Sunday, March 13, 2022

Book Review: The Great Movies THE iconic movie critic writes about the iconic movies of film history, plus a few surprise choices.  This is the idea behind Roger Ebert's The Great Movies.  My guess is that after years of reviewing mostly-terrible contemporaneous movies, Ebert wanted an opportunity to promote the film canon classics that he loves.  I can relate to that.  It's also somewhat of an opportunity to go beyond the name-dropping and list-making and actually explain why a number of famous movies are great. 

The most important thing I can say about this book is that all the essays are already online for free.  I feel no guilt informing people of this as they are on the Ebert website, listed under "The Great Movies" alongside his choices from the other books.  Obviously, Ebert was more interested in promoting these movies than avoiding cannibalizing his book sales.  Even supposing he hadn't been so overt, people still have a right to know.  Some people still prefer the leisurely act of reading a book to the eye strain of staring at a computer screen.  There are all sorts of reasons one might prefer a physical book.  I read the contents in book form.

Of the movies and series in this book, 47 are in the famous Criterion Collection.  19 of the movies and series in this book have been cited in essays and reviews on this blog.  13 are in my top 50 favorites list.  There are 36 color and 64 black and white choices.  60 are English-language and 31 are foreign-language while 9 are silent movies.  For the writing of this review, I had to watch and re-watch 43 of the one hundred movies so they are largely famous classics I have already seen.  I would personally give a high positive binary rating to 47 of the movies on this list.  Ebert picks a lot of basic, obvious classics, which is sort of the point.  He also picks a number of personal favorites.  Ebert surely leans more toward an interest in sexual themes than myself.  Some of the movies I found to be stylish, but silly.  Almost none of the movies felt like a complete waste of my time, but of course, other people will like and dislike different choices than I.  This relatively broad list is not a bad starting point for those interested in film appreciation.

What can I say about Ebert's writing?  He is very easy to read.  Given the gobbledygook that often passes as film writing, I mean this not as an insult.  This is a great starter book for getting people to think outside the box, or at all, in regards to movies.  Ebert has a knack for analyzing theme.  He brings in many personal anecdotes from when and where he saw the movie, either for the first time or some meaningful return.  You can tell he has a deep love of the medium.  His production anecdotes are interesting and enhance enjoyment of said movies.  There is a good amount of cross-referencing other movies and critics, thus potentially opening more doors for the reader.  Quotes from other reviewers are limited and proper, in my opinion.  He also notes, as I have, numerous times that history has rendered a different verdict on a movie than the Oscars.  By the end of the book, despite it being a collection of reviews of discrete movies, you feel that you have been given a broad context in which to look at the entire medium with the overlapping threads.  I especially enjoyed Ebert's introduction.  I would recommend watching the movies in this book before reading their reviews as there are many spoilers.

All in all, this is a great book for newcomers to film appreciation and those who would like to read a pretty good book of movie reviews.

No comments:

Post a Comment