Jai Arjun Singh is a popular blogger, writer, critic, and all-round great guy. Harper Collins recently published his book on the cult movie Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, (available at Tender Leaves), and he’s currently editing an anthology of original film-related essays for Tranquebar.
Update: Jai will be in a panel discussion with Anuvab Pal, Zac O’Yeah, and Samit Basu at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival on Feb 8th. Knowing these folks, it should be an excellent discussion. Try and be there!
Here are Jai’s favourite books on Cinema, in his own words:
“Anthony Lane’s Nobody’s Perfect, a collection of his (mostly film-related) writings for the New Yorker between 1993 and 2001, is an excellent anthology for the aspiring film reviewer. Being a brilliant, witty writer, Lane is sometimes accused of over-cleverness (Patrick Swayze’s attempt at being grief-stricken “resembles a man teetering for all eternity on the brink of a giant sneeze”), but his love for cinema shines through, particularly in his long profiles of artists like Buster Keaton, Luis Bunuel and Billy Wilder.
“Donald Richie is an American who lived in Japan for over 60 years, and his interest in that country’s popular culture coincided with the emergence of directors like Kurosawa and Ozu as major artists. Richie’s The Films of Akira Kurosawa is a comprehensive, neatly structured and accessible study of the director’s films – with an emphasis on the influence of the Japanese dramatic form “Noh” on Kurosawa’s work.
“Stephen Rebello’s Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho is probably the best monograph I’ve read about a single movie. Rebello’s contents headers look mundane – “The Technical Crew”, “Casting”, “Makeup” – but the text is riveting. He begins with the gruesome real-life story of the 1950s mass-murderer Ed Gein who inspired Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho, and then chronicles the process by which a pulp thriller was transformed into a classic film that deserves multiple viewings.
“The title of M K Raghavendra’s 50 Indian Film Classics suggests a “definitive” account of the “most important” Indian movies, but Raghavendra makes it clear in his Introduction that this is a personal selection of films spanning the many periods, languages, social attitudes and filmmaking idioms of a large country. He writes with equal intelligence and open-mindedness about such varied works as the 1930s Marathi film Sant Tukaram, the Manmohan Desai potboiler Amar Akbar Anthony, and Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Mukhamukham.
“John W Hood’s Beyond the World of Apu: The Films of Satyajit Ray is a collection of elegantly written essays about Ray’s movies, arranged into broad chapters such as “The Calcutta Triptych”, “The Urban Middle Class”, “The Tribute to Tagore” and “The Cry Against Tradition”. Analytical yet lucid (and often astonishingly detailed), these essays create a gentle, pleasantly reflective mood that mirrors the experience of watching Ray’s cinema.
“Jerry Pinto’s Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb is a rare thing, a book about Bollywood that is both intelligent and accessible, and written with the passion of the true movie-lover. Pinto examines Helen’s long career as a dancer and vamp, and the role she played in the peculiar moral universe defined by Hindi cinema (“she almost always failed, which was perhaps the secret of her success”). This is a very enjoyable, freewheeling book that will make you feel like you’re part of a coffee-table conversation.
“The “Projections” series of books are a treasure trove for any film buff, and one of my personal favourites is Projections 7, produced in association with Cahiers du Cinema magazine. The first 100 or so pages are dedicated to Martin Scorsese – not just as a director but also as a movie lover discussing his influences – and there are several good interviews (e.g. Jamie Lee Curtis in conversation with her mother Janet Leigh) and essays too.
“The late Robin Wood’s Hitchcock’s Films (later revised under the title Hitchcock’s Films Revisited provided me with a better understanding of how to “read” movies. Wood had a solid literary background, which enabled him to intelligently (and unpretentiously) draw parallels between a literary and a cinematic work, but at the same time he always analysed a film as a film, with its own language and methods. This wonderfully personal, analytical book brought a new rigour to studies of Alfred Hitchcock’s cinema.”
[Ed. Note: We’ve been having trouble getting the last couple of books on the list. If you’ve seen them available somewhere, could you let us know? We want to read them too!]