Also of interest ...

In stars, hacks, and auteurs

The Star Machine

by Jeanine Basinger (Knopf, $35)

It’s not news that “Golden Era” Hollywood stars were slaves to the studios, said William Grimes in The New York Times. Jeanine Basinger so “ingeniously” describes “the gears and levers of the machine,” though, that it’s “hard not to get swept up” in her enthusiasms. Lavishing attention on such forgotten headliners as Walter Pidgeon and Deanna Durbin, she shows why it was a sensible business strategy to nip, tuck, and rename whole herds of pleasantlooking people.

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Dark Victory

by Ed Sikov (Holt, $30)

No star was as unhappy with the studio system as Bette Davis, said Benjamin Schwarz in The Atlantic Monthly. Ed Sikov’s affectionate portrait of the smart, flinty two-time Oscar winner focuses on her work, not her “intense love life.” It’s equal to the best of several previous Davis biographies, though, because it “makes plain how Davis at once craved stardom and held its process in contempt.”

What Happens Next

by Marc Norman (Harmony, $27)

Marc Norman’s new history of screenwriting is “by far” the best book ever written on that oft-maligned craft, said Scott Eyman in The New York Observer. Though virtually all the stories Norman shares about Preston Sturges, Robert Towne, and various industry battles have been told before, they rarely have had so much “snap, crackle, and pop.”

Conversations With Woody Allen

by Eric Lax (Knopf, $30)

This 1,000-page collection of interviews from the past four decades will not tell you why Woody Allen makes the films he does, said Dwayne Booth in the LA Weekly. The book focuses on method—casting, lighting, editing— and on those matters it’s “thorough and compelling.” Whatever you make of Allen’s work, though, failing to ask about the ideas behind each film is “like looking at Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and only thinking to ask the painter if he stood on a ladder or a chair to reach the top of his canvas.”

Otto Preminger

by Foster Hirsch (Knopf, $35)

Film historian Foster Hirsch has written a “strangely likable” biography about a Hollywood figure who ought to be hard to like, said Whit Stillman in The Wall Street Journal. Director Otto Preminger was a terror on the set, and his films, though greeted reverently, “rarely rose above mediocre.” His life was packed with incident, though, and Hirsch portrays him in his later years as a “doting father and family man.” Love, it seems, transformed this monster.

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