Monday, August 9, 2010

Nonfiction Monday Review: Reel Culture by Mimi O'Connor

A lot of the nonfiction I've been reviewing has been quite serious in nature - Civil War prison camps, anorexia, bullying and feminism have all been covered recently. So Reel Culture is a nice change of pace!

Reel Culture: 50 Classic Movies You Should Know About (So You Can Impress Your Friends)Mimi O'Connor highlights "50 classic movies you should know about (so you can impress your friends," as the subtitle explains. However, from the introduction it's clear this is less about impressing your friends than gaining a quick understanding of where lots of American cultural catch phrases and images come from. It's like Cliff Notes for US popular culture.

These aren't necessarily the 50 most popular movies, critical successes or big money makers - these are films that have contributed to US culture but might not be known by today's teens. Thus a culturally important movie like Star Wars isn't included, because we've all already seen that. Instead there's Sunset Boulevard, Taxi Driver, Harold and Maude and 2001: A Space Odyssey - basically the syllabus for my 200-level film course in college (we mercifully skipped 2001 - I tried watching that in high school after I spent the summer reading all of Arthur C. Clarke's books in the series. I don't think I lasted an hour). Then there's more popcorn quality movies included, too: Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Mad Max 2 and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And that's just a fraction of the total. Each movie gets a 2-3 page spread, describing the plot (including - spoiler alert - the endings), trivia about the making of and reception of the film, highlighting important scenes, memorable quotations (and their original context), as well as mini-filmographies for the actors and directors.

I found this to be a pretty comprehensive little book. I'd be hard pressed to think of a significant movie from 1938 to 1991 that was left out (the last entry is Silence of the Lambs because later movies haven't been established as truly culturally significant. I think you could argue about that, but on the other hand, more recent movies are more likely to have been seen already). The only possibility I can think of is from before 1938 - why not go back to the dawn of talkies with The Jazz Singer and it's famous quotation - "You ain't heard nothin' yet!" Otherwise, I'm happy with the selections.

My one complaint is the book is slightly uneven with it's social commentary on the films. When the entry on Gone with the Wind didn't earn a single mention of the enduring Mammy stereotype, which existed before the film but was certainly cemented into place in our culture upon its release, I first thought the book was going to avoid discussions of race or controversy in general. But skip forward a couple of decades to Breakfast at Tiffany's and under the "Stuff people still talk about" heading is Mickey Rooney's portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi - a Caucasian actor playing a Japanese character that is "now considered somewhat racist and offensive." I haven't actually seen Breakfast at Tiffany's, but while I don't doubt the role is considered racist now, is that really a more enduring legacy than Mammy?

A movie buff who's truly immersed herself in film isn't going to learn much from this book - the movies in there that I have seen I already knew the trivia about. However, if you've got large gaps in your movie knowledge, this is an excellent way to quickly see what you've been missing and get a few recommendations for your Netflix queue.

Nonfiction Monday
This week's Nonfiction Monday is hosted by Moms Inspire Learning. Be sure to check out all of the other great nonfiction books being reviewed today!

Review copy sent to me by the publisher, Zest Books.
Related Posts with Thumbnails