Dancing About Architecture

Staff PicksMartin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library - Central Library

Dancing About Architecture

The famous, but unattributable maxim, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” is something I’ve heard for years and have considering lately. Because… why wouldn’t someone dance about architecture? Taking someone’s craft and engaging with it through another creative practice that fits better with an individual’s skillset seems like it could only add the self-expression that lives in the world and can then go on to be inspiration for someone else.  
Engaging with art in a creative way is an innately human thing to do, and, if not always an art form in and of itself (though I think it can be), may also be the precursor to making one’s own art.  
This to say that I wanted to share some books that write about film. Because film is such a collaborative medium, there is a lot that can be written about the process of making films as well as the context in which they exist. DC Public Library has some great books about film, from books of criticism by Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael to fandom books about Star Wars to books about the making of classic films. Below are some great ones that vary in their approaches but that I think are equally compelling.  

Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of American Independent Cinema by John Pierson

A kind of throwback to indie films made on a shoestring budget, this 1995 book consists of John Pierson (producer of films by Spike Lee, Richard Linklater, Michael Moore and Kevin Smith) telling what he considered the truth about film financing, timing and lighting, the film festival circuit, production deals, and what NOT to do if you want to make a film – something he learned from experience. The book is compelling for the nostalgia it connects to but also for the way its prose details the elements of creativity that feel timeless. The “how-to”-ness of it sets up the fun anecdotes and connects to the 90’s sensibility of a pre-internet art community. The book is absolutely a product of its time and worth checking out for the fun stories, or if you’re into film history.  

The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend by Glenn Frankel
Also a throwback, you could do much worse than this book which is as much about the film The Searchers as it is about the mythology of Westerns (and, by extension, about the mythos of American culture). The book delves into the racist paradigms that serve as the base structure for the film’s plot – a structure which it perpetuates and, in lesser ways, undermines. Films can be a mirror of the society they originate from, and that is definitely the case for this one with its plot taken right from an American legend that was passed down over generations. Because of the inherent importance of landscape to the feelings behind the story told, the visual element of the film is incredibly vital and it’s truly interesting to use the book to explore how the story came together, to reflect on what it meant, and to consider what it means today.

They Shouldn’t Have Killed His Dog: The Complete Uncensored Ass-Kicking Oral History of John Wick, Gun Fu, and the New Age of Action by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman

This book is nearly as “bro-y” as it sounds, and that’s a good thing! The John Wick franchise is covered insightfully and incisively as it focuses its attention on behind the scenes details, spanning interviews with cast and crew and getting into the artistry that goes into building the already-legendary action sequences. If you’re a fan of action movies, this series of films in particular, picking up this book will offer a unique look at the influences and personalities that enabled the John Wick films to reinvent the genre even as they are pushing it into new territory.

Girls on Film: Lessons from a Life of Watching Women in Movies by Alicia Malone
On the opposite end of sensibilities, and with a much broader and culturally critical focus, Alicia Malone’s book is a personal and feminist look at her experiences watching films over the course of her life. The book follows her from Australia (where she was born) to Hollywood where she works as a film reporter. Memoir and movie history sit side by side in her book as it takes both a celebratory and analytical consideration of the films she so admires and is curious about. It’s an interesting book by a thoughtful and reputable writer.

A Short History of Film by Wheeler Winston Dixon and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster
For a film generalist, or just a person who wants to learn as much as possible in as little time as they are able, the third edition of this book is a great starting point. I would probably most recommend this to someone who wants to become more knowledgeable about film in a breadth, not depth-wise, way; maybe someone who is just beginning to learn about film. Broken up into chapters that span the entirety of film history, the book starts with the invention of films and ends with “New Hollywood,” while in between, it presents images of and discusses the American film industry, international cinema, the impact of world war on films, and also specifically focuses on the filmmaking ‘explosion’ of the 1960s. The book is a really good starting point, or a way to fill in the gaps of areas of film history that you may not know.

Rotten Movies We Love: Cult Classics, Underrated Gems, And Films So Bad They’re Good by Rotten Tomatoes
Finally, beyond film history, personal reflections, and deep (nerdy) dives into the specifics of a film or genre, the library also has a number of books on film criticism. One of the most fun collections about criticism is probably from the publishers of the Rotten Tomatoes website. The website, for those unfamiliar, is an aggregate review site that assigns a rating percentage to films based on the number of positive vs. negative reviews they get. The films on the site are given both a number by published (reputable) film critics, and audience members (who are simply the general public). This book explores the plot and reception to various films on the site that are living in the “rotten” zone – with less than 60% approval ratings, most well under 50%. The book demonstrates ways that these “rotten” films can be appreciated and enjoyed. It’s got fun infographics and gives you a reason to revisit a film that, if you were to only consider its critical reception, you might skip over. Like most books, this one presents an opportunity to discover something you might have overlooked, and just might love.

About the Author

Jen F.Jen F. is an Adult Services Librarian at the MLK Jr. Memorial Library. They read broadly but prefer literary fiction, books about art, and cookbooks - especially with a focus on vegetarian food or baking. When not at work, they love to go for walks, write, watch movies and use their video camera; they also bake when there's time.

Looking to get personalized reading recommendations from DC Public Library staff? Fill out this form and a curated list will get sent directly to your inbox!