|by Charles Tatum
Video and film guides are nothing new. I remember picking up Leonard Maltin's thick paperback way back in junior high school, before internet and IMDB. Roger Ebert still releases books, including collections of his reviews. Back in the video explosion of the 1980's and 1990's, everyone seemed to be releasing guides, from the Videohound to the Phantom of the Movies.
A small publishing house called Santa Monica Press decided to put their fingers in the pie. I have seen their product before (in thrift shops). Their guides are cheap paperbacks, filled with vague film descriptions, questionable opinions, and more misspellings than a third grade class' grammar pop quiz. I once found two of their video guides, with different covers, titles, and authors, yet opened them up and discovered the reviews were identical, word for word. It was with some trepidation that I plopped down a quarter for Ryan Reed's 1993 "Guide to Home Video and Movies," knowing what I did about the Press. It did not disappoint.
I actually am not sure what the title of the book is. The cover and spine read "Guide to Home Video and Movies," but the introduction refers to the tome as "Guide to Home Video Movies" (without the 'and'). Reed (or whoever wrote this) uses a four star rating system...but hold on, one star does not necessarily mean the film is bad. Reed writes that even a two-star film has merit, but not enough "artistry" to render a three or four star rating. Already, the ratings are on shaky ground, but Reed is confident enough to call his 128 page book the "ultimate guide to the most popular and critically acclaimed films available...," so he must know what he is talking about. By the way, Reed's name is typed in a different font at the bottom of the introduction, making me wonder how long the publishers waited before coming up with the name "Ryan Reed."
Right away, I found misspellings. In the first review, for "Adam's Rib," Katharine Hepburn's first name is misspelled. Turn the page and find out how good John "Houston's" direction was in "The African Queen." I read this whole book in one sitting, and found at least one mistake every two pages. The reviews themselves may have been written years after the films were seen. The reviews are just one paragraph, and padded with Oscar winning stats (come on, only four sentences on "2001: A Space Odyssey"?). The choice of films is bizarre. "Aliens" is here, but not "Alien." In the review for "Back to the Future," Reed writes "...the first installment of one of the most successful film series of all time..." but neglects the two sequels. Factually, Reed (or whoever) gets a lot wrong. Michael Douglas was not nominated for an Oscar for "Fatal Attraction," and saying Susan Sarandon makes a "remarkable major film debut" in "Atlantic City," ignores her work in such little pictures as "Joe," "Pretty Baby," "The Other Side of Midnight," "The Great Waldo Pepper," and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
Ending with "Zorba the Greek," I did not come away with any sort of individual tastes from Mr. Reed. If you read my reviews or posts, you may know that I loathe Michael Moore, hypocritical mainstream media, reality television, most Disney Channel alumni, and a lot of Robert Altman's output. I love Bob Fosse, Westerns, Underground and Experimental stuff, porn as art film, and the pre-"Village of the Damned" cinema of John Carpenter. Reed, on the other hand, either writes grandiose statements about films, or semi-trashes them (in the case of "Pretty Woman," rightfully so) with the reader unable to take his opinions seriously.
"Guide to Home Video and Movies" is lousy. Scarier is that at the same thrift store, I also picked up "Famous Stars and Directors," also from Santa Monica Press, and authored by a "Joseph Stewart." I'll let you know how many pages I go before finding the first error.
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originally posted: 07/29/10 13:20:23
last updated: 07/29/10 13:25:19