Those with a serious interest in genre cinema – and writers on the subject – should have on their shelves (if they don’t already) some of the fascinating and idiosyncratic titles from the American company McFarland. For years, this niche publisher has been creatively exploring the byways of genre cinema from noir and crime to science-fiction and horror, and from Westerns to the star system. Not everything has been top drawer in terms of the writing, but McFarland has never produced a less-than-interesting title, and the insights contained in most of their books are both valuable and entertaining. Recent issues include five lively and fascinating titles which — if you are a lover of cinema in a variety of genres (like this writer) — you will find something that both imparts new information and challenges any existing preconceptions you might have.
Gene Blottner’s COLUMBIA NOIR (subtitled A Complete Filmography 1940 – 1962) is in that category and it becomes (at a stroke) an essential purchase for anyone interested in the superbly atmospheric crime movies from the studio. But this study is comprehensive enough to take in not just crime but other subgenres such as the Western and the science-fiction film and even includes coverage of British films. Such classics as In a Lonely Place and Gilda are given due attention, and the analysis by Blottner is always perspicacious. If there is a caveat, it is the fact that the synopses of the film plots are often more comprehensive than the critical analysis – the book would undoubtedly have been more useful had it been the other way round (how necessary are detailed plot synopses?). But it is nevertheless a valuable volume.
As is THE NOIR WESTERN: DARKNESS ON THE RANGE 1943 – 1962 by David Meuel, which is an investigation of the fascinating infiltration of noir tropes into another genre. The darker psychological impulses of the crime film poured into such classics of the American West as Pursued and Blood on the Moon are examined. It would have been an egregious omission if the director of the darkest and most psychologically interesting westerns, Anthony Mann, had not been considered, but Mann is given pride of place with a consideration of such classics as The Naked Spur and Man of the West. Meuel manages to find new insights and areas not previously explored by other writers.
A subject that this writer has made something of a speciality of is Italian genre cinema, so a particular favourite for me in this current batch of McFarland titles is Roberto Curti’s ITALIAN GOTHIC HORROR FILMS, 1957 – 1969. When I began to write about this field, considerations of the work of Italian directors were relatively sparse (although the brilliant Mario Bava was already enjoying a great deal of attention); but the net (in terms of appreciation) is thankfully being spread wider these days, and Curti’s book is a utilitarian addition to the field, including considerations of such interesting directors as Riccardo Freda and Antonio Margheriti.
But McFarland is nothing if not eclectic in its approach to the cinema, and Matthew Coniam’s THE ANNOTATED MARX BROS is an invaluable guide to some of the most surrealistic comedies ever produced in Hollywood – and the book is particularly useful in explaining many of the then-contemporary (now mystifying) references which would be lost on a modern audience.
Finally, THE 21ST-CENTURY SUPERHERO (edited by Richard J GrayII and Betty Kaklamanidou) is more overtly aimed at the academic audience, but demonstrates that the caped crimefighter is quite as ripe a subject for analysis as the most provocative themes as any other genre. Tackling such subjects as patriarchy in the X-Men films and notions of good and evil in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. This is a stimulating companion to the genre which now rules the cinema.
The above titles are all published in paperback by McFarland