Robert Tanitch reviews recent books
A New Way of Seeing: The History of Art in 57 Works by Kelly Grovier (Thames & Hudson £29.95). What makes great art? What makes a masterpiece? Grovier looks at very familiar paintings by Van Der Weyden, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Vermeer, Turner, Whistler, etc, etc. She looks deeply and isolates a single and often overlooked detail which is the key to the work’s greatness and its inexhaustible mystery. The expert knowledge she brings is always illuminating, often innovative and occasionally so far-fetched you feel she is taking the Michael. I shall never look at Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne again without remembering her analysis.
History Day By Day: 366 Voices from the Past by Peter Furtado (Thames & Hudson £14.95). For every day of the year there is a quotation about a major event as told by an eye-witness. Here are refreshers on the coronation of Elizabeth 1, the massacre at Glencoe, the Battle of Waterloo, the American Declaration of Independence, the storming of the Bastille, the Borgia’s’ papal orgy in Rome, the Fall of the Berlin Wall. The first transatlantic phone call, the first Moon Landing, the first Atomic explosion, the murder of Thomas Beckett, the execution of Anne Boleyn, the arrest of Dr Crippen, King Richard II suppression of the peasants’ revolution, Martin Luther King’s Dream, etc, etc.. You probably already know what happened on April 15 and September 11. The chronicle is fun to dip into.
Till the Boys Come Home: How British Theatre Fought the Great War by Roger Foss (The History Press £14.99). It will come as no surprise that theatre raised morale during World War 1. The nation needed a song and laughter. What is surprising is how active theatres were in recruiting soldiers, far more than any other organisation. It wasn’t just the communal singing of patriotic songs but the constant exhortations from the stage and the posters in the foyers. With the call-up of so many young actors and back stage and front of house personnel, it is amazing that the theatres were able to continue. The police scoured theatres for draft-dodgers. As the war progressed the wounded would arrive in their hundreds from hospitals to see a show. Foss’s book’s original take on the war is extremely well-researched and full of fascinating detail.
Fenella Fielding: Do You Mind If I Smoke? by Fenella Fielding with Simon McKay (Peter Owen Publishers £14.99). The black helmet hair style, the eyelashes and the husky sexy voice made Fenella Fielding instantly recognizable. This book is the script of the audio version of her memoirs and covers in the main her career the 1950s and 1960s.The public remember her for Carry On Screaming and her appearances on the Morecamb & Wise shows. I remember her as a witty, highly intelligent and extremely well-read actress who excelled in high comedy. She was vocally and physically very stylish. She made her name in Sandy Wilson’s musical, Valmouth, and went on to act in plays by Sheridan, Wilde, Sardou, Henry James, Ibsen and Noel Coward. Her talent was much underrated.
Notes from the Dream House: Selected Film Reviews 1963-2013 by Philip French (Carcanet £19.99). The first thing I did on Sunday was to buy the Observer and read Philip French, the most respected and reliable of film critics, famed for his encyclopaedic knowledge and sharp perception. Read any review and you will be instantly much better informed about cinema in general. Read this disparate collection and you will want to revisit certain films and/or see them for the first time. The references he makes to other films and other directors make these reviews invaluable as a source book for any cinefile.
30-Second Cinema: The 50 most important ideas, genres and people in the history of movie-making, each explained in half a minute editor Pamela Hutchinson (Quarto Ivy Press £14.99). This is a fun book for movie-buffs. I particularly enjoyed Nicky Ackland-Snow’s montage illustrations, each image a quiz in its own right. How many people and films will you and your friends be able to recognise? What is your favourite genre? Open at any page. What do you know about Film Noir, Italian Neo-realism, German Expressionism, Mary Pickford, gangster movies, Ingmar Bergman, etc, etc?