5. The Aesthetics of Shadow: Lighting and Japanese Cinema. By Daisuke Miyao. Duke University Press.
Speaking of thrilling, Daisuke Miyao approaches the use of lighting in early Japanese cinema with the attitude of an academic-cum-pulp novelist, as actor Hayashi Chojiro's ascent to stardom and a subsequent attack which led to his disfigurement, and its significance to a rift between studios Shochiku and Toho, is explained to scintillating effect. However, Miyao never lets the potentially lurid nature of his book get the best of him, since he meticulously frames his discussion of cinematic lighting around the off-screen events involving Chojiro, and negotiates his clear passion for the subject matter throughout. For anyone concerned with the state of film history as practice, The Aesthetics of Shadow is an exemplar.
4. Psycho-Sexual: Male Desire in Hitchcock, De Palma, Scorsese, and Friedkin. By David Greven. University of Texas Press.
David Greven sets out by asking whether Hitchcock's films are of a misogynist order or if they critique characters exhibiting misogynist traits. Greven primarily sides with the latter, explaining how Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, and William Friedkin seized on Hitchcock's interest in homosocial groups and how male-oriented behaviors bred and affected male/female relationships. The result is a must-read for anyone interested in these directors, certainly, but also anyone interested in larger questions of how cultural influence and history can be understood as a living organism, mutable to the individuals who take up a particular call to social arms.
3. Killer Images: Documentary Film, Memory, and the Performance of Violence. Edited by Joram Ten Brink and Joshua Oppenheimer. Columbia University Press.
The best film of 2013, The Act of Killing, receives an edited collection discussing not only the film itself, but 20 essays of varying length addressing numerous documentaries and their approach to reenactment, trauma, and violence on film. That Joshua Oppenheimer is one of the editors only further solidifies this collection's immediacy, which doubles as both a beginning and advanced text for any reader wishing to grapple with the ways in which documentary films refuse to let such catastrophic events be forgotten. Jean-Luc Godard once said that "forgetting extermination is part of extermination." These essays, much like the documentaries discussed, are insistent upon ensuring such memory lapses never occur.
2. American Ethnographic Film and Personal Documentary: The Cambridge Turn. By Scott MacDonald. University of California Press.
Don't let the rather bland title fool you. Scott MacDonald's essential and expansive examination of Boston as an unheralded locus for documentary filmmaking not only provides in-depth discussions on the entire oeuvre of over half a dozen filmmakers, but positions them historically and in relation to once another, explaining the films of Robert Gardner with inextricable relation to Lorna and John Marshall. Even more surprising (and ultimately worthwhile) is MacDonald's omission of Fredrick Wiseman and Errol Morris from expansive discussion, even though both filmmakers reside in Cambridge. True to his aims, MacDonald's endeavor to detail the ethnographic filmmakers of the Boston area is the sort of inestimable addition to the film-studies canon, revealing the mesmerizing work of several filmmakers who have remained at the periphery of study and significance for far too long.
1. Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics. By Yuriko Furuhata. Duke University Press.
Yuriko Furuhata hasn't merely proffered a history of the Japanese avant-garde here; she's re-conceptualized the very nature of Japanese documentary and avant-garde practices over roughly a two-decade span to reveal early examples of converging media cultures. Discussing not just the films of Toshio Matsumoto and Nagisa Oshima, but each of their active political roles in both activism and writing theory, the scope of insights attained by Furuhata has the feeling of a critical work that cannot be contained by its subject matter, since its insistence that research must be conducted from a materialist, evidentiary basis is not just an academic plea, but an ethical one, meant to prevent further falsified claims from being accepted as fact. Cinema may not have always been postmodern, but Furuhata's book is sure to remain a staple in film-studies courses for years to come.