Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Love in the Film

William K. Everson's greatest gift as a writer was his ability to convey his love of whatever films or filmmakers he happened to be writing about. I had the honor of working as an archivist for his papers during my time at New York University, and it was always inspiring to read his thoughts on the films he showed over the years at both the Theodore Huff Memorial Film Society and the New School series.

His 1979 book, Love in the Film, is an interesting look back at the great romantic films covering the entire history of the medium up to the time it was written. Although all the standards are there (Seventh Heaven, A Farewell to Arms, Brief Encounter), what makes the book most interesting are the obscure and offbeat films that Everson goes into detail about, including works from the 20s such as Clarence Brown's Smouldering Fires and William DeMille's Conrad in Quest for His Youth, plus lesser-known films such as James Whale's excellent but often overlooked 1931 version of Waterloo Bridge, Lewis Milestone's Hallelujah I'm a Bum (certainly an offbeat choice!), and Zoo in Budapest.

Everson organizes the book by decade. There is a strong emphasis on the 1920s through the 1940s, with the period from the 1950s onward represented by only four films (and only one film - Annie Hall - from the 1970s). For each decade, Everson provides an overview of prevailing trends, attitudes and values reflected in the films that he goes into more detail about in their individual entries. His approach, as with other of his books, involves a largely interpretive form of criticism, providing a context in which to appreciate how these films deal with the theme of love. Everson's always-insightful reviews provide a way of digesting the films and understanding the relationship between such a diverse list of titles spanning so many decades.

Like his later Hollywood Bedlam, a look at screwball comedy, Love in the Film is organized in a "filmography" format that makes it easy to consider each film individually and on its own terms. Everson avoids the trap of having to connect similar threads and themes from film to film into a thesis, instead examining each film separately.

For collectors of film books like myself, Love in the Film is a welcome addition - not only for Everson's always-worthwhile insights - but also as a guide for obscure and overlooked films to seek out. Everson's descriptions certainly convey his enthusiasm for each title, and make readers want to go see each of these films for him or herself.

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