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Pulp Culture
Movie books still have role in the Internet era

January 6, 2005
By Franklin Harris

Before the Internet, film buffs turned to thick, encyclopedic books for movie information. In some ways, Web sites like the Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com, have made such books obsolete. The trouble with books, after all, is that they're out of date as soon as they're published.

Even so, there are some film books that are well worth their purchase price. Years after their publication, I still find great value in Michael Weldon's "Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film" and "Psychotronic Video Guide," still the two most comprehensive and informative movie guides devoted exclusively to cult films. (I credit "The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film," published in 1983, along with Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs' "Immoral Tales: European Sex and Horror Movies 1956-1984," with making me the cult-movie aficionado I am today.) Weldon, who is editor and publisher of Psychotronic Video magazine, would be doing movie fans a huge service if he would compile a third volume, the sooner the better.

Until then, others are filling the gap, but with less satisfactory results.

"The Scarecrow Video Movie Guide" (Sasquatch Books, $24.95), written and compiled by the "staff and friends" of the Scarecrow Video store in Seattle, is the latest example. Scarecrow Video is a Mecca for film buffs and counts Roger Ebert, Bernardo Betolucci and Quentin Tarantino among its high-profile patrons.

This is, to say the least, an eclectic movie guide. It runs the gamut from strictly mainstream films, like "The End of the Affair" starring Julianne Moore, to documentaries, anime and cult favorites like "Bubba Ho-Tep" starring Bruce Campbell. Rather than being an A-to-Z listing, the book is divided into categories, including foreign films (further broken down by country of origin), comedies, suspense, musicals and "sexploitation." Noteworthy directors get their own section. Given its organization, the book is better for sit-down reading than for casual reference. To find a particular movie, it's easiest to refer to the index.

Each entry includes the film's running time, director, a brief cast list, a plot summary and an appraisal by one of the book's contributors. Considering that 67 people contribute reviews, the artistic appraisals tend to vary greatly, and some of the reviewers don't have their facts straight.

When confronted with a book like "The Scarecrow Video Movie Guide," the first thing I do is flip through the book and read entries at random. If it takes only a minute or two to find a glaring mistake, I begin to worry about the rest of the book's accuracy.

The entry for the James Bond film "Octopussy," for example, claims that the film is Roger Moore's last. It also claims that the film's title is an "inside reference" to Pussy Galore, the femme fatale of "Goldfinger," because the Bond series' producers had run out of titles that referenced Ian Fleming's Bond novels. In fact, Moore's last Bond outing was "A View to a Kill," released two years after "Octopussy." And "Octopussy" is, as it happens, the title of a Fleming-penned Bond short story. The Bond franchise didn't run out of Fleming titles until after "The Living Daylights," which also used a short-story title (and a little bit of Fleming's plot).

Interestingly, the entry for "A View to a Kill," which correctly notes that this was Moore's last appearance as 007, is credited to the same reviewer as the "Octopussy" entry. He obviously has his wires crossed.

In any case, when such obvious mistakes leap out from even a casual reading, it calls everything else into question. But to be fair, my further readings haven't turned up similarly egregious mistakes — yet.

Still, you must shake your head in disbelief when you read a list of the "best comic-book movies" that includes "Tank Girl" and "Superman III" but doesn't include "Superman: The Movie." Taste is subjective, but get real.

The book appears limited to movies available at Scarecrow Video, resulting in some odd omissions. How do you review the erotic epic "Sex and Zen 2" without also reviewing, or even mentioning, its far more famous predecessor, "Sex and Zen," widely regarded as the best erotic film to originate from Hong Kong?

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