DAVID O. SELZNICK'S HOLLYWOOD, by Ronald Haver (Knopf, $75). Producer David O. Selznick's films read like a history of Hollywood's Golden Age: King Kong, Dinner At Eight, Dancing Lady, David Copperfield, Anna Karenina, A Star Is Born, Nothing Sacred, The Prisoner of Zenda, Rebecca, Spellbound, Duel in the Sun, and, of course, Gone With The Wind.
A Selznick production was marked by taste, attention to detail, concern for every technical facet and, above all, the atitude that movies were fun and essentially dream machines to whisk a weary audience away for a few hours. The same could easily be said of this lavish and mammoth history of Selznick and his world. This is not a biography, but a history of Hollywood through the vision of a man who is increasingly regarded as the most creative American film producer of any era.
Haver's text is exhaustive without resorting to trivia and ephemera; he makes every detail of a Selznick film sound fascinating. The use of stills, production photographs, frame blowups (hundreds in color), reproduction of posters and Selznick family snapshots is simply inspired. The book may be read through its illustrations and their often detailed captions, but the text is far from the usual oversized movie-book filler. This is an awesome achievement, certainly the film book of the year. THE BEATLES, by Geoffrey Stokes (Times Books, $29.95). Rock 'n' roll hasn't been the same since the Beatles broke up 10 years ago. "We were just a band that made it very big," John Lennon says at one point in this account of the Beatles' ascension (it is not recorded whether John's tongue was in his cheek at the time). The Beatles comes on like an art book, complete with a second jacket that features an Andy Warhol silkscreen of the boys. Geoffrey Stokes' text winds its way over, under and around the black-and-white photographs (color is reserved for a section on Beatle merchandise and the four stunning Avedon "psychedelic" portraits), all in an attempt to recapture those mad years when it seemed impossible to turn on a radio, go to a party or even walk down the street without hearing some Beatles song. This book seems caught somewhere between its aspirations toward being a historical document and appearing to be an overpriced piece of nostalgia. GARBO, by Alexander Walker (Macmillan, $19.95). Greta Garbo turned 75 earlier this year; next year will mark the 40th anniversary of her last screen appearance. These two facts alone should be sufficient to launch a new wave of interest in the actress who once insisted that all she really wanted was to be left alone. Alexander Walker, a film critic and historian, has one advantage over previous Garbo biographers: authorized access to the files of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, for whom Garbo made 24 films between 1926 and 1941. No book on this actress would be complete without a generous helping of photographs, and Walker heaps them on, often resorting to two-page spreads. It all makes for a rich and satisfying feast. PERFORMING ARTS: A GUIDE TO PRACTICE AND APPRECIATION, edited by Michael Billington (Facts on File, $29.95). It is difficult to imagine a one-volume work on the performing arts that could be more determinedly informative and aggressively visual than this book. British drama and film critic Michael Billington and 20 colleagues tackle plays, operas, concerts, ballet and dance, even circus, mime and magic from both historical and technical angles, but their efforts are often overwhelmed by the graphics: photographs, engravings, charts, diagrams, many in vivid colors. The effect is a bit dizzying; it is also frequently entertaining. The book's British origin favors examples from that country, but this is on the whole a truly eclectic view of the world of performance. THE ART OF THE GREAT HOLLYWOOD PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHERS 1925-1940, by John Kobal (Knopf, $35). In a glamorous fashion: the fabulous years of HOLLYWOOD COSTUME DESIGN, by W. Robert La Vine (Scribner's, $22.50). These books celebrate, in a style as lavish as their subject matter, the men and women who helped to create and sustain our image of Hollywood stars as glamorous people. Kobal's book focuses on the studio photographers whose artfully composed and lit portraits of such stars as Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, and Katharine Hepburn reinforced the images their screen roles evoked. La Vine addresses the art of the costume designer, men with one name like Adrian or Erte, or fashion doyennes like Edith Head, whose creations sometimes upstaged the stars who wore them. More than perfunctory nostalgia, each book carefully traces the history of its subject, concluding with profiles of the cream of the field. The reproductions in Kobal's book are particularly handsome. THE MOVIE WORLD OF ROGER CORMAN, edited by J. Philip diFranco (Chelsea House, $17.95). The world of Roger Corman, producer, director and distributor extraordinare, includes such films as She Gods of Shark Reef, Angels Die Hard!, and Night Call Nurses. Corman's world also includes the early films of Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, Ellen Burstyn and Bruce Dern. And, as a distributor, Corman's world includes Amarcord, Cries and Whispers and Small Change. This delightful scrapbook on Corman's amazing career has it all (as an ad for a Corman film might say): 24 color pages of posters for Corman's most lurid films, an extended interview with Corman punctuated by comments from many of his alumni, and an illustrated, annotated filmography. Corman may be Hollywood's most successful shlockmeister (few of his cheaply produced films lose money); he is also a shrewd judge of talent and film audiences.