Castaways of the Image Planet by Geoffrey O’Brien “67. This collection of essays each first published in The New York Review of Books, the Village Voice and other periodicals over a roughly 20-year period explores a wide range of movie lore. You will come away from this book knowing Orson Welles, Brando, Hitchcock, and Bing a little better and putting random movies seen decades ago into their cultural context. Your memory will be triggered. When Geoffrey mentioned The Thief of Bagdad. a terror of my childhood came back to me. Back in the 1940’s, the enormous genie exploded out of the magic lantern and filled the entire screen. I had nightmares for weeks. (Many years later I saw the film again when I was a camp counselor and was shocked again but this time it was to find how benign the big fellow actually was.)
Here is an example of why it’s great to be retired. In his essay called The Movie of the Century: The Searchers, Geoffrey rates this film above all others including Citizen Kane. I had never seen it and stood to miss main points of the essay. However, I could say into my remote control, “The Searchers “ and—boom--for $3.99 I could get a better idea of what he was talking about. (I did love the movie – John Wayne was so young.) Among the other encounters with my remote, inspired by the essays, waz The Lady Eve discussed in the essay The Sturges Style (where I encountered a very young and appallingly stupid Henry Fonda).
These essays express keen observation through elegant language. Maybe I’d better show and not tell. Here are a couple of random quotes to give you the idea. Explaining the popularity of Mad Magazine he says, “In 1952 culture was a parody waiting to happen. It was an era of oddly unconscious abeyance and dereliction.” In discussing Dana Andrews and the wonderful movie Laura he says, “At the dead center of the movie, at its witching hour, he sits up all night looking at her picture, smoking cigarettes, pouring himself one drink after the other. Amour fou, from a beefy cop yet.” This is writing. I read one pf these gems every day for about a month as a dessert to whatever else I was doing and reading.