Early in life, I suppose, it’s difficult to make the distinction between what makes a good book good and a bad book bad when it comes to the subject of film. Before college, I would always scout out the film section at the local library for something to suit my interest. Grant it, there were never many good books on any specific subjects (Czech New Wave, the avant-garde, African cinema, etc.) mostly just overviews of the history of narrative filmmaking or stuffy books on the classic days of Hollywood (the only book of this sort really worth a gander in my opinion is Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon). At college, things only slightly improved.
Books with any remarkable intellectual specificity on the subject of film seemed only available at second hand bookstores or on the Internet. In my case, the library of film criticism has accumulated via used bookstores and garage sales. That’s where I’d look for good books on the mechanisms of film both critically and technically. But a lot of people don’t even know where to start, which authors and critics are authorities on what aspect or genre of film. That brings me to why I am writing now. Firstly, it goes without saying to pick up back issues of such varied titles as Cinema Journal, Screen, Film Reader and Film Forum whenever you happen upon them and quickly ingest them thereafter. Typically, it’s a good idea to make a note of a writer whose piece you liked, because they’ve probably published a very good book on a topic suited to your specific tastes. One should also seek out the anthologized collections of Cahiers du Cinema if they are at all available. Secondly, I will recommend some authors for various genres and fields of filmmaking in case one is interested. For information on the history of the avant-garde look no further than P. Adams Sitney’s Visionary Film or Parker Tyler’s Underground Film: a critical history. To pursue the works of John Cassavetes, one can always turn to one of Ray Carney’s many books on the subject, or likewise Jonathan Rosenbaum for Orson Welles. When it comes to Forgein film, it’s good to start with the works of Robert Phillip Kolker or Andre Bazin. Susan Sontag has a very good piece on Godard in her collection titled Radical Will. Wim Wenders and Derek Jarman have written various books as well charting both their experiences as film directors as well as assessing various types of cinema with a rather poetic eye. Finally, any writings by Brakhage or Eisenstein can only help.
So next time you’re out and about at either a used book store or a flea market, look for these authors. The more one is informed, the better one’s own cinematic constructions will become.