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Reading Films: My International Cinema

Douglas Messerli

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Douglas Messerli
Reading Films: My International Cinema
Series No.: EL-E-PHANT Unnumbered
ISBN: 978-1-55713-427-1, Pages: 640
American Literature, Film

Encompassing 200 international movies, Douglas Messerli's Reading Films is a highly personal but profound discussion of some of the most important cinematic achievements from the earliest of film history--including numerous silent films--to current movies in theaters at the time of this book's publication.

As Messerli reveals in his insightful essay, "Reading Films," his approach is not a mere evaluation of the films he has seen nor a passive appreciation or dismissal, but a deeper look into the structures of the works, the films' significance in society, and their directors' and actors' personal relationship to the created works. Messerli not only "sees" the movies on which he writes, but watches them over and over again, finally "reading" them as works of poetry and fiction, evaluating and comparing them in terms of other works of art.

Yet there is nothing academic about Messerli's readings, written from 2000 to the present. His short essays are filled with passionate prejudices and concerns that sometimes take him on tangents other reviewers would not have dared. The author is less concerned with audience approval or judgmental stances than he is with exploring the worlds which these vastly different filmmakers have created, elucidating the contradictions and the sometimes subtle problems these films create which might have gone unnoticed even by their creators themselves.

Writing in a lively, sometimes colloquial, occasionally idiosyncratic language, Messerli lays his heart on his sleeve, demonstrating his loves and dislikes in the art of filmmaking. Reading Films is a work any film lover--whether populist or admirer of art house fare--must read.

Noted editor and publisher Messerli is the author of eleven books of poetry, two works of fiction, and three volumes of plays (written under the pseudonym of Kier Peters). He has edited numerous collections and anthologies, most notably, From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Poetry 1960-1990 and, with dramatist Mac Wellman, From the Other Side of the Century II: A New American Drama 1960-1995. In 2000 Messerli began an annual series of cultural memoirs, My Year_____, which contain personal experiences and essays on poetry, fiction, dance, music, art, theater, performance, and film. The author is the editor of the online International Cinema Review and is a regular film critic for the British on-line magazine, Nth Position. In 2004 he was named Officier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

Also by Douglas Messerli:
After [Sun & Moon], $9.95
Bow Down, $9.95
Dark, $9.95
Dinner on the Lawn [Sun & Moon], $14.95
First Words, $9.95
Maxims from My Mother's Milk / Hymns to Him: A Dialogue [Sun & Moon], Out of Stock
Maxims from My Mother's Milk / Hymns to Him: A Dialogue (hardcover) [Sun & Moon], $19.95
My Year 2000: Leaving Something Behind, $17.95
My Year 2001: Keeping History a Secret, $17.95
My Year 2002: Love, Death, and Transfiguration, $9.95
My Year 2003: Voice Without a Voice, $9.95
My Year 2004: Under Our Skin, $9.95
My Year 2005: Terrifying Times, $9.95
My Year 2006: Serving, $9.95
My Year 2007: To the Dogs, $9.95
My Year 2008: In the Gap, $9.95
My Year 2009: Facing the Heat, $9.95
My Year 2010: Shadows, $9.95
My Year 2011: No One's Home , $9.95
My Year 2012: Centers Collapse, $17.95
My Year 2013: Murderers and Angels, $17.95
On Marriage: The Imagination of Being, $9.95
River to Rivet: A Manifesto [Sun & Moon], $14.95
Silence All Round Marked: An Historical Play in Hysteria Writ [Sun & Moon], $9.95
Some Distance, Out of Stock
Stay, $9.95
The Walls Come True: An Opera for Spoken Voices (The Structure of Destruction, Part II) [Sun & Moon], $14.95

Book Review(s)

RAIN TAXI, Spring 2013

by Scott Bryan Wilson

Review of
"Reading Films: My International Cinema, Vol. 1"

As the pronoun in the title suggests, Douglas Messerli's massive collection of film essays is less a book of criticism and more a journal of one filmgoer's reactions to and experiences with cinema. In his introduction, Messerli reveals himself to be far more than a casual film enthusiast -- supporting the repertory theaters and watching DVDs as a last resort, seeing films as many times as possible to start to really "see" them, and preferring to watch "serious films" alone. He doesn't define "serious films," but I would consider the majority of the films he writes about in the collection to be so -- works by important international directors like Bela Tarr, Jacques Rivette, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Corneliu Porumboiu, and by established masters such as Bergman, Renoir, Resnais, Ford, and Tarkovsky. Additionally, Messerli writes about silent film, a few Hollywood classics, and current American films, and he smartly addresses the American western, including several films by the under-recognized master Budd Boetticher.

While readers won't necessarily agree with all of Messerli's thoughts, one of the best things about such a big collection of short reviews (there are almost two hundred films covered in just over six hundred pages) is seeing what the author finds in works you are familiar with -- his chapters on Andrei Rublev, Last Year at Marienbad, and Satantango make observations on these films that I've missed, despite the fact that I've seen them all several times. Many of his chapters add up to little more than plot summaries with a few personal observations thrown in, but even these are enjoyable to read, particularly if you haven't seen one of these films in a while; reading this book on the train, I delighted in flipping around randomly, and in the space of twenty minutes I got to relive four Bergman films I hadn't seen in ages.

Messerli's notion that most film reviewers don't take the time to immerse themselves in films enough to write about them accurately and enjoyably is another clue to how serious he is about cinema -- he mentions that he's seen Vertigo over a hundred times yet hasn't attempted to write about it. Messerli's book succeeds because it isn't presented as anything other than a cineaste's thoughts on various films -- there's no intrusive and unwelcome theoretical slant, no overall cohesive structure to the order of the essays; furthermore, while Messerli writes about many directors' most famous films, in many cases he writes only about a director's more obscure or less successful works (e.g. Ford's Four Sons, Scorsese's After Hours). The result is a collection that any serious filmgoer will enjoy.

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