Books

'Reading the Silver Screen' Is a Jocular Romp Through the Components of Film

Thomas C. Foster exudes a colloquial passion for movies of all shapes and sizes.


Reading the Silver Screen: A Film Lover's Guide to Decoding the Art Form That Moves

Publisher: Harper Perennial
Length: 400 pages
Author: Thomas C. Foster
Price: $15.99
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2016-11
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There are many methods of enjoyment we can take out of going to the cinema, whether it’s your own personal enjoyment, or the more communal way. The communal way is arguably more interesting, as it keeps the film moving long after the credits have rolled. It’s part of the ritual of cinema -- we see the film, either with family or a friend, we leave the film after the credits (unless it’s a Marvel movie, of course), we venture our way to the bar or restaurant, order our food, and the dissecting begins.

This is the approach Thomas C. Foster takes in his book Reading the Silver Screen. It reads like you’ve just stepped out of the screen and are having the ritual after-movie chat with your companion in the pub. Indeed, Foster sets the scene in the opening pages with his unsuspecting leads Lexi and Dave. Dave likes to enjoy films as surface level entertainment. Lexi, however, likes to think about movies a little deeper.

With that scenario in mind, you might be quick to assume that Lexi will eventually school Dave in the art of film criticism. She does. But the great trick Reading the Silver Screen plays is accepting that neither method of digesting movies are more valid than the other.

Questioning a movie’s internal logic may provide a more rewarding viewing experience, which is what Lexi strives in, but Dave’s preference for enjoying movies for their direct appeal is no worse than Lexi’s. Reading the Silver Screen feels like both Lexi and Dave’s conversation in full swing, but it also validates Dave’s two-dimensional perception of movies just as much as Lexi’s more three-dimensional methods.

Throughout the book, Foster writes with a dry, witty breeze as he zooms through the various components of what makes a film a film. No reel is left unturned, from the physicality of the shot, scene and sequence to the more abstract concepts of story and characters, Foster envelops you with his warm, chatty descriptions and analyses of just about everything you could want to know about a movie.

That chatty approach does have some drawbacks, however. Our first glimpse of any form of illustration to Foster's writing comes into play in the fifth chapter, as Thomas is explaining the effects of utilizing light and darkness in film. His case study of choice is Lawrence of Arabia, of which a small handful of images are reduced to minimal, black-and-white size, limiting their impact and thus their power in bringing Foster's descriptive power to life.

After that, further images make sporadic appearances throughout the remainder of the book, all rather crummy. Foster's writing stands on its own merits, meaning that the images’ poor presentation don’t exactly drag the writing down, but it’s undeniable that we would have loved to have seen these images better. The film lover which this book is named after probably has these reams of celluloid images stored in their minds anyway, rendering their inclusion all the muter.

Spinning off from this, another element of the book which the movie aficionado doesn’t really need is Foster’s spiraling breakdowns of specific scenes from movies. Granted, they’re there to illustrate his teachings, but they can’t help but put an abrupt halt on the book’s pace. Movie geeks need not repeat these scenes if they don’t want to, and the rest can just skim through them anyway. Perhaps, in that regard, this book is more like that chat with your companion in the pub than you think. It’s here that the movie-mad of the pair, either yourself or your companion, lets rip about specific moments of the film they think are worth tearing apart, good or bad. The other half can simply drown the noise out in alcohol, but the rest of us have to make do with flicking through pages we don’t feel a great desire to read.

Poorly paced images and gargantuan movie descriptions aside however, its Thomas’ wit than wins the day. Reading the Silver Screen has a jocular charm to its never-ending chat about the functions of film. It stands as an unpretentious love of the celluloid art form, and much of that lack of pretence comes from the fact that this book simply doesn’t care if it’s boring you or converting you into a film fan. Reading the Silver Screen has plenty of fun for the sake of fun, churning interesting observations and facts about film, whilst also calling up films themselves, actors, directors, scenes, shots, sequences and more. Foster conjures forth a palpable love of movies that’s hard to resist.

The kindest thing one can say about Reading the Silver Screen, however, is that reading the book means you’re in great danger of throwing it aside and devouring your DVD collection. Such is Foster’s acute, detailed appreciation of film, his book sends you scurrying to your movie collection to relive those movie moments he brings to life with such warm enthusiasm.

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