Wednesday, December 28, 2022

The movie books before the internet and IMDb

This is the first movie book that I remember reading.1 My parents had a copy in the early 1980s, when I had little to no idea who Al Pacino (pictured on the cover) was, or that he would much later portray Penn State football coach Joe Paterno in a movie that nobody who followed Penn State football in the 1980s could have ever imagined.

Movies on TV, which we had on our living room bookshelf, was authored by Steven H. Scheuer (1926-2014). According to Wikipedia, there were 17 editions of Movies on TV between 1958 and 1993, and it was "the first guide of its kind," preceding the 1969 launch of Leonard Maltin's famous guides by more than a decade.

We eventually gravitated to those Maltin guides in the 1990s. And by the late 1980s I was also devouring the film writing of critic Roger Ebert through his annual Movie Home Companion books.

But I loved browsing Scheuer's book, which is just an amazing encyclopedia of thousands of movies, most of which I never imagined I'd be able to catch up with before the eras of TCM, video rental stores, DVDs, Netflix and streaming services. As Scheuer notes in the introduction, you had to be much savvier back in the day to catch films on television: "Careful planning, a carefree schedule, and the luck to live in a community within reception range of a TV station whose program manager or film buyer is a knowledgeable film fan will permit today's movie buff to trace the careers of their favorite performers."

Scheuer's book is fun right from the first page, which is filled with Abbott & Costello's many titles. (I was, of course, familiar with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, but not the others.) It concludes with 1962's Zotz! and 1964's Zulu.

Mom loved to browse through it, too. She would go through it and put a little pencil dot in front of the titles of all the movies she had seen during her lifetime. If I still had that family copy, I would know all the films she had seen. At least I have a good idea of what her favorites were.

If those 1980s guides had a drawback, it was that they typically only covered English-language films made in the United States and Britain. Of course, even if Fellini and Kurosawa had been covered, there would have been almost no way for viewers to watch their classic films at home.

We are definitely in the Golden Age of having the opportunity to watch almost any movie (if a print still exists) that has ever been filmed, in any country. That's how I'm able to have such an eclectic list of my 20 favorite "first-time watches" of 2022, presented here in alphabetical order:

  • 8½ (1963, Federico Fellini)
  • Chungking Express (1994, Wong Kar-wai)
  • The End of Summer (1961, Yasujirō Ozu)
  • Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka (1961, Alexander Rou)
  • The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952, Yasujirō Ozu)
  • The Girl on a Broomstick (1972, Václav Vorlíček)
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, Wes Anderson)
  • In Heaven There Is No Beer? (1984, Les Blank)
  • Let the Right One In (2008, Tomas Alfredson)
  • Licorice Pizza (2021, Paul Thomas Anderson)
  • Night of the Demon (1957, Jacques Tourneur)
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
  • Plague of the Zombies (1966, John Gilling)
  • Rashomon (1950, Akira Kurosawa)
  • The Secret of the Blue Room (1933, Kurt Neumann)
  • Sazen Tange and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo (1935, Sadao Yamanaka)
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021, Destin Daniel Cretton)
  • Smile (1975, Michael Ritchie)
  • Spring Night, Summer Night (1967, Joseph L. Anderson)
  • Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento)
1. Unless you count Supermonsters by Daniel Cohen, which I wrote about in October 2021.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not 100% sure I watched 20 new films in total in 2022 (!) but three of my favorites are on this list - Chungking Express, Grand Budapest Hotel and Licorice Pizza. They actually may all be in my top 20 favorite movies of all time list! Thank you for expanding my horizons. Not just with cats. :)