Managing Editor Matthew Young addresses a few questions to our newest author about his book…
M.Y.: When and how did you become interested in the subject of books about film?
B.V.: My fascination with film books goes back to the early 1980s. As soon as I began watching films, I began reading about them. When I was a kid I loved to flick through the film encyclopedia The Movie: The Illustrated History of Cinema, which was published as a partwork by Orbis in England between 1979 and 1983, and shortly translated into Spanish by Planeta. My father used to purchase the issues at the newsstand every week, and I remember I couldn’t wait for the week to end, so I could see the next issue!
Of course, this early passion only became a serious interest years later. In 2000, while I was a graduate student at the New School for Social Research, I started writing my PhD dissertation about the film music project that Hanns Eisler and Theodor W. Adorno undertook during the early 1940s here in New York. As a result of that project, they co-wrote the seminal book Composing for the Films, published by Oxford University Press in 1947. During my archival research, I found original materials about the troubled publication process of Composing for the Films, and shortly after I became seriously interested in the history of cinema literature in general.
I was amazed to learn that the first scholarly books on film were published in the 1890s. What were some of the most surprising books you discovered in your research?
They were different surprises for different reasons. Some books were remarkable, as you say, for the early date of publication: William and Antonia Dickson’s History of the Kinetograph was published in New York in 1895; Auguste and Louis Lumière’s Notice sur le Cinématographe, in Lyon, two years later. Some other titles were surprising for their rarity: Victor Allemandy’s Wonders of the Deep (London, 1916), for example, describes the 1914 Nassau expedition in which the Williamson brothers took the first underwater motion pictures; Arthur Meloy’s Theatres and Motion Picture Houses, published in New York that same year, is an illustrated treatise on how to properly build “movie palaces”.
I was particularly astonished by the beautiful design of some of the European avant-garde film books: Jean Epstein’s Bonjour Cinema (Paris, 1921), for instance, or Hans Richter’s Filmgegner von Heute, Filmfreunde von Morgen (Berlin 1929). Oskar Kalbus’ two-volume Vom Werden deutscher Filmkunst (1935) is uncommon because it challenges the classical notion of book: it was published as a cigarette card album that could only be completed with the participation of the reader…
What were your goals while writing the book?
There were two main goals: to show the immense diversity of cinema literature and to demonstrate that film books are among the main protagonists of cinema history –not a mere appendix to it. Film Books, in fact, can be read as a history of cinema sui generis: it’s just that, instead of focusing on films, I have concentrated on film books. I wanted to challenge the conventional historiography of cinema which, in my opinion, has been too focused on films and film directors. We now know that archival materials such as scripts, production contracts, and distribution deals are essential to understand film history. Producers, screenwriters, cinematographers, composers, actors… well, there wouldn’t be movies without them! If we adopt an economic perspective on the movies, then those apparently insignificant lobby cards, posters, and soundtrack vynil albums become key objects to comprehend the film industry and movies as commodities.
A third goal, which only became evident while I was writing the book, was to challenge the idea that there was not cinema literature during the silent era. My research demonstrates quite the opposite. Before World War I, cinema literature was extensive enough to justify a “Motion Picture Bibliography” (as compiled by Sinai Gershanek for the Motography journal in 1916). By 1927 there were literally hundreds of titles in several languages –English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Czech, Danish… Although my research was geographically limited to the Western world for obvious reasons, I wanted to include books in all these languages to avoid the cliché of the film book as an American or British invention.
Your study includes all kinds of books about film, but necessarily just a few of the most important examples of each genre. How did you decide what to include and exclude?
That was probably the most difficult task while writing this book: the selection of titles. And I guess it’s going to be the main topic discussed by some of the readers. Why did he include that insignificant title? And how could he forget my favourite film book? But, as I explain in the “Introduction”, I never intented to do a list of the Best Books on the Movies ever. I don’t think a canon is possible – not even desirable. I think rankings can be limiting and misleading.
Having said that, I did my selection following those two goals I’ve just mentioned: to show the diversity and the importance of cinema literature in film history. Needless to say, I have taken into consideration what the international community of film scholars and moviegoers has written about this subject. The seminal books by André Bazin, Siegfried Kracauer, François Truffaut, Robert Bresson, Andrei Tarkovski, Gilles Deleuze… had to be included. The five books selected in the “Best Film Book” survey published by Sight & Sound in 2010, for example, were also selected in my book –even though I disagree with the fact that David Thomson’s A Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema (1975) was voted the best book of the poll. I chose some books, such as Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylone (1959) for its poetics and mise-en-page, rather than for its historical accuracy. I also decided not to repeat authors and subjects. I have explained in detail my selection criteria in the last two pages of the “Introduction”.
How do you hope your study will change the way we think of books about film, not only in terms of their content but also as physical objects worthy of collection and preservation?
Some film books are art objects and should be treated as such. It’s a pity to see that most public and university libraries still underestimate the importance of the film book. Even the librarians of important cinémathèques around the world keep throwing away the dust jackets because they think DJs are unimportant –and a trouble for them when labeling call numbers on spines! My hope is that Film Books will change this situation. Photography books have been considered artistic artifacts for many years now, and I think it’s time now that the same happens with film books.
Now, as a researcher, I have to say that this underestimation of film books has been, paradoxically, an advantage: I have had fast access to many rare, out-of-print, unique titles –an access that would be unthinkable were I researching, let’s say, artist’s books. The funny thing is that Epstein’s and Richter’s are artist’s books! As a film book collector, it was also convenient, of course. I’ve been able to purchase true gems of cinema literature for a few bucks!
The one most widely read genre, I would guess, is collections of film criticism. Who would you say is the most insightful movie reviewer of them all, past or present?
Yes, collections of film criticism are very popular, particularly here in the United States. James Agee, Otis Ferguson, Pauline Kael, Stanley Kaufman, Andrew Sarris… It’s difficult for me to say who was the most insightful of them all. I particularly like the writings of Amos Vogel, who was more a film curator than a film critic as such, but who also wrote tirelessly about the movies. His Film as a Subversive Art (1974), which collects mini-essays on over 600 art films, is a favorite of mine. Another genre that has been widely read is the “History of Cinema” book. I think David Robinson’s World Cinema (1973) and David Cook’s A History of Narrative Film (1981) are also very good, especially if we consider that both were written in the pre-home video era.
Reading your book suggests possibilities for a follow-up, perhaps about film magazines, for instance. Do you have any such plans?
Yes. My goal is to write a trilogy –on film books, film magazines, and film scores. Despite the importance of film journals in cinema history (how can we understand the French New Wave without knowing the history of Cahiers du Cinéma?), no comprehensive studies on international film journals have been published yet. There are some monographs on specific magazines, such as the influential British monthly Close Up (1927-1933), but not a general visual history of this type of publication. And yet film scholars and moviegoers worldwide know the crucial role played by magazines in film history: Sight & Sound, Iskusstvo Kino, Bianco e Nero, Sequence, Positif, Film Culture, Nuevo Cine… the list is extensive indeed. Not to mention trade magazines like Variety, founded in 1905, or technical journals such as American Cinematographer, whose first issue came out in 1920 (both magazines, by the way, are still running). The peculiarity of the cinema journal is that it intrinsically is a collective endeavor –unlike film books, which tend to be the result of an individual effort. From the 1920s to the 1950s, magazines were also the platform where young screenwriters and film directors first became involved in serious debates about the ontology of the film medium.
What about the book on film scores?
That’s a particularly difficult project, because the format in which film scores have been recorded has changed throughout history. Some of the early musical compositions for the screen only exist as written scores; others only survive as the sound tracks of 35mm film prints. Vinyl recordings became very popular in the 1950s, it’s true, but we know that films were screened with original music as soon as “cinema” was born in the 1890s. The variety of formats and editions of film scores –from 78 rpm slate records to the digital CD– is what makes that book specially difficult and… so exciting!
Breixo Viejo is a Senior Research Associate at the School of European Languages, Culture and Society in University College London, and an Adjunct Professor of Film Studies at the School of the Arts, Columbia University, New York. He has extensively written on film aesthetics, avant-garde cinema, and the work of Luis Buñuel, Joris Ivens, Alain Resnais, Samuel Beckett, and Jim Jarmusch. He is currently co-editing with Jo Evans the book Luis Buñuel: A Life in Letters, to be published by Bloomsbury in 2017, and writing the first critical biography on the Catalan cinematographer Néstor Almendros. He is an avid film book collector and the author of Film Books: A Visual History, recently published by Oak Knoll Press.
Hello fellow Oak Knollers! My name is Derek Frisicchio and I am an English major concentrating in Professional Writing at the University of Delaware. I am aiming to gain a career in law, I was a summer camp counselor, and I know too much about ice hockey. So, after that introduction, let me tell you about my experience so far with Oak Knoll.
Upon hearing about the intern position at Oak Knoll, I knew that was the position to pursue in order to gain the experience I needed. I also wanted to be completely surrounded by books, and I got my wish once I was accepted.
When I first stepped in front of the Oak Knoll building on my first day, I was delighted to see how unique the building was, being 200 years old. I envisioned myself working at a unique company with a unique office. I wish I could use the word “unique” more to describe Oak Knoll, but then this post would just become white noise. In short, my experience at Oak Knoll, so far, is exactly what I wanted it to be: challenging, enriching, and enlightening.
At first, I did not know much about the bookselling market or industry or the booksellers. I really did not give the position a second thought. I considered booksellers as boring people selling books no one wanted anymore. However, after seeing what Oak Knoll had to offer and what it sold to its customers, I could see clearly that this business had a lot of potential.
The books here are more than compelling. Each time I am given the task to compartmentalize and organize the book shelves, I come across books that I want to take home with me. What is even more remarkable about the books they sell is how detailed and luminous the designs in the books are. Some of these prints look like they were made through some Adobe software, when in fact, they were hand-crafted by bright designers, some from centuries ago! It gives me joy to always discover new books on the most targeted and engaging of subjects. This I did not expect when I first walked into the office.
At first, I imagined myself sitting at a desk just numbingly creating documents every day. They would tell me what they wanted and I would give it to them. Fortunately, the employees at Oak Knoll wanted me to do more than mindlessly type away on my keyboard; they wanted me to learn.
As each day passed by, I learned new insights into not only bookselling, but management, advertising, and tailoring documents to specific audiences. Overall, interning is making me into a more knowledgeable individual in terms of the business environment; this was something I did not expect.
I have heard some really scary intern stories. Some of the people I’ve talked to who have interned elsewhere were merely running errands, getting coffee, even cleaning sinks! Although, I did change a few light bulbs here and there, the internship at Oak Knoll is much more than what they posted in the job description. The people here care about you, they want you to learn, and, most importantly, they want you to succeed!
On September 15, the Grolier Club hosted an opening event for its current exhibition, “Alice in a World of Wonderlands: The Translations of Lewis Carroll’s Masterpiece.” Curator and General Editor Jon Lindseth presided, and he was joined by co-curator and Technical Editor Alan Tannenbaum, Lewis Carroll biographer Morton Cohen, and other Alice collectors and enthusiasts, as well as contributors to the accompanying three-volume work of the same title, edited by Lindseth and Tannenbaum and published by Oak Knoll.
Wine and hors d’oeuvres were served as the attendees examined the cases, which featured the original edition and related material, followed by editions and ephemera from all over the world, from the first translation in German in 1869 to the present day, representing 174 languages and all manner of interpretive illustration and designs. Over the floor case devoted to a small Disney display was a world map designed by Connie Brown, with a key to all the languages and locations where Alice has been translated and published up to the present, which was reproduced on the endpapers of the book.
Jon spoke about both the exhibition and the book, thanking (among others) the Morgan Library, Princeton University, and the Fales Library for lending items to the exhibit, as well as to Grolier Exhibitions Manager Jennifer Sheehan and her assistant, and to book designer Jerry Kelly, who was presented with an oversized ribbon in honor of his accomplishment.
The book started out as a catalogue for the exhibition, but over time grew to include the contributions of 251 volunteer writers. Your correspondent was reliably informed that this was the first Grolier exhibition in which the catalogue was itself a featured part of the exhibit, so important is it to Alice scholarship.
In celebration of UNESCO’s World Book, and Copyright Day, antiquarian booksellers from all over the world are hosting Pop Up Book Fairs on April 23, 2015. Members of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) are bringing rare books, prints, manuscripts, and ephemera to unexpected places – train stations, brew pubs, rooftop terraces, and even boats! In addition to promoting the rare books, these events also act as fundraisers for UNESCO’s literacy projects in Africa. Each fair will display a large poster of an “empty bookcase,” and encourage visitors to fill it by purchasing symbolic book spines, with the money from each going directly to provide books to schools and libraries in South Sudan. Read more coverage of the fairs happening all over the world on ILAB’s blog.
Oak Knoll Books is hosting a Pop Up Book Fair in New Castle, Delaware, outside our shop in the old Opera House, built in 1879 by the Masons. Fellow booksellers Ian Brabner Rare Americana (Wilmington, DE) and Between the Covers Rare Books (Gloucester City, NJ) are also exhibiting.
We thought it would be fun to give you a little tour of New Castle and our fair so far. Enjoy!
Exciting news from Bob:
Two wonderful collections have found their way to the store. The first comes from Barrie Marks, the noted English ABA dealer. Barrie contacted me in the fall and asked if I would be interested in purchasing his reference library. I flew to England and packed the 116 boxes of books and had them shipped back to the US. More importantly, I had a chance to spend many hours with Barrie and his family and found kindred spirits.
Here is a biographical sketch we put together with Barrie’s help.
In October 1976, Barrie Marks commenced full-time sales of old, secondhand, and antiquarian books. This was his second career – from the age of 22 he had been a shopkeeper selling children’s clothes – and had him working from home at the age of 41.
He specialized in the illustrated book (including children’s books) and private press, and also had an interest in decorative arts, ballet, and all things visual. He loved reference material which he added continuously over the years. He was self-taught and learned the business from attending auctions and exhibiting at book fairs. Nearly all of his stock was purchased at either auction or from other booksellers. He liked to keep a low profile and was primarily a trade bookseller, but did have a number of supportive private buyers over the years. Barrie became a member of the ABA in 1982 and was unusual in that he never issued a catalogue, but liked to sell to visitors or by detailed quotes in letters and listings.
And the second collection comes from Washington, DC. We have purchased the inventory of Joshua Heller Rare Books, Inc. (proprietors Jos and Phyllis Heller). This collection includes a wide range of artists’ books and private press books and the reference books to support it.
They were kind enough to write a statement to send their friends and ours.
After three decades in the wonderful world of books, we decided it was time to retire and felt that Bob Fleck of Oak Knoll would be the correct choice to take over our inventory. We know we can rely on a professional like Bob to handle this, and it has, indeed, proved to be a pleasure.
— Joshua and Phyllis
While we’re still in the process of adding inventory, we’ve put together a sneak peek of the books from these two collections. See the links below:
Artists’ Books and Private Press from Joshua Heller
Books from the Reference Library of Barrie Marks
Twelve days: how long one must stay in California to do both the Pasadena Antiquarian Book, Print, Photo, and Paper Fair & the California International Antiquarian Book Fair. Doing the whole thing by yourself: priceless.
That’s right, boys and girls. I did the whole thing by myself. This was the first time I had done double fairs without my Dad and I was nervous going into the trip. However, I did take some comfort in knowing I would be getting out of the Delaware cold and into the lovely California weather.
This year the shadow fair was in Pasadena and as was the case last year, it was held on Super Bowl weekend. Needless to say, while there were crowds on Saturday, Sunday was another story… Miniature books were popular, which is usually the case when we do fairs in California. This year, our Marketing Director, Bailey Kung, supplied me with 20 of her favorite miniature books and they sold extremely well. The group was made up of a variety of different presses and designers, featuring books such as The Devil’s Printer (Tarantula Press) and Voyager (Tabula Rasa Press), which was particularly interesting due to its holographic cover.
After the Pasadena fair, I needed to transport the books from the Los Angeles area to the Bay Area. Luckily, after taking advantage of a free upgrade at the local Avis, I was able to rent a Chevrolet Traverse which had more than enough space for the boxes and trunks.
I had planned several stops along the way to break up the driving time. The first was in lovely Laguna Beach, where I looked at an interesting collection comprised of pre-WWII Japanese related material. While most of the material was books, there were also some examples of feudal-age metallurgy and numismatics. After stopping at few other towns, including Yountville, the home of the famous French Laundry (owned and operated by Thomas Keller), I finally made it to this year’s home of the California Book Fair: Oakland.
While skeptics were wary of a new location for the book fair (just like some were wary of Pasadena in 2012), the location was central, easily accessible from the BART, and in an area with an abundance of shopping and eateries. But the real test would be how well the committee marketed the fair. Judging from the number of people coming through, I’d say they did a great job. Friday had your typical range of high profile buyers as well as novice collectors, but Saturday and Sunday had bigger crowds than I’ve ever seen at an ABAA fair before. I also had some collectors that requested tickets to the show come up and introduce themselves to me over the course of the weekend. The aisles were constantly filled with attendees talking and walking, discussing with a smile the book that they had just bought, or listening to a dealer recount the provenance of one treasure or another.
As for me, my proudest experience was sending a copy of Marbled Papers by Karli Frigge home with a customer who was an avid collector of her work. Additionally, our publishing assistant, James McKinstry, did a wonderful job of selecting hot sellers from our publishing/distribution inventory. I sold every copy he packed of the latest Grolier Club exhibition catalogue, One Hundred Books Famous in Children’s Literature.
Overall, conducting two book fairs as a one man show is tiresome – try holding a conversation and writing up invoices at the same time, all day, for three days! But as the Oakland fair was winding down on Sunday night, I felt like I was completing a ritual; a “rite of passage,” if you will. Even though the trip was stressful at times, by gosh was it worth it!
Oak Knoll is headed to California for the Pasadena Antiquarian Book, Print, Photo and Paper Fair (January 31-February 1) and the California International Antiquarian Book Fair (February 6-8 in Oakland). We have some discount tickets to give away for both fairs; see the end of this post for details.
The Oakland fair kicks off Rare Book Week West, an impressive array of special events dedicated to rare and finely-printed books. See the RBWW website for full details on the book fairs, auctions, presentations, and exhibitions. Although we won’t be attending, we recommend the CODEX Fair and Symposium (February 8-11), which showcases 100 fine press printers, book artists, and fine art publishers from all over the world, including many of our Oak Knoll Fest participants.
We’ve packed our trunks with all manner of books about books–papermaking, bookbinding, calligraphy, typography, printing history, book collecting– a number of finely printed private press books, a little mountain of miniature books, and a selection of new and bestselling titles from Oak Knoll Press. Plus, we’re excited to debut some wonderful books that we recently acquired from the collection of Michael Peich, professor emeritus at West Chester University and proprietor of the Aralia Press.
Peich is responsible for making West Chester a hub for poetry: he co-founded university’s annual Poetry Conference in 1995, was instrumental in the establishment of the Poetry Center in 2004, and helped secure a permanent endowment to support future poetry-related activities at West Chester. His Aralia Press, founded in 1983, and located in WCU’s F.H. Green Library, provided an opportunity to publish contemporary poetry, while teaching students the craft of fine printing.
Peich’s collection is full of lovely private press material from the 1970s to 2000, including presentation copies, a number of publications from the Toothpaste Press (predecessor of the Coffee House Press), and work from the San Francisco Renaissance poet William Everson (aka Brother Antonius), a conscientious objector and a fine press printer in his own right.
Click the images below to see what we’ll have at the fairs:
Book Fair Details
Pasadena Antiquarian Book, Print, Photo, and Paper Fair
January 31-February 1, 2015
Pasadena Convention Center
We have a limited number of complimentary and discount tickets, available on a first-come, first-served basis. E-mail [rob (at) oakknoll.com] to claim one.
California International Antiquarian Book Fair
February 6-8, 2015
Oakland Marriott City Center
We have a limited number of complimentary tickets, available on a first-come, first-served basis. E-mail [rob (at) oakknoll.com] to claim one.