Yes, we love movies, but we also love books about movies and the people who make them. Here are six picks to add to your reading list, starting with biographies:
The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando
It’s strange to call Marlon Brando an underachiever. Brando won two Oscars, was nominated for six more, and gave some of the most memorable performances ever committed to film. Having studied the Stanislavski style of acting with Stella Adler, he helped popularize method acting and inspired a generation of talents, such as his future neighbor Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro. Yet, he loathed acting, derided the profession, and received little fulfillment from it.
Brando’s career was one of ups and downs. After experiencing incredible success in the ’50s, he had a decade-long slump of critical and commercial failures in the ’60s and began to see acting simply as a way to make money. It wasn’t until the ’70s, beginning with The Godfather, that he began to take on roles worthy of his talents again.
The Contender by William J. Mann tells the full story of Marlon Brando, the complicated and enigmatic man from Nebraska who became one of the greatest actors of all time.
More on The Contender here.
Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were the most famous couple of their time, and with good reason. Chased by paparazzi, the two actors—who were both married to other people when they first took up with each other—pursued an affair that became such a scandal they were denounced by members of the U.S. Congress and the Vatican. They eventually married for 10 years, got divorced, married each other a second time, and then divorced again for good a year later. But, of course, they never got over each other. Taylor later famously commented that “maybe we loved each other too much.”
Fun and gossipy, Furious Love by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger tells the story of their turbulent relationship in all its intense and messy glory (and it will make your next viewing of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? all the more interesting).
More on Furious Love here.
“Everyone felt as if they knew him … Millions of people loved him for his generosity of spirit, his quickness of mind, and the hopefulness he inspired. Some lost their affection for him in later years, as the quality of his work declined, even as they held out hope that he’d find the thing—the project, the character, the spark—that had made him great before, as great as he was when he first burst into the cultural consciousness. And when he was gone, we all wished we’d had him just a little bit longer.”
Dave Itzkoff’s comprehensive biography wholly examines Robin Williams’ life, detailing his successes and struggles with great care and empathy. Williams was brilliant and complex, truly a once-in-a-generation talent and his story will break your heart. We miss him greatly and reading this book was like getting a chance to spend time with an old friend.
More on Robin here.
Onto more general books about filmmaking:
Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood
The Civil Rights Movement. The Vietnam War. The assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. The ’60s were an inflection point in America, and Mark Harris, whose work should be required reading for any film buff, examines the ways in which Hollywood responded to this fraught time by looking at the five nominees for Best Picture in 1968. Change in America brought change to the movies, and as filmmakers made sense of the cultural shifts happening all around them, New Hollywood and films like Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate revolutionized an industry.
More on Pictures at a Revolution here.
The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History
You’ve probably never heard of the women profiled in The Queens of Animation, but you know their work. From the concept art of Mary Blair to Grace Huntington in the story department, their contributions helped shape beloved Disney films like Dumbo, Bambi, and Cinderella. They struggled to be respected and taken seriously by their male colleagues, even as their creative output helped make Disney Studios the powerhouse that it is. We’re thankful to Nathalia Holt for highlighting these pioneers and finally giving them the credit that they deserve.
More on The Queens of Animation here.
Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen
Was 1999 really the best year for movies? Fight Club, Election, The Matrix, Office Space, The Sixth Sense, The Best Man … Okay, maybe Brian Raftery has a point.
With the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the shooting at Columbine High and Y2K all looming large in the American consciousness, Raftery takes readers through the productions of 30-plus titles, exploring how filmmakers responded to the moment and how they brought their movies to the screen. Be sure to clear your schedule after reading—you’ll want to revisit old favorites or add new films to your watchlist.
More on Best. Movie. Year. Ever. here.