The American Film Institute Desk Reference

by Melinda Corey and George Ochoa

Published by DK Publishing

608 pages, 2002

Buy it online




Hooray for Hollywood... Hooray for this Book!

Reviewed by Tony Buchsbaum


I have been in love with the movies since I was a small child. I've loved the cliché of sitting in the dark with 200 strangers and having a shared experience. And I've loved going behind the scenes to see how and why films are made. I even spent a year as a subscriber to Variety when I was a teenager (not an inexpensive thing), eating up the stats about stars and studios and grosses and more.

Now comes The American Film Institute Desk Reference, a lavishly illustrated encyclopedia that I believe was written expressly for me -- but whose publishers have seen fit to share with a somewhat wider audience.

I should start out by telling you that no matter how enthusiastic I appear in this review, I will not be able to do this book justice. It's the Casablanca of film books. The Gone with the Wind. The From Russia with Love. The E.T.

Arranged in six sections, the reference is the kind of book you can read straight through or simply pick up and open, confident you'll find a jewel-like fact about Hollywood you didn't know before.

Movie History tells the story of the movies, decade by decade, all the way through mid-2002, expertly blending the science that made (and still makes) it all possible, to the art that makes it endlessly addictive.

Movie Basics is all about everything you should know about how movies get made, from the pitch to publicity. It includes a list of Hollywood slang, which will come in handy if you ever decide to get your own subscription to Variety. You learn about the business of moviemaking, how a film camera works, even how much movie people are paid.

Movie Crafts is a tell-all about the various jobs on a movie set. Best boy? Gaffer? Foley artist? Movie reviewers? Now you'll know what they all do: writers, cinematographers, costumers, make-up artists, distribution people, even the people who give films their sometimes-controversial ratings.

People In Film is an unbelievable list of people who make movies. Stars. Directors. Writers. Designers. Producers. In short, everyone with a name is here, with brief bios, credit highlights, the works. You'll even find everything you'd ever care to know about all the foot- and handprints at Mann's Chinese Theatre. One of the best parts of the book is here: list upon list of characters and the films in which they appear, screen legends, stunt people, composers. You name it.

The Films section lists the American Film Institute's lists of the best films of all time. There are also lists of the Funniest Films, Oscar winning films, the British Film Institute's 100 best films, the biggest box office grossing films, historical accuracy in film, movie quotations, films arranged by genre, and movies from all over the world.

And the Sources section offers you lists of the companies that make movies. Studios, special effects houses and much more, complete with phone numbers, Web sites and other contact information. If you want to get into the movies yourself, this is a great place to start.

The book even includes special essays by screenwriter William Goldman on movie fundamentals, ratings meister Jack Valenti on the ratings system, actresses Janet Leigh and Angela Lansbury and director Martin Scorsese on film preservation.

Even with all this data, which seems endless as you flip the pages of the book, there are also photographs. (Exceptional book design is what makes DK Publishing is such a standout publisher.) There's color throughout and you'll see stars, scenes, publicity portraits, rare shots. Film is of course a visual medium. In its choice of photos, this book hammers home that point above all.

The AFI Desk Reference is the kind of book people who are into movies always wish they had. In contrast to the often dry books and Web sites that are filled with facts and stats that reduce Hollywood to a numbers game, this book is downright wet -- written with an obvious love for the subject and a stirring fascination that's nothing less than infectious. This book elevates the sometimes mysterious art of moviemaking to a rarefied world where the collaboration of hundreds of people, their shared passion for storytelling and the awesome power of their collective imagination come gloriously alive. | December 2002


Tony Buchsbaum is the author of Total Eclipse and a contributing editor to January Magazine and Blue Coupe. He and his family live in Lawrenceville, New Jersey where he is hard at work on an exciting new chapter in his life.