Those of us who use movie reference books regularly have been waiting impatiently for 15 years for an updated version of Ephraim Katz's definitive "The Film Encyclopedia." So, you can imagine our sadness and dismay when, in the throes of updating this massive work alone, Katz passed away in August 1992.
A quarter of the book remained unfinished, so Melinda Corey and George Ochoa took on the task of completing it, along with nine researchers. And at last, with their help, Katz's "one-man project" has been published in updated form (HarperCollins, $25, paperback, 1,496 pages).Katz's goal was to have "The Film Encyclopedia" recognized as "the most comprehensive one-volume encyclopedia of world cinema ever published in the English language." It is certainly that.
One could complain about certain aspects, of course. For example, it's too bad made-for-television movies are not included in filmographies. And some of the author's conclusions seem out of step, such as this one (reprinted verbatim from the first edition) about Abbott & Costello: "Their reputation as a comedy team has not survived well. . . ." In fact, it could be argued that Abbott & Costello's reputation has grown quite a bit in recent years - and they remain the only comedy team with every one of their movies available on video. And, of course, such recent phenomena as Jim Carrey aren't even listed, since his rise to stardom began only a few months ago.
But such complaints are few and far between, while the benefits are uncountable. You will find Steven Spielberg's bio includes commentary on "Jurassic Park" and "Schindler's List." And if you want a quick, concise definition of movie credits (grip, gaffer, etc.) or an explanation of various technical elements (CinemaScope, Technicolor) or thoughtful biographies and extensive (and often complete) filmographies of stars and directors from every generation, this is the volume to peruse. Even an explanation of the National Film Registry is included, with the first 25 titles that were selected by Congress.
In short, if you only have one movie reference book in your home, "The Film Encyclopedia" should be the one you choose. (And don't confuse this one with Baseline's "Encyclopedia of Film," a useful but thin work of only 600 pages.)
- ANOTHER TERRIFIC new movie reference tome is an updated edition of "The Movie List Book," by Richard B. Armstrong and Mary Willems Armstrong (Better Way Books, $18.95, paperback, 413 pages), which categorizes movies by topic.
How many times have you had a movie in your brain but couldn't think of the title? All you could remember was that it had a dinosaur or featured a pickpocket or used telekinesis as a plot device or was one of the Sherlock Holmes pictures. . . .
The categories here are endless and amazing, including "Dinosaurs," "Pickpockets," "Telekinesis" and "Sherlock Holmes." Also, "Dentists," "3-D," "Genies," "Crabs and Lobsters," "Addresses in the Title," etc.
Of course, when you're a real film fanatic, like me, you can always find something missing. For example, why isn't "An American Tail" listed in the "Insects" category (remember Digit, the calculating cockroach?). Why aren't "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" and "Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer" listed under "Hypnotists" (Costello is repeatedly hypnotized in both films). And why aren't "I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can" and "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden" listed under "Asylums." For that matter, I'd like to see "The President's Analyst" added to the "Telephones" category (the phone company turns out to be the villain in the end).
But then, Armstrong and Armstrong never promised comprehensive lists - that would take a book three times as thick. And what they do give us is fun to read and very useful.
- AND FINALLY, there's a new book about movies dealing with Vietnam by retired Army Lt. Col. Michael Lee Lanning, who has 20 years of service experience and several other books on Vietnam to his credit.
"Vietnam at the Movies" (Fawcett Columbine, $12.50, paperback, 356 pages) is an amazingly comprehensive overview of films dealing with Vietnam and the war, and readers will probably most enjoy the reference aspect, an alphabetical list of Vietnam-related movies, complete with reviews that rate each film for entertainment value as well as accuracy about the conflict and the portrayal of American soldiers.
The first 17 chapters attempt to put the Vietnam movies in historical context and categorizes them ("Protest Films," "Killers and Crazies," "Sympathetic Veterans," etc.). Then the film-by-film examination begins.
The biggies are there, of course - "Platoon," "The Deer Hunter" - and Lanning pulls no punches in criticizing them. And the many trashy knockoffs, such as "Rambo" and its many inferior clones, are also here.
But Lanning is most insightful in his appraisals of movies that deal with the war in a more oblique manner, such as those that suggest characters were damaged by the war in some way, i.e., "The Big Chill" and "Lethal Weapon."
Obviously for a fairly narrow audience, this is nonetheless a book whose time has come - and for those of us interested in the subject, it is an invaluable volume to read and ponder, and to use for reference purposes.
- QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Jim Carrey, about how he's preparing to play the Riddler in "Batman Forever":
"I've got to get in shape, for one thing, because I don't exactly know what the Riddler costume is going to look like, but if it's skintight, I don't want to have to wear a sash around my midsection."