books specifically focusing on a certain genre, film, director, writer or a particular behind the scene artist that were involved with film(s). For a film geek it’s wonderful to be able to delve into the back story, creative impulse or philosophies that went into making one of your favorite films, even if its a personal critical essay. It’s the ‘devil (god) in the details’ that is so delicious about these thorough works.

One of my favorite ongoing series of books is the ‘BFI Classic Film’ collection:

They describe there series as thus:

BFI Film Classics is a series of finely written, illustrated books that introduce, interpret and celebrate landmark films of world cinema. Each volume offers an argument for the film’s ‘classic’ status, together with a discussion of its production and reception history, its place within a genre or national cinema, an account of it’s technical and aesthetic importance, and in many cases, the author’s personal response to the film. The BFI Film Classics series now includes titles previously published separately in the BFI Film Classics and the BFI Modern Classics Series.

This series - which has two categories: ‘Classic’ and ‘Modern’ - appeals to me not only for the vastly different perspectives and wildly varied interpretations that the authors have, but mostly for the hardcore and thorough attention to detail. It is similar to the work that Criterion does with their films, only in book form. They are fun to collect and savor for their unabashed geekiness to the format. Coincidentally, some of the same people that have worked on the Criterion editions of DVD’s have worked on some of the BFI books, including: Geoff Andrew for Three Colors, Gary Indiana for Salò, Anton Kaes for M, Simon Callow for Night of the Hunter, James Naremore for Sweet Smell of Success and Michael Wood for Belle de Jour.

While some film studies books can be dry in their analysis of the subject, the BFI series is wildly diverse in presentation, ranging from the shot by shot analysis in Vampyr, which is helpful in understanding how Dreyer's complex image technique works, to Jaws with its stream of consciousness scene by scene examination.
As an example, there is this passage from Jaws:  The scene in the schoolroom where the citizens trying to decide how to handle the shark problem, and we cut to the back of the room showing a school chalk board and Quint (Robert Shaw) sitting in front of it.

Here is how BFI author Antonia Quirke in one paragraph describes the scene:

At the back of the schoolroom sits a man with a mouth full of biscuit. ‘You all know me, how I make a living’ he says. They do. Although they look at him as though he were a thing of legend. A creature of tar. Shaw elides his words with the occasional chew and makes the islanders an offer. He knows the skin and fat of this town, a place on which nature has always played a spendthrift game. Watch how Shaw sits and addresses his audience, his legs crossed, his hands very relaxed upon the absolute geography of his body..... Watch how he leaves the room with a stare that steals the glitter from the light through the window, and a smile so remote, so courteous. He’s a worker in a schoolroom by a blackboard on which he has drawn a shark with its jaws around a stick man. He is the reality instructor.”

Beside the joy of reading another ‘perspective’ on a movie, I really dig the creative attention to the front covers of these books. Some examples that are noteworthy:

I found this excellent BFI Book Collector blog that covers each release for both the ‘classic’ and ‘modern’ releases:  

It’s a great, up to date info site on upcoming releases, out of print releases and where to find individual books to complete your collection plus variant cover comparisons of 1st, 2nd and each succeeding edition.  The initial editions primarily used familiar ‘screenshots’ for the covers. In the last few years, they have been updating versions with more art inspired covers as seen here with the 1st and 2nd edition of ‘Vertigo’, ‘Wizard of OZ’ and ‘Vampyr’:

 I would show you the three different ‘Exorcist’ covers but I am just too scared! You will have to search them out yourself.

Here is the latest downloadable BFI catalog.  Check out that sweet cover!

Here is the ‘complete list of titles’ (periodically updated), including upcoming releases:

Bottom line:  These books are just cool.

Personally, I enjoy reading the specific BFI book right after watching its companion movie. I have read that others like to consult the book while they are watching the movie. Obviously there are numerous ways to enhance and enrich the viewing experience of movies we all love.  The best part is to be able to better share (geek out!) with our friends about them. BFI books are a great start.

~Scooter Polanski


I spent my last day of vacation in the Twin Cities going to record stores and seeing movies.  The first movie was Before Midnight, and I loved it.  If you're a fan of the first two films in this series, then you will be pleased with how this one turned out.  I went to it at The Uptown, which wasn't as disappointing as the last time I went, but it was still overpriced and it still has those stupid reserved seats.

The second film I went to was Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay.  I first discovered Ricky Jay through his appearances in Boogie Nights and Magnolia, and then later on discovered that he is a legendary magician.  Not like a David Copperfield theatrical guy, but a master of close up magic.  He can do things with a deck of cards that will make your head spin.

I'm posting a couple of TV specials he did, as well as some random clips.  Watch and be amazed.  I don't know how he does it.


P.S.: The third film was Now You See Me.  Meh.


Saturday, June 29th @ 7:00pm
Wiecking 220 Auditorium
on the campus of State University, Mankato

Join us on Saturday, June 29th as Grind-Fu Cinema brings it all back to the beginning!  We're showing the first double feature we ever screened, but with a twist!  This time around you can see Street Fighter and Return Of The Street Fighter in the ORIGINAL JAPANESE with SUBTITLES!  As fun as the terrible dubbing was, these films are even more badass in their original form.  Sonny Chiba mops the floor with all comers, and no body part escapes his butt kicking wrath.  If it's attached to you then it is fair game, and the odds are good that it'll go flying across the room, followed by the rest of you.

Did we mention that Grind-Fu Cinema is FREE?  Cuz it is.  Grind-Fu is always free.  So bring your friends, bring snacks and treats, and dress in layers (because the temperature is notorious in the theater) for a night of amazing martial arts action.

I'm the new boy in town! Where can I go?


Let me just say right from the get go, the Brad Pitt Zombie is great but Max Brook's book World War Z is better. I absolutely love the book, and I have read enough about the nightmares surrounding the film's production to be concerned with what was going to hit the big screen. Before seeing World War Z yesterday I told myself not to expect a literal translation of the book's story line - not even a little. With that bit of mental preparation behind me I was ready to be disappointed, but I wasn't at all. This film is not to be missed if you have even a passing interest in zombies.


I think you can easily compare this situation to The Walking Dead series. What started as a fantastic graphic novel and story was the inspiration for a truly entertaining TV show. They have strayed drastically from the original, and yet I cannot complain about the end result. Tim and I had the pleasure of interviewing Max Brooks about his book several years ago when it was released, and at that point he was already in a bidding war for the book's rights and expressing concern about what the Hollywood machine would do to his story. I  distinctly remember discussing the idea of doing World War Z on HBO in a serial format, and at this point I don't see why that still couldn't happen. The movie and the book World War Z are just so completely different, and so it is a relief to think an option like that could possibly still exist.

I will go see this movie again. It is scary, intense, and full of twists and turns. I found myself sitting on the edge of my theater seat on more than one occasion. There is a lot of action in the film, all of which feels real and not over the top unbelievable which tends to happen in "blockbusters". There are of course special effects for the zombie hoards. Initially I was turned off by what I'd seen in the trailers - zombies scaling the great walls of Israel. It looked cheesy to me, but in the context of the movie it works. The zombies are rabid in nature - biting machines with a single objective of feeding, and so the massing wall of zombies is not so inconceivable. In the end this is the story of one family's experience in the zombie apocalypse. The book detailed numerous family and individual's stories, and that is the primary difference. The films ends in a voice over narrative that explains this is just the beginning, setting up the possibility of more films. I for one would like to see what happens next.