Simple ideas, faultlessly executed, make for eminently satisfying experiences. So in life, so in art, so even in art books, as "The American Film Directors" very pleasingly demonstrates.

Photographer Maureen Lambray had a very simple idea. She went to 82 American film directors, took their pictures and put them in a book, one director to a page, with a list of the director's films on the facing page. It all sounds so easy, but what makes this such a gratifying and incisive visual record is the uncanny way the photographs manage to stand as totems for complex film personalities and philosophies, to encapsulate entire careers in one elegant shot.

There is Vincente Minnelli, tasteful to a fault, Frank Capra, eternally yukking it up, Robert Altman, calculatedly whimsical, Peter Bogdanovich, impossibly supercilious, Otto Preminger, with his best malevolent despot look, and even Alfred Hitchcock, a stranger on a train.

A few of the directors shown, men like H.C. "Hank" most devoted of fans, and enough of them are old folks for Allan Dwan to suggest "What? Is He Still Around?" for a title. But all the pictures share a striking perception about photography, about film, and most specially about people that is sure to captivate anyone who has eyes to look and the wit to see. (Rapoport Press, $25)

Kenneth Turan