Broadway, 1997, 287 pages, C$16.00 tpb, ISBN 1-57297-308-0
As the proud owner of the fantastic movie-recommendation guide Chicks on Film, the thought of buying The Manly Movie Guide was irresistible, if only for the kick of placing both books one alongside the other on my movie-reference shelf. As a bonus, maybe I’d get a cool book that would properly appreciate the aesthetic qualities of modern classics such as DIE HARD and HARD-BOILED.
(Please understand that I do not jest when I say this; the artistic worth of action movies, to me, has been severely misunderstood. Pulling together a satisfying action sequence, for example, is an art, as a random selection of scenes from direct-to-video “action thrillers” will demonstrate. It involves writing, action editing, scoring and effects. The best of them demand a sense of pacing, a dramatic arc, a perfect integration of sight and sound as well as an emphasis on characters. Show me someone who can explain how the themes and aesthetics of TERMINATOR 2 re-enforce the kick-ass action scenes and I will show you a friend for life.)
Alas, The Manly Movie Guide barely deserves to be put on the same shelf as Chicks on Film.
It’s not as if it’s a worthless book. Any guide which puts GOODFELLAS in “Comedy” and NATURAL BORN KILLERS in “Romance” has something going for it. And any guide with the guts to dismiss THELMA AND LOUISE with a tart capsule review like
Two suburban babes hit the road to become modern-day, gun-toting desperadoes. What’s goes on here? Aren’t Tupperware parties good enough for those chicks? [P.70]
deserves at least a modicum of respect. Maybe not admiration, but respect.
Alas, occasional mordant barbs don’t make a full-featured book worthwhile. It doesn’t help that the main conceit of The Manly Movie Guide is that the two authors are writing as if they were ignorant machos writing for a similar audience. (Get it? Get It? Ooh! Genius!) The whole package is there: Phobia of all things French, casual misogyny, disdain of intellectualism, love of firearms and strong homo-erotic fascination for John Wayne and similar icons. It’s easy to picture the audience tearing through cases of beer, slapping their girlfriends around and voting Republican.
It’s meant to be satire, but there’s a limit to the enjoyment you can get from such shtick, especially when it’s dragged on for so long. A good number of their capsule reviews are interchangeable, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself overdosing on words like “virile”, “two-fisted”, “rugged” and the omnipresent “manly”. The book is best approached in very small doses; maybe a page a week.
The authors aren’t fooling anyone with their dumb-and-dumber masquerade: occasional polysyllabic words slip by, and the old-school focus of the book (with a strong emphasis on westerns and films of the forties) is something what wouldn’t pass muster with a manly crowd deeply suspicious of black-and-white features. I don’t think I’ve heard about half the movies described in here and for the most cases, I now feel as if I don’t need to know any more about them.
But that places The Manly Movie Guide in a strange demimonde (Ooh! Fancy French word!) with its ironic detachment working against both the high and the low-brow crowd. There’s too much sarcasm for real rednecks and too much repetitiveness for the film geeks like me. This is a strangely misguided book, its encyclopedic knowledge of “manly” movies (itself a very limiting restriction) being undone by an exasperating tone.
In short, I’d rather read Chick on Film again for a series of recommendation influenced by a gender, but not limited by an artificial set of limits. The Manly Movie Guide may be without any adequate public, and that’s reason enough to leave it on the shelf. Alone.