Gossip, scandal and forgotten stars: 10 of the best books about film

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

Peter Biskind
A stone-cold classic from the moment it arrived in 1998. Biskind, a former editor of Premiere magazine, produced a detailed, insightful and immensely readable account of the (until then) relatively neglected achievements of the 70s “movie brats” and their outpouring of masterworks. Both scholarly and popular, Biskind’s book turned a whole new generation on to the Hollywood new wave.

Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon

Edited by Alison Castle
Kubrick famously tried and failed to get a biopic of Napoleon off the ground in the late 60s and early 70s; Jack Nicholson and Blow-Up’s David Hemmings were variously in the frame. This doorstop-sized Taschen book is a compendium of Kubrick’s exhaustive research for the project, from script notes to costume designs. It’s a real eye-opener.

Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes

John Pierson
Spiritually the sequel to Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, even if it was published a couple of years before by Pierson (who later discovered The Blair Witch Project). His subject is the 80s indie wave in which he was a sales agent – and in which Harvey Weinstein figures as a baleful puppetmaster.

Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood

Karina Longworth
With her podcast You Must Remember This, Longworth alerted a new audience to the entertainment value of old-gold Hollywood and its parade of gossip, scandals and forgotten stars. It all gets distilled in this epic account of the producer/entrepreneur/sleaze and his hold over a generation of starlets.

Emeric Pressburger

Kevin Macdonald
A standout film-biz profile: a biography of Michael Powell’s film-making partner – jointly responsible for The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus – by his grandson, the director Kevin Macdonald. He writes about him with tremendous affection as well as the insight of a fellow professional.

Shepperton Babylon

Matthew Sweet
By some distance the best book about the British film industry I’ve ever read. Starting from its silent days to the sexploitation era of the 1960s, Sweet firmly foregrounds the popular, less feted areas of the industry, rescuing such figures as Pen Tennyson and Anita Fay Tipping from obscurity.

The Big Lebowski: The Making of a Coen Brothers Film

William Preston Robertson
“Making of” books are 10 a penny, but this one is pretty special – anticipating the future cultishness of the Coens’ “bowling noir”, with lengthy interviews with behind-the-scenes people and discussion of the brothers’ key themes (“howling, fat men” etc) – all delivered in Robertson’s dry, ironic prose. Ethan Coen’s wife Tricia Cooke is on editing duties.

What Makes Sammy Run?

Budd Schulberg
Novels can offer an interesting angle on the film world. Martin Amis’s Money, for example, was inspired by working on the flop sci-fi yarn Saturn 5, while Christopher Isherwood’s Prater Violet is an account of prewar British cinema. The real prince of industry fiction, though, has to be this 1941 account of the insanely ambitious wannabe Sammy Glick.

The Agency: William Morris and the Hidden History of Show Business

Frank Rose
This takes backroom industry shenanigans to a whole new level. A comprehensive history of the celebrated William Morris Agency, it chronicles Hollywood from its vaudeville origins to the power-suit era of the 80s and 90s, via the unusual perspective of the dealmakers and power brokers.

The Devil’s Candy

Julie Salamon
A seminal exposé of big-budget Hollywood film-making at its most excessive. Salamon, then the film critic for the Wall Street Journal, was given unfettered access behind the scenes of Brian De Palma’s movie version of Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, ending up in the right place to chronicle a slow-motion car crash of the highest order.