The act of reading, the need to read made itself especially manifest over the course of this ruthless year, as did, for those able to fulfill it, the desire to watch that thing they’d either heard about and had always wanted to see or wanted to see again. At times there is a meeting of both. Film critic and scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum has referred to the small volumes that make up the BFI Classics Series as ‘possibly the most bountiful book series in the history of film criticism’. It is also possibly the most joyous and multi-purpose collection on hand.
And what is it about this series that might distinguish it from similar endeavors by other international publishers? For instance, Belgium’s Guy Jungblut has been publishing for decades small books devoted to one film by one writer, for his Yellow Now collection. But its selection of titles, and writers, is framed by a far statelier auteurist perspective, both in its choices of films and the noted absence of diversity, or the fencing in of its network, of writers. Which is not to say that there haven’t been remarkable titles released; rather, it is expected that the film & writer combination would be noteworthy.
The BFI Classics series does not avoid this and its list of titles makes that point. It does however also attempt more daring pairings as it welcomes not only film professors and scholars but also journalists and cultural theorists both within the UK ( from London to Kent to Roehampton ) and abroad. This is even more the case in the contemporary stance that characterizes the films that make it to print, including established American and European classics, those from across Asia, as well as both clever and iconic pop objects and game changing block busters with everything in between, notably the lure of gifted directors by genre cinema.
Examples of all these include Stacey Abbott’s reading of Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, Camille Paglia’s study of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, Manishita Dass on Ritwik Ghatak’s The Cloud-Capped Star, Greil Marcus looking at John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate, or a colleague from the past, Michel Chion’s analysis of Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.The list goes on and works as a portal into a film for those unfamiliar with it as well as providing either the expected academic reading or allowing for a novel encounter with a film one would have already been familiar with, both in how it is examined and in the freedom with which it is written.
A final remark on the pleasure this collection provides. For those who will recall the experience and those eager to discover this sensation, the new covers for each of these titles is akin to the graphic excitement record buyers had upon discovering album covers by favorite artists and those that needed to be in a collection, here one still in the process of expanding. BFI has found a remarkable team of designers that elicits an encounter with each title. And this is no small feat for a book of film criticism.