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June 3, 2010


Books about music, books about movies

They Live by John Carpenter

One of the coolest things to happen to music criticism in recent years is Continuum's 33 1/3 series of short books, each one about a different album and by a different author. Each book is around 100 pages long, and includes background, interviews, heady analysis, and often some wacky, highly personal musings, reflections, and rants on the importance of the album in question. They're a lot of fun--the experience of reading one is sort of like meeting an interesting person at a party and suddenly finding yourself in a long, meandering conversation about the album that's playing, which you both happen to really love.

The albums in the series range from the obvious but necessary ("Led Zeppelin IV", "Doolittle", "OK Computer") to the well-informed if less canonical ("Meat is Murder", "Born in the U.S.A.") to the truly inspired picks that you might not immediately think of for a series like this ("Rid of Me", "Trout Mask Replica", and one brave monograph about Celine Dion.) There are new ones coming out all the time--I can't wait to see the book for Wu Tang's "36 Chambers", especially the crazy recording studio anecdotes. Here's the whole Wikipedia list and Amazon list.

Many of the writers of these books don't have any other author credits on Amazon, so there's a tantalizing sense that you yourself could one day write a 33 1/3 book on "Dubnobasswithmyheadman" or "Faith" or "Elastica" or "Very Necessary", and that music fans everywhere would read about your own personal musical obsessions.

(As a side note, I've always thought it was an unfortunate indicator of my own musical ignorance that the one book in the series written by somebody I actually know is about an album I have zero personal connection with: The Minutemen's "Double Nickels on the Dime".)

This news has been out for a bit, but I just found out (via Rex) there's going to be a similar series of short books -- about movies! It's called Deep Focus, and it's being put out by Soft Skull Press. The first two books in the series will be about John Carpenter's alien takeover movie They Live, by Jonathan Lethem (!), and Charles Bronson's Death Wish by Christopher Sorrentino. Both are out in November.

So the next obvious question: if you could write a book for this series, what movie would you choose? It seems like they're going mainstream so far, but let's assume that the movie selection will be wide open. I might pick a favorite comedy like Tootsie. There's so much to say about that movie. Or, oh man, can you imagine getting to write a whole book that encompasses every tangent and diversion about Blue Velvet? Or The Apartment? Or Dead Alive? Or Hannah and Her Sisters? I can't wait to see where they go with the series.

If you were going to get paid to go off at length on your own totally subjective analysis and personal adoration of a movie, what would you pick?

categories: Books, Media, Movies, Music
posted by amy at 12:41 PM | #

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Do I get in trouble if I say "Alien?" Like Tootsie, I think it's basically a perfect movie, and it combines two genres (thriller and science fiction) perfectly.

If I'm not allowed to choose something by James Cameron, I'd do "The Last Seduction".

Posted by: T-Rock at June 3, 2010 10:46 PM

I almost said Alien as one of my potential ones! I didn't watch it until 2003 or so, when it got re-released, and I agree that it's just about perfect. And if you mean the first movie, you're choosing something by Ridley Scott. James Cameron did the sequel with an "s" at the end.


Ripley might not be a character that I would want to hang out with in real life--she doesn't seem like she'd be all that funny--but she's one of the toughest female heroes ever.

Posted by: amy at June 3, 2010 11:06 PM

I've nearly already written a book about FULL FRONTAL...

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastard at June 4, 2010 9:01 AM

Semi-related... I don't think Dargis is defending SATC2. I think she's more bringing up the excellent question of why the critics are so universally jumping on it when similarly dumb boy movies get a free pass.

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastard at June 4, 2010 9:03 AM

TFB: You should submit your Full Frontal stuff to Soft Skull! We don't know what the format for these books will be, exactly, but I bet they'll be some mix of sort of academic analysis and personal, visceral response.

I know it's a stretch to say Manohla Dargis is actually defending SATC2, but this is by far the most positive piece of writing I've seen about the movie. She actually points out some specific things she likes about it, even if she mostly thinks it's silly. But that last sentence--wow. I love her tendency to dig deeper into the mainstream critical response to movies, so I was glad to see her begin the backlash.

Posted by: amy at June 4, 2010 9:57 AM

I think I'll do just that! You know anyone at Soft Skull? I fixed their printer network back when Sander Hicks was running things, but I suspect his name no longer carries much weight there...

Posted by: That Fuzzy Bastarrd at June 7, 2010 2:25 PM

I don't have any personal connection to Soft Skull. I do own a copy of A Good War Is Hard To Find, which I love.


It looks like the editor of the Deep Focus series is Sean Howe. Here's a 2004 interview with him--he used to edit liner notes for Criterion Collection, so I am now insanely jealous of his career.


Looks like he also reviews books for Entertainment Weekly:


Posted by: amy at June 7, 2010 2:51 PM

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