Ahead of the International Day of Literacy we look at films that celebrate bibliophiles
by Amber Wilkinson
September 8 will mark the United Nations' International Literacy Day, which aims to shine a spotlight on the importance of literacy, especially in the wake of the disruption caused by the Covid pandemic. Cinema has long had a love affair with books. Of course, there are adaptations of classics, with Amazon's newly released Cinderella (one of 42 adaptations of the fairytale currently listed on Wikipedia) a reminder of just how often they get a run over the jumps, but bookshops, clubs and libraries also hold an enduring appeal for filmmakers. Here we open the book on a few of those that are available to stream.
If you're looking for a pure celebration of the joy of books, then this documentary from DW Young is a great place to start. Immediately immersing us within the pages of some beautiful antiquarian tomes, that feel so close you can almost smell them. The director takes us on a tour of some famous bookshops - including New York's The Strand, while also taking us to lesser known archives, to hear the stories of those who look after them. There are the eccentric sorts you would expect this type of film to dig up but also plenty of young voices who have found niche areas of book collecting to fall in love with. With its breezy pace and a jazz-inflected score that fits hand in glove, if this was a book it would be a real page-turner.
Literacy is directly referenced in this Disney animated classic, not only because heroine Belle is a bibliophile but because we learn through the course of the film - in a sweet scene referencing Romeo & Juliet - that Beast can barely read. Belle, of course, is on hand to teach him in a film that, in the best traditions of the fable, gradually sees the Beast's selfish heart melt in the face of open-hearted goodness. What makes this film a real treat for families, however, is the nice balance that is struck between romance and comedy thanks to a gaggle of great sidekick characters - French candelabra Lumiere, hoity-toity clock Cogsworth and motherly teapot Mrs Potts (voiced by the ever-reliable Angela Lansbury) - and its enjoyably over-the-top Gaston, whose signature song is up there with the best.
Like Belle, Bastian (Barret Oliver) the young hero of Wolfgang Peterson's fantasy adaptation is mocked for his love of books. When he finds himself unexpectedly in a bookshop his curiosity is, understandably, piqued when the bookseller tells him that an enticing looking book, The Neverending Story, "is not for you". Stealing the book - although rather sweetly leaving a note promising its return - he, and we, are soon swept up in the story of the kingdom of Fantasia, which is under threat. While the special effects may not be as slick as in some modern films, and some of the storytelling is a little uneven there's still plenty of magic to be had from this questing tale, not least in some of its puppetry creations, including luck dragon Falkor.
Funny Face, Apple TV, Amazon, GooglePlay and other platforms
Anne-Katrin Titze writes: Funny Face's opening credits, designed with fashion stills by Richard Avedon, immediately introduce us into a world suspended between reality and dream. Avedon provided the photographs and inspiration for the character of fashion photographer Dick Avery, played with incomparable charm and grace by Fred Astaire. Kay Thompson’s character, Maggie Prescott, the uncompromising editor-in-chief of Quality magazine in New York and Avery are looking for a new way to sell "clothes for the woman not interested in clothes." They hit the streets, model (Dovima as Marion) and staff in tow, looking for a location, and stumble upon Embryo Concepts. In a take-over of the Greenwich Village bookstore for their photo shoot, they conspire to ignore the protests of sales clerk Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn). Through fast-talking, fast-action, Avery positions her into the background among the books as "atmosphere" before even Prescott and her minions know what is going on. The plan, unbeknownst to Jo is to fly her to Paris for a location shoot of the brand new exclusive collection by couturier Paul Duval (Robert Flemyng). The breathtaking photo-shoot sequences in Paris landmarks, Givenchy's dresses, the city's incomparable atmosphere, Avedon's style, Astaire and Hepburn - Stanley Donen shows us how magic is made.
Jennie Kermode writes: Set amid the literary and artistic mélange of Seventies New York, Woody Allen's opus is a film full of books with no shortage of bookshops. It presents us with a social group in which everybody seems to be writing something but, despite their fervent self-belief, not all of them are very good at it, whilst Allen's character, Isaac Davis, is forced to reckon with the fact that his lesbian ex-wife - a marvellously serene Meryl Streep - is heading for the best-seller lists with her coruscating confessional book about their marriage. In this context, bookshops - always exquisitely photographed - become temples in which he is a mere visitor, and he, having burnt out in television comedy writing, wrestles with feelings of failure and romantic interests which fail to provide the distraction he hoped for. The city has never looked more beautiful or more redolent with hidden treasures.
Jennie Kermode writes: Corso (Johnny Depp in one of his last really good performances) has spent his whole life obsessed with books. He doesn't just make his living from them, swooping in on estate sales to buy up rare treasures at bargain prices for the basement bookshop where he makes his sales - he reads them, researches them and studies every aspect of their creation. Roman Polanski's fiendish puzzle of a film revolves around his adventures in pursuit of a book said to have been written by the Devil himself. Mingling elements of Jacques Cazotte's 1772 tome The Devil In Love with Arturo Pérez-Reverte's 1993 novel The Club Dumas, and adding illustrations by the director himself, it combines literary and artistic riddles on multiple levels and features an outstanding soundtrack by Wojciech Kilar, the latter hinting at what the former obscure - that when it comes to books, the wood is more important than the trees.
Catch this Charlie Kaufman/Spike Jonze book-oriented brain-bender on Netflix while you can as it's leaving the platform at the end of this month. The plot sees Nic Cage's antihero "Charlie Kaufman" battling with his neuroses and his twin brother Donald (also played by Cage) as he attempts to adapt the book The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) for the screen. The line between the real and the surreal is always a fine one in Kaufman stories, which is what makes them such a trip and his wild imaginings are only added to be Jonze, as the pair of them unpick the storytelling process while serving up a psychological character study in spades. All this, plus great supporting performances from Chris Cooper and Tilda Swinton.
Our short selection this week is takes us full circle back to the world of The Booksellers. Alain Resnais' All The Memory Of The World is an immersive tour of copyright library the Bibliothèque nationale, in Paris, which blends the factual with the philosophical thanks to a poetic-leaning script by Rémo Forlani.