Soft Skull Press has started a new line of monographs called the Deep Focus series. The concept here is that novelists write at length about films, and the first two entries in the series are exciting (and at least the first one is great), with two more intriguing books to follow.
The first entry is Jonathan Lethem’s lengthy discourse on They Live, the incredibly underrated John Carpenter movie. To me making this the first book is the mission statement of the whole series - they’re tackling movies that are interesting and perhaps outside the academic world’s usual scope. And with Lethem writing they have one of the best voices in American letters working in a territory that isn’t too far from what he does best (for those who only know Lethem from Motherless Brooklyn, he has a long history of writing scifi).
I’ve read Lethem’s They Live and I found it incredible. He goes minute by minute through the movie, taking the film in context as cinema, as entertainment and as social statement. I don’t always agree with his interpretations of elements of the film, but he’s always engaging. And Lethem’s a great writer; too often the usual monographs (like the BFI Greatest Films series) are dry and over-intellectualized. Lethem gets at the intellectual center while also keeping an approachable writing style. Reading his book is like having beers with your really smart friend who is kind of obsessed with They Live.
The second entry has hit, and it’s Christopher Sorrentino writing about Death Wish. I think Death Wish is one of the seminal mid 20th century films, a movie that really captures a certain level of nihilistic hopelessness that permeated American society in the 70s and early 80s, and it’s exciting to see someone taking it seriously. Michael Winner’s film is almost Cro-Magnon in its politics, but that doesn’t make what it has to say any less valuable, or change its worth as a purely cinematic experience.
Soft Skull has two more Deep Focus books on deck. There’s on on The Sting coming from Matthew Specktor, and then a treatise on Lethal Weapon from Chris Ryan (who as far as I can tell isn’t a novelist, thus breaking the streak, but who cares - I just want to read a few thousand smart words on Lethal Weapon).
You need to be buying these books. I love the films that are being written about, and I hope that the series is a success and they keep releasing monographs on less-canonized movies. And hey, Soft Skull… you know where to find me.