Eye For Books

We review the latest Twilight goodies, The Horror Film Quiz Book and Martin Scorsese's America.

by Susanna Krawczyk, Jennie Kermode and Andrew Robertson

Twilight: New Moon, by Stephenie Meyer, ISBN 978 1 905654 60 4, £6.99

With the release of New Moon, the second movie in what has come to be known as the Twilight Saga, comes the expected wave of related merchandise. These days a movie tie-in edition is an essential for any novel which has been adapted into a film and New Moon is no exception, sporting on the cover a glossy, moodily-lit photo of vampire Edward, werewolf Jacob and cryptid-fancier Bella looking heartbroken, stern and somewhat confused, respectively, over a background of stark trees and a mysterious glow. The all-lowercase title floats above.

This is of course guaranteed to catch the eye of anybody who has fallen in love with Twilight after seeing the first movie, but it isn't quite as striking as the original cover, which made use of the series' black, white and red aesthetic. Not an essential purchase for anyone who already owns the book but perhaps a nice stocking-filler for the aforementioned fans of the movies who need to catch up on the Word of Meyer. I was disappointed to find that the novel lacked that staple of tie-in editions - four or five pages of stills from the movie wedged into the middle on glossy white paper, guaranteed to be the place a well-thumbed library book will fall open to when held loosely. No tiny, poorly-captioned pictures of Taylor Lautner's rippling muscles or Robert Pattinson's magnesium-flare paleness here.

Twilight: New Moon - The Official Illustrated Movie Companion, by Mark Cotta Vaz, ISBN 978-0316075800, £10.99

One way fans can get their fix would be to pick up the New Moon Official Illustrated Movie Companion by Mark Cotta Vaz. Dripping with photographs (including a cover shot from the same series as the one on the cover of the novel, in which Edward seems to have come to his senses) and effusive pull quotes from the actors, crew and designers involved in the movie, it's full of information about the making of and intentions behind New Moon. The prose is every bit as purple and pretentious as the books from which it draws its material ("The challenge for new Moon was, how do we get across the sense of abandonment and heartache?" is fairly representative), which is appropriate enough. Allusions to Shakespeare abound and the story is treated throughout with all the reverence that the devoted fans ("Twihards") see as its due. I'm a connoisseur of visual companions myself and this is one of the lushest I've encountered. It even boasts advertisements in the back pages for other Twilight merchandise to be lusted over by a fan whose appetite has been whetted by the visual companion and the delights within.

The Horror Film Quiz Book, by Chris Cowlin and Mark Goddard, ISBN 978-1-906358-71-6, £9.99

Why do so many horror publications come out at once on Halloween? It's certainly a spooky occasion but fans are only going to be able to get through so much at once. Unfortunately we weren't able to review this one in time for its release but we can recommend it as a great Christmas present for the horror lover in your life.

With a wide-ranging definition of horror and a scope of roughly 50 years, this has something for everyone. It's slightly biased towards big name productions but this will make it easier to share with less obsessive friends, and the inclusion of a whole section on Bruce Campbell will keep the B-movie fans happy. Within each section there are easy questions which the casual film fan could make a good guess at and some really tough ones that will have you scratching your head and reaching for the internet. Inevitably, the range of topics covered means that almost everyone will find some sections they're completely confounded by, but this is a book to dip in and out of, not to battle straight through.

It's also a book that will work well to read with friends, like a sort of horror film Trivial Pursuit - certainly a refreshing change from the usual Christmas games. The format is simple and can start to feel a bit repetitive, but there's plenty of fun stuff to argue over and it'll leave you eager to watch some of your favourites over again.

Martin Scorsese's America, by Ellis Cashmore, ISBN 978-0745645230, £14.99

This is an odd book, undeniably thorough in pursuit of a thesis that seems relatively slight. Author Ellis Cashmore posits that Scorsese's films tell us how he sees America; that his portraits of men in a changing world or on the brink of crisis tell us about his views of male psychology.

To assert that a director's films tell us about the director seems relatively secure. To support this Cashmore identifies broad themes in Scorsese's ouevre, but then tries to assemble them as a single portrait of America - there doesn't appear to be any consideration that the very difficulty of finding a "single America" in Scorsese's work might, in and of itself, reflect a difficulty in finding a "single America" in America itself.

The situation is complicated further by Cashmore's decision to omit both The Last Temptation Of Christ and Kundun. In fairness, neither is set in America, but they do both have something to say about society and the individual. Indeed, reaction to them, and the freedom to make them says something about how Scorsese interacts with the 'real' America, but no matter.

Having set out his stall as an examiner of Scorsese the cultural commentator, Cashmore delivers a thorough breakdown of (most of) Scorsese's works, looking at depictions of women, ethnicity, inheritance. Our subject here is Scorsese the sociologist rather than director, but in divorcing the one from the other it does seem that something is being lost. There are clear and frequent references to elements from the films themselves, and a number to a variety of scholarly papers derived therefrom. There are occasions where it seems Cashmore has missed a subsequent reference - one quote in particular seems to be screaming about A Clockwork Orange but it isn't picked up. That may simply be tunnel vision, ignoring when Scorsese is talking about "a society that may happen to be America" rather than "American society" - when this focused on a subject it's certainly understandable, but it is a little disappointing.

Then there's the weight of academic reference - with 268 pages of the text itself this has a 15 page bibliography. At the very least I'd be intrigued by a companion volume in the form of a literature review, a "Scorsese Reader" if you will. There are already a number of texts on Scorsese's works, but other than interview collections, most are novel-weight musings on his ouevre. America does plough new ground in comparison to Conard's The Philosophy Of... and Friedman's The Cinema Of... Unlike Nyce's Scorsese Up Close it doesn't look at individual shots, though that may in part be a licensing issue with regards to reproduction.

That said, when the text does mention U2's Hands That Built America over the last shot of Gangs Of New York it does seem to miss a trick - it's an Irish (if not post-national) band, singing a song about a nation still in a plastic state, indeed, in the middle of its Civil War. Then there's the composition itself, bridge and graveyard, the evolving New York skyline - anyone who's seen the film can see how that ties to rest of the film, indeed, the forgotten graveyard and the erasure of the Five Points from conventional history all say an awful lot about America, Scorsese's or otherwise.

Of course, this is all possibly slightly unfair - Cashmore has written an interesting book, managed to dig up some new observations, and makes his case well. It's weighty too, well served by a solid index. There are only a handful of pictures, but they're sourced from The Picture Desk so even little and in black and white they are pretty good. The only real oddity in the formatting is the decision to use pull-quotes, undeniably highlighting their various subjects but unusual, even jarring.

Ultimately Cashmore has written a book on Scorsese that should appeal to fans, and provides a solid introduction to a decent critical analysis of the bulk of his work. Academically it's thorough, with enough references that it would serve as a perfect keystone text, and it's a pleasant read. I can't speak to how well it compares with Cashmore's biographies of Mike Tyson and David Beckham, but he can create and sustain an entertaining argument on this evidence and that's plenty enough.

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