Helpful Books

The Hollywood sign as seen from Griffith Park. Photo by Jon Sullivan.

The Hollywood sign as seen from Griffith Park. Photo by Jon Sullivan.

There are far too many good books to list here, but this short list of books will get you started in reading about the history of Hollywood and some of its important figures.

  • American Cinema/American Culture by John Belton. The book, now on its fourth edition, and original PBS series provide a cultural overview of American movies. The book is written in a clear, accessible style and provides a good history of the American film industry.
  • Flashback by Louis Giannetti and Scott Eyman. This book highlights important filmmakers, movies, and artistic movements associated with each decade. While the book focuses primarily on the American film industry, it includes brief discussions of other global cinemas.
  • The Classical Hollywood Cinema by David Bordwell, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson discusses how film style, modes of production, and economics made an impact on shaping American cinema from its beginnings through the 1960s.
  • Hollywood in the Information Age and Understanding Disney by Janet Wasko both discuss the business behind the film industry.
  • Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life edited by Leo Charney and Vanessa R. Schwartz is a collection of essays that considers how film as an artform was uniquely prepared to reflect the new ways of thinking, seeing, and experiencing life in the modern era instead of simply evolving from drama, novels, and photography.
  • The World According to Hollywood 1918-1939 by Ruth Vasey investigates how the film industry’s self-regulation influenced film content to make Hollywood movies salable in as many world markets as possible.
  • The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio Era by Thomas Schatz analyzes Hollywood studio output from the 1920s to the 1940s and looks at the distinct styles of the major studios, contracts, and the impact on creative output during what is considered Hollywood’s Golden Age.
  • The Story of Hollywood: An Illustrated History by Gregory Paul Williams follows the history of Hollywood from its beginnings through to the Golden Era, as well as through the decline and renewal of the industry. Williams uses more than 800 images to tell the story.
  • Harpo Speaks by Harpo Marx and Rowland Barber details not only the life of the “silent” Marx Brother, but also gives insight into early 20th century American culture including the Algonquin Round Table, vaudeville, and the rise of Hollywood. Marx’s book also shows the lives of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century as well as his experiences with anti-Semitism rising in Europe between World War I and World War II.
  • Conversations with Scorsese by Richard Schickel guides readers through the life of film director Martin Scorsese as he talks about his childhood in Little Italy; using the movies as an escape; crafting films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Shutter Island; and remaining a lifelong student of cinema.
  • Moviemakers’ Master Class by Laurent Tirard is a collection of interviews with great film directors who explain how they direct their films and why.
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