Forget visions of sugar plums. This holiday season, a roster of Hollywood-themed entries summon up lingering images from beloved movie classics, among them The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach and Wuthering Heights, as well as from kooky cult favorites, including TV’s wonderfully eccentric “Doctor Who.”
Of course, some cult films go on to become classics. In development for a decade, A Christmas Story was released in November 1983 with little fanfare and to mixed reviews. Ticket sales were surprisingly solid, but MGM pulled the movie from theaters after only five weeks—before Christmas—to make way for Barbra Streisand’s Yentl. No offense to Babs, but over time, it’s the modest tale of Ralphie Parker and family that has triumphed. It’s now an annual tradition that brings in an estimated 50 million viewers.
A Christmas Story Treasury celebrates the little movie that could. This is an interactive book with sound buttons that trigger eight famous quotes—delivered by the film’s narrator and writer, Jean Shepherd—and a packet of ephemera, including a “Merry Christmas from the Parkers” greeting card. Author Tyler Schwartz produced the documentary Road Trip for Ralphie, and he’s also affiliated with the Cleveland-based A Christmas Story House & Museum. So, yes, he’s a fan, and his book is for those who share his love for this holiday staple. I triple-dog-dare you to dislike this book.
FANTASTIC MR. ANDERSON
Cult film maestro Wes Anderson—whose oddities include Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom—is the subject of The Wes Anderson Collection, featuring film-by-film conversations between Anderson and critic Matt Zoller Seitz.
Seitz has been interviewing Anderson intermittently since 1993, when Seitz was a rookie film critic for the Dallas Observer and Anderson was making a 12-minute, 8mm movie called Bottle Rocket, which he co-wrote with then-unknown Owen Wilson. Seitz calls this book “a tour of an artist’s mind, with the artist as guide and amiable companion.” Included are nods to Anderson’s influences (such as Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and the film Sex, Lies, and Videotape), his favorite music, his filmmaking habits (he heavily annotates his frames and, à la Hitchcock, does detailed storyboards) and more.
With an introduction by Michael Chabon and clever Andersonian artwork by Max Dalton, this coffee-table book is also heavily illustrated with stills from Anderson’s films. The stars are familiar—including Owen and Luke Wilson, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Anjelica Huston—but if the titles aren’t, this book may prompt you to add a few of them to your Netflix queue.
For lavish production it’s hard to top Majestic Hollywood: The Greatest Films of 1939, which features sumptuous production stills and behind-the-scenes candids from some of the greatest movies ever made, starring some of the greatest stars Hollywood has ever known.
Author Mark A. Vieira, who specializes in celebratory books about Hollywood’s Golden Age, looks at 50 films of a landmark year. They include Gunga Din, Stagecoach and Wuthering Heights, as well as star vehicles such as The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, The Roaring Twenties with tough guys Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney, and Ninotchka with the legendary Greta Garbo. Let’s not forget Basil Rathbone as the ultimate sleuth in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, or young Shirley Temple in the teary The Little Princess. And then there was The Wizard of Oz, which had already gone through 10 writers, three directors, two witches and two tin men when director Victor Fleming came aboard—and the rest is history. As for the cherry on top, that would be Gone with the Wind.
Each film merits production highlights and critical reaction—and the aforementioned production stills from master photographers such as George Hurrell. That kind of artistic photography is now “gone with the wind,” as is the style of filmmaking that made 1939 a year to remember.
For time travel fans, and for those who follow the exploits of the eccentric Time Lord known simply as the Doctor, there’s Doctor Who: The Vault.
The BBC-produced series is watched regularly in the U.S. by 2 million viewers; worldwide, there are 77 million. Not bad considering the show’s shaky beginnings. After a rocky period of pre-production, it debuted in November 1963, one day after the assassination of JFK.
Author Marcus Hearn enjoyed enviable access to the BBC’s “Doctor Who” archive and to those of private collectors. The result is a beautifully produced chronicle of the series.
In the last 50 years, 11 actors have portrayed the Time Lord—the result of his ability to “regenerate.” In various incarnations, the Doctor has been jokey, earnest, gray-haired, a youthful 26 and so on. He travels in a TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), which usually resembles a 1960s British police box.
All this is explained in depth by Hearn, who looks at the costumes, weapons, monsters and promotional items of the series. There are accounts of the comings and goings of writers, directors and producers; differences over storylines and programming approach; and movies that influenced the series, including Frankenstein and classic Westerns.
Should the phenomenon have passed you by, don’t pass up the book. The Doctor will see you now.