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Turner Classic Movies: The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter

What a fantastic coffee table book this is. For all movie buffs and anyone who wonders why a movie is classed as a classic, this is the ultimate guide. One’s first thought about this book is, “How do you define what is an essential movie?” This is addressed in the beginning pages.  One of the answers is ….“Their fluid mix of comedy, drama, romance, and suspense – so satisfying for audiences because it engages multiple corners of their brain- is one of the most difficult results for film makers to achieve.”

 The list of films presented in this book, begins with “Metropolis” (1927)  and goes through to “This is Spinal Tap” (1984). Many of the films are widely known, such as “Gone with the Wind” and “Citizen Kane,” but some are not so well known, such as “The Bicycle Thief”. Each film has a page outlining the Directors, Producers, Screenplay Persons, and the Leading Characters. A short synopsis of the story is given, and then there is a half-page discussion about why this film is essential viewing. 

In the film King Kong, Fay Wray “had to react convincingly to what in the reality of the film set, was nothing.” Her screams were convincing, and the musical score was magnificent. This was the first time distinct themes had been used for different characters. “King Kong laid the groundwork for all monster and disaster movies to follow.”

 After this information about each film, there is a segment called “What to look for.”  King Kong opened in an era where there was no production code. There are some graphic and suggestive scenes, which certainly would not be allowed today under the current rating systems.

 The Essential looks at the Western movies, and in particular, “Winchester 73.”  This is where the career of James Stewart began, and “incorporated a dark, psychological intensity that impacted the genre forever.”  Messages that” violence by the hero was not necessarily heroic …paved the way for later westerns.” The Director of this movie, Anthony Mann, was one of the first to make sure the audience was clear in its spatial understanding of where the hero and villain were during the final shoot out.

 Singing in The Rain is another movie discussed and explained, with Gene Kelly shown to have experimented with dance numbers to give them as much dimension as possible. He used “innovative choreography, camera placement, lighting and colour to imbue depth and dimension.”

 Each film examined is given thoughtful and precise reasons for being selected in this list of excellence. It is fascinating to read the little tit bits about actors and photography, and directors’ tricks. In films such as “Red Shoes,” camera speeds were changed to make newspaper spin and turn into a newspaper man.

  There are some  films that you may not have seen, but as winter approaches, sitting down with this book in hand and the film on the screen, could not but lead to a satisfying few hours. There are fifty two movies lovingly discussed and unwrapped for the curious reader.

Author Jeremy Arnold, foreword by Robert Osborne
Publisher Running Press
ISBN 9780762459469
Distributor New South Books
Running Time May 2016