Castaways of the Image Planet: Movies, Show Business, Public Spectacle [NOOK Book]


One of our best cultural critics here collects sixteen years' worth of essays on film and popular culture. Topics range from the invention of cinema to contemporary F-X aesthetics, from Shakespeare on film to Seinfeld, and we include essays on 30's screwball comedies, Hong Kong Martial Arts movies, to the roots of spy movies and the televising of Clinton's grand jury testimony.

O'Brien emphasizes the unpredictable interactions between film as ...
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Castaways of the Image Planet: Movies, Show Business, Public Spectacle

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One of our best cultural critics here collects sixteen years' worth of essays on film and popular culture. Topics range from the invention of cinema to contemporary F-X aesthetics, from Shakespeare on film to Seinfeld, and we include essays on 30's screwball comedies, Hong Kong Martial Arts movies, to the roots of spy movies and the televising of Clinton's grand jury testimony.

O'Brien emphasizes the unpredictable interactions between film as a medium apt for expressing the most private dreams and film as the mass literature of the modern world. Several of the pieces are profiles of individual actors or directors—Orson Welles, Michael Powell, Ed Wood, Marlon Brando, Alfred Hitchcock, Dana Andrews, The Marx Brothers, Bing Crosby—whose careers are probed to look for the point where obsession meets public myth-making.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This provocative collection of essays written over a 16-year period offers unique insight into personalities as varied as Alfred Hitchcock and Bing Crosby. O'Brien, a New York Times, Village Voice and New York Review of Books contributor, defines his commitment to film with hypnotic intensity when he states, "[b]ack in my movie-ridden adolescence, when in the company of a band of fellow obsessives I shunted from double features to late late shows." The chapter "Touch of Ego" paints Orson Welles as a man in rigid control of his own image, simultaneously involved in his artistic efforts and removed from them. O'Brien analyzes the complexity of director John Ford with equal depth, and astutely observes the free-spirited joy of screwball comedies and their destruction by postwar emphasis on realism and domesticity. Walter Winchell, "the inventor of gossip as a form of mass-market entertainment," is not the one-note monster of other profiles, but an individual whose lust for power led him to support democratic causes. O'Brien mounts an eloquent defense of Dana Andrews, never a critic's favorite, and shows why Bing Crosby's currently unrecognized genius deserves more than denigration from listmakers who place Nine Inch Nails ahead of him. Most fascinating is the homage to Vertigo, in which O'Brien convincingly turns the picture's off-centered structure and plot implausibilities into strengths. He doesn't pressure readers into adopting his point of view, but simply and tactfully makes his case through imagery, seducing readers into surrendering their prejudices and joining him on an enchanting ride. (June) Forecast: In an era of blatant blurbs and empty superlatives, this thoughtful book is particularly worth savoring. It will attract literate film buffs but, regrettably, may be too highbrow for bestsellerdom. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Cultural critic O'Brien (The Browser's Ecstasy: A Meditation on Reading) here collects 28 essays on a range of film and pop culture topics, written over a 16-year period and published in the New York Review of Books, the Village Voice, and the New Republic, among other venues. Some of the topics include the history of Mad magazine, Seinfeld's cultural phenomenon, Hitchcock, the Marx Brothers, and Ed Wood, while other essays are aptly titled "The Sturges Style," "Brando: Pro & Con Man," and "The Movie of the Century: The Searchers." In his astute analysis of Hitchcock's Vertigo, O'Brien notes, "Only at the end is it clarified that the film has been in mourning from the first, has been grieving from before the start for the ending which was already a foregone conclusion." O'Brien's perspective is consistently thoughtful and succinct, making for very engaging reading throughout. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries. Barbara Kundanis, Batavia P.L., IL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
In 28 essays reprinted from various periodicals and anthologies, poet, critic, and cultural historian O'Brien charts a series of encounters with movies and television he had over a period of 16 years, some new and some he was seeing again after many years. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Kirkus Reviews
The editor-in-chief of the Library of America holds forth on film and culture, to reassuring result. Amassing 16 years of essays written for the New York Review of Books, Film Comment, and elsewhere, O'Brien presents "a series of encounters" and "re-encounters" with movies of the past several decades, from The Cocoanuts to A.I. While in his introduction he addresses "the fundamental mysteriousness of what finally occurs" in the interaction between film and viewer, he does not dwell on theory here, but instead offers healthy doses of movie history and talk. A member of the generation that cut its teeth on classic sound films, he has the appropriate admiration for Hawks, Lang, Sturges, Michael Powell, and John Ford, to whom he ascribes the 20th century's greatest film, The Searchers, neatly praised not for its usual points but for its "world of cyclical rhythms and irrevocable losses" and the power of its "vast stretches of space and time." Similarly, he takes fresh looks at other iconic subjects, in part to refresh popular memory (as with Bing Crosby, who pioneered "calm and intimate" singing years before Sinatra made it big), but also to examine public and private personalities. In his discussions of actors-Crosby, Groucho Marx, Orson Welles, and others-he presents offscreen personalities, but mainly to illustrate the idea that these men revealed themselves most fully in performance. Maybe the real Groucho is "the one at whose routines we are laughing"; perhaps Orson Welles's "essence" is not "beyond the outward spectacle" but within his movies or radio shows. On non-film topics, O'Brien is equally scrutinizing, as in the discussion of comedy, money, and Seinfeld-and the mind-shapingpowers of Mad magazine. O'Brien's at his best in observations of what takes place on screen, disk, or page and how these actions define their practitioners. A smooth after-dinner drink.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781619022515
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 879,236
  • File size: 494 KB

Meet the Author

Geoffrey O'Brien is the editor in chief of the Library of America and a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books. His latest books are Early Autumn and The Fall of the House of Walworth (September 2012). He is a widely published poet, critic, editor, and cultural historian and has been honored with a Whiting Award and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the New York Institute for the Humanities. He lives in New York City.
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Table of Contents

Touch of Ego 3
The Ghost and the Machine 9
The Admiral 13
Close-Up of an Eye 22
Zukkaaa! Dokitsu! Kiiiiii! 31
Free Spirits 40
Stark Raving Mad 48
The Sturges Style 58
Tales of Two Chinas 68
Endless Present 87
Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fantastic 89
Emperor of Ink and Air 93
A Kinder, Gentler Perversity 97
Brando: Pro and Con Man 106
The Birthday Party 118
Spymaster Lang: The Legacy of Spione 125
The Art of Obsession 131
The Ghost at the Feast 146
The Republic of Seinfeld 162
Show Trial 173
The Movie of the Century: The Searchers 176
The Mysteries of Irma Vep 185
Dana Andrews, or The Male Mask 194
Stompin' at the Savoy 202
Groucho and His Brothers 212
All the Luck in the World 224
The Mechanical Child 235
Hitchcock: The Hidden Power 240
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