‘The Essential Directors’ by Sloan De Forest: The Conskipper Review

The Essential Directors: The Art and Impact of Cinema’s Most Influential Filmmakers by Sloan De Forest launches in bookstores this week. The book is the latest in a fine run of books by TCM and Running Press, and it maintains the series’ tradition of well-researched, insightful information, thoughtful structure and delivery, and beautiful photography.

Writer and film historian Sloan De Forest clearly knows her directors, and she presents their bodies of work and their impact on the world of cinema in a comprehensive manner. The text is arranged into chapters based on six distinct periods of American filmmaking ranging from the silent era to the 1970s. Each chapter then provides important information on the era and then an alphabetized series of features on the prominent directors of the time period. Readers can expect all of the greats to be memorialized in this text, including Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and more.

For each director, De Forest crafts a couple of pages of biography and important achievements. Standout moments for each director include photos of them working and/or stills from their films, quotes of admiration from other directors, and a “Must-See Movies” and “Key Scene to Watch” block at the end of each segment. This structure serves as a solid format for fans of film who are new to discovering great directors and looking for a comprehensive primer on the luminaries and their craft, but it’s also a great text for film buffs to comb through and learn some fun facts they may have not known before while reviewing everything about their favorite directors that made them fall in love with their work in the first place. One could easily turn to any page in the book, learn something about a director they’d never studied before, and then know where to start when accessing their filmography. Clocking in at 325 pages, there are segments in this book which will appeal to everyone who loves film.

Director Peter Bogdanovich pens a foreword to the text in which he articulates the qualities necessary for one to be considered an “essential director.” De Forest clearly demonstrates an understanding of these qualities in both the directors she chose for this text and the information she decided to provide about their lives and their work. One thing that feels like a missed opportunity is that the book purposefully chooses to conclude with directors who began their careers in the seventies. The Essential Directors ends with features on Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, and one can’t help but think that this great book would be even more comprehensive by bringing in some of the modern masters like Quentin Tarantino (who is quoted numerous times throughout the text in his praise of featured directors), Paul Thomas Anderson, and more.

The Essential Directors really shines in its presentation and photography. The book is an oversized paperback with an attractive and durable cover with glossy lettering. It’s just the right size to hold in your hands and flip through its pages, and it’s big enough for the photographs to really shine. The pages are thick and they have a nice semi-gloss quality to them which capture all of the detail of rich black and white photography as well as colorful promotional images. Whether they be behind-the-scenes photos or iconic stills from legendary movies, the images are thoughtfully selected and beautifully presented throughout the book.

There’s something for every movie lover in The Essential Directors, and Sloan De Forest has created another essential text in the lineup of great books on movies by TCM and Running Press.

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