The Essential Directors covers 56 influential directors from Hollywood, from the 1920’s to the 70’s. To lovers or scholars of film, a lot of these will be well known names to you, but there are some more obscure faces who have been forgotten in later years and are ripe for rediscovery. We get an introduction from Bogdanovich, and then author Sloan De Forest gives each director a profile, with a few pages about them, their lives and work, with viewing suggestions, beautiful photographs and some of their most famous scenes.
As an overview of the changing face of the Hollywood directors and the movie making machine over the years, this structure works really well. This isn’t about a deep dive into each director, but there’s room for each ones unique style and voice to come across, as well as quotes from later luminaries who they’ve influenced. The book is really beautiful, with it’s well designed layout, little text boxes for quick reference, and plenty of photographs from the sets of the films. Here you’ll meet directors like Billy Wilder or Martin Scorsese, but it’s also well balanced with oft overlooked but groundbreaking film makers, like Ida Lupino and Oscar Micheaux.
I’ve read a few of these TCM books now and all of them are really thorough and well researched. They’re like sitting down with a friend who knows all about movies. The writers are always passionate about their subjects, but also write in an accessible way, rather than like a text book. And this book is no exception. I really enjoyed reading it. I read it cover to cover for review, and I had a good time reading it that way, seeing the changes come through Hollywood and film making practices over time, as the directors are in chronological order. But you can really just dip in and out of this book as well, just reading whatever names or pages you’re drawn to. De Forest talks about lots of different films for each auteur and I found myself adding loads of films to my watch list as I read, both ones I wanted to watch again, and a lot that I hadn’t seen before. There are also short page spreads on film movements, like French New Wave, for example, which helps ground the context of these directors in the larger film market, and also introduces you to films or directors you might want to explore further. I think that was a nice addition to the book as a whole.
Read It If: you’re the kind of person who watches movies based on who directed them, not just who starred in them. This would make a great gift for a budding movie enthusiast or a Hollywood film buff. Great reading.
Thank you to Hachette Canada for the copy of this book for review. All opinions are my own.