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Book Review: The Film Snob*s Dictionary

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The Film Snob*s Dictionary begins by describing the archetypal Film Snob as:

[F]amiliar to anyone who has walked through the doors of an independent video store and encountered a surly clerk – hostile of mien, short on patience, apt to chastise you for not intuiting that Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket is in the James L. Brooks section “because Brooks was the movie’s executive producer!”

This might sound a tad mean-spirited, but authors David Kamp (who co-wrote The Rock Snob*s Dictionary) and Lawrence Levi (who blogs at Looker) have their tongues planted firmly in their respective cheeks. To employ an old saw of the playground, it takes one to know one, and if Film Snobs (as they charge) are employing a form of “Reverse Snobbery” when they favor the “soapy, over-emotive shlock of India’s Bombay-based ‘Bollywood’ film industry” over the “artful, nuanced films” of Satyajit Ray, then surely the authors are indulging in Reverse-Reverse Snobbery when they embrace Spaghetti Westerns as a “Worthwhile Snob Cause Célèbre" but then reject L’Atalante as “Fraudulent.”

[ADBLOCKHERE]Like those video store clerks who proudly grant their recommendations a section of their own, at the end of the day the authors of A Film Snob*s Dictionary are motivated by a desire to spread the word, to share a canon of unjustly neglected cinematic pleasures with other like-minded but unenlightened souls. Kamp and Levi presume a certain knowledge of and interest in film history, eschewing canonical directors like Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman ("mere name-drops for bourgeois losers wishing to seem cultured") in favor of more obscure figures like the actor Walter Beery or the sound designer Walter Murch.

And herein, ultimately, lies the book's greatest strength – at its heart is the idea that there is more to love about the movies than simply their capacity to entertain or educate. If Ingmar Bergman is "so PBS tote-bag" then so, by now, is les politiques des auteurs. A Film Snob*s Dictionary challenges the notion that the best films are the most "intellectual," the most "important" by focusing on different aspects of the film experience: the faces, the sounds, the cinematography, the personalities.

Which is not to say that the book isn't first and foremost an entertainment. Organizing it as a mock reference text with individual entries in alphabetical order, Kamp and Levi infuse the entire proceedings with levity and humor. The entry for "meditation on," which describes the phrase as a "stock hack-crit used to bestow an air of erudition and gravitas on both the critic and the film he is reviewing" has ruined the term for me forever.

There are weak moments. Some of the inserts go on too long and wander too far afield. For instance, a discussion of "confusing similarities" that starts promisingly with the easy to confuse Bibi Andersson ("the Swedish actress who appeared in several of Ingmar Bergman's most famous films") vs. Harriet Andersson ("the Swedish actress who appeared in several of Ingmar Bergman's other famous films") devolves into more strained comparisons between the not-so-easy-to-mistake William Wellman and William Wyler or Howard Hawks and Henry Hathaway.

These ocassional lapses, though, are more than compensated for by the even more frequent laugh-out-loud, it's funny 'cuz it's true observations (it's "Tony," never "A.O." Scott) and genuinely interesting tidbits of information that the book contains. A Film Snob*s Dictionary will appeal the most to those with a bit of a Snob streak in themselves, but there is something here for every movie lover with a sense of humor about his or her passion.

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About A. Horbal

  • Books like that are always written by assholes looking for an easy buck.

  • This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!

  • Why, thank you. That’s pretty cool!