Ahead of the Oscars on Sunday, we asked co-chief film critic Manohla Dargis and critic-at-large Wesley Morris for their favorite books about old Hollywood. Below are their suggestions, as well as novels recommended by the Book Review editors.
For Film Buffs
INSIDE OSCAR, 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards
by Damien Bona and Mason Wiley
850 pp. Ballantine Books. (1996)
Morris called this book, which offers a history of the awards from 1929 to 1984, “compulsively readable.” When it was first published in 1986, our reviewer wrote that it is “a giddy social history of our place and time, full of statistics and the kind of utterly trivial details that, taken together, somehow assume significance, like centuries-old graffiti scratched onto the base of the Sphinx.”
THE CLASSICAL HOLLYWOOD CINEMA
Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960
by David Bordwell, Janet Staiger and Kristin Thompson
652 pp. Routledge. (1985)
Dargis said this book is “essential for any movie lover,” “at once a history of classical Hollywood and, as the authors put it, ‘an attempt to articulate a theoretical approach to film history.’”
BRIGHT BOULEVARDS, BOLD DREAMS
The Story of Black Hollywood
by Donald Bogle
432 pp. One World/ Ballantine. (2005)
In this book, said Dargis, Bogle “charts the underknown, essential, often fascinating, at times heartbreaking story of the African-Americans who helped build the movie industry (and keep it running) both in front of the camera and behind it.”
For Casual Viewers
THE DAY OF THE LOCUST
By Nathanael West
238 pp. Random House. (1939)
In our reviewer’s telling, West appears to believe Hollywood has “too many lost people,” who “freed in their new anonymity from the restraints of the village life from which they have escaped, form a tragic chorus for the glamour boys and girls under movie contract.” The book primarily follows Tod Hackett, a young artist hired by a studio to do scene design, but readers are introduced to a wide cast of characters, including out-of-work actors, parents of child performers and more.
THE BIG SLEEP
By Raymond Chandler
231 pp. Vintage. (1939)
In Chandler’s first book in the Philip Marlowe series, detective Marlowe is hired by a dying millionaire to deal with a blackmailer targeting one of his two daughters. “As a study in depravity, the story is excellent, with Marlowe standing out as almost the only fundamentally decent person in it,” wrote our reviewer.
PLAY IT AS IT LAYS
By Joan Didion
214 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. (1970)
Our reviewer called this novel “just about perfect,” saying that Didion “writes with a razor, carving her characters out of her perceptions with strokes so swift and economical that each scene ends almost before the reader is aware of it.” Didion tells the story of Maria Wyeth, an ex-model adrift in California after a disastrous marriage to a filmmaker, who is attempting to rescue her daughter from a mental institution.