I enjoyed How to Fight, Lie, and Cry Your Way to Popularity (And a Prom Date) from Zest Books, so I sampled three more of their list books.
Reel Culture: 50 Classic Movies You Should Know About (So You Can Impress Your Friends)
by Mimi O’Connor
The films covered in this volume are classics selected based on a general idea of cultural awareness — which movies you should know to recognize references and quotes and significant points of cinema history. And with one exception, it’s a terrific set of choices.
The list, arranged chronologically, begins with the essential screwball romance Bringing Up Baby (1938) and ends with The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Each movie gets three pages, covering the plot (including spoilers), key credits, related movies, trivia bits, quotes, why it’s important, and the most memorable moments. It’s all parceled out in bite-size factoids, but that makes it fun for quick, pick-up reading. Dedicated movie fans will find much of the material introductory, but the book isn’t for them; instead, it might help others discover what they see in classic cinema.
It’s a shame that each movie only gets one small black-and-white image, since that often can’t capture the magic of the experience, but this is a great book to spur arguments — what would you have put in that was left out, and what should be cut to make room? — and drive viewing selections. The older films are well-known and deserving of recognition, including Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, Casablanca, Rear Window, Some Like It Hot, and The Graduate, but they’re not all high-toned. Other movies considered essential to know about, such as Planet of the Apes, are included for their pop culture cachet, including such cult classics as Harold and Maude and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
I couldn’t quibble with the selections, except for one. Gimme Shelter is included, it seems, for the historical significance of the events portrayed, not for the film itself, and it’s not nearly as important as many of the other inclusions. I would have put in Ghostbusters or Back to the Future instead.
While problems with some of the films are briefly noted — such as the racist portrayal by Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s — other historical items are sometimes overlooked. For example, I would have expected the piece on 12 Angry Men to note that the movie is all-male because women weren’t allowed to serve on juries in the early 1950s. Based on this book, I still have some films to see, although the ones I’ve missed so far tend to be the more violent (Bonnie and Clyde, Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, Goodfellas … and is that really needed when you’ve already included The Godfather?) or horrific (Night of the Living Dead, The Exorcist, Scarface) ones.
The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About… Before It’s Too Late
by Laura Barcella
The fun of this volume is seeing how many different ways and in various different media the world can come to an end. Most of us have heard of such films as 12 Monkeys, 2012, Dr. Strangelove, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but I was also made aware of songs, paintings, plays, and books that dealt with widespread destruction. It’s very informative, in a “we’re all going to die!” way, and culturally wide-ranging.
In addition to summaries of the item, each three-page writeup includes the “unforgettable moment”, an evaluation of the “reality factor”, quotes, inspirations, and impacts. There are three comic series included, too: Watchmen (obviously), V for Vendetta, and Y the Last Man.
Given recent years and releases, the book is unfortunately out of date, since it was published before this summer’s mini-boom in world-ending movies, including This Is the End and The World’s End. Perhaps it’s time for an update?
Scandalous! 50 Shocking Events You Should Know About (So You Can Impress Your Friends)
by Hallie Fryd
I was recently bemoaning, with the rise of the internet, the extinction of pop history books. Then I found this one, which works pretty much the same way, only with an added layer of public outrage. Reading various “scandals” dating from 1906 (the Stanford White murder) to 2000 (Bush declared President by Supreme Court instead of vote recount) just shows how much context is important in understanding what people get upset about.
It’s clear that the book is being aimed at teens, since the tone reads like a combination of history textbook and talking down to the kids to be sure they understand. That’s unfortunate, since the content is interesting, particularly when it comes to some of the lesser-known events of the early 1900s.
There’s sex, murder, gambling, con schemes, and racism. Read too many of these entries at once, and you’ll end up very disillusioned about the stupidity of public opinion and the wrongness of some official decisions.
(The publisher provided review copies.)