General Editor: Philip Kemp
Intended as a comprehensive guide to cinema from its very beginnings to its current shiny state, this large and glossy book is structured chronologically in a decade by decade (some including two decades) format. It selects particularly influential movements and genres from each decade to highlight and a selection of notable films is then taken from each of these genres and given a two-page spread, including a short plot explanation and a discussion of any interesting back-story or provenance.
It is well written and pretty concise; the authors and general editor (Philip Kemp: film journalism lecturer at Leicester and Middlesex Universities) obviously know, and care, plenty about their contributions. Some of the genre descriptions read like love-letters to their era and there may be a slight tendency towards hyperbole, but this is quite forgivable. It is also a rather beautiful book. Each page is laden with photographic stills, shots of keys scenes and one-sheets scattered lavishly throughout, it is a joy to flick through as well as to actually read. Where books like Oxford History of World Cinema provide a more in-depth, scholarly discussion on cinema and its history, with large reading lists, The Whole Story provides a more vivid, illustrated version of ‘films you should see’ and ‘films that are important’.
However, the specific film descriptions all lack some surprising details, like leading actors, or in fact, any cast or crew beyond the director. Whether this is snobbery on the part of the general editor – that anyone beyond the director simply doesn’t matter – or whether one is simply expected to know cast and crew details, it still seems a surprising omission. The book also isn’t massively easy to navigate, despite its seemingly simple layout. The contents list at the beginning of the book has only one level–that of chapter level–which in this case means the decade(s) of choice. This makes it quite difficult for lovers of, say, “The New Horror” genre of the 1970s to quickly find their desired section. I am also sure that the choices of in-depth films will raise a few eyebrows with some notable absentees (The Shining chief among them).
Despite these relatively small niggles, Cinema: The Whole Story would make a perfect introduction to someone relatively new to the church of the silver screen and is a worthy addition to any film devotee’s bookshelf.