Whether you’re interested in the cinema of New York, Wes Anderson, or creatures of the night, the venerable film magazine has you covered.
When conceptualizing The Spool, one of our greatest inspirations for this relatively nascent young outlet was the film magazine Little White Lies – a haven for smart, sophisticated criticism in this increasingly balkanized world of clickbait and shrinking journalism budgets. With its focus on idiosyncratic features, cultivating a roster of incredible critics, and buoyed by vivid, pop-art aesthetics, the magazine is a powerful force for film knowledge in the world. Now, they’ve expanded their critical powers to a new series of small, pocket-sized books – the “Close-Ups” series – and they’re off to a heck of a good start.
Today, Little White Lies released their first three books in the series – Wes Anderson by Sophie Monks Kaufman, Vampire Movies by Charles Bramesco, and New York Movies by Mark Asch. All three are short, spiffy,~200-page reads about their respective topics, adorned with the same quirky pop-art decoration as any given feature on Little White Lies. These books, though, are deep, rewarding dives into a particular corner of the cinematic universe, in a nifty physical format that won’t bug you with Instagram notifications at the top every thirty seconds.
Even before opening up the books, their covers alone are worth running your eyes over. The art, by Chris Delorenzo, is an amorphous collage of people, places and things that encapsulate the subjects contained within, backed by a single, eye-popping color – Wes Anderson‘s pastel pink, Vampire Movies’ blood red, New York Movies‘ lemon yellow. These are the kind of books that are meant to be collected, and they look damn nice on a shelf next to each other.
The art isn’t limited to the covers, either – every other page is adorned with a cute little sketch that accompanies the text itself. Read about Kaufman’s childhood sketch of a mermaid (which she uses to explain her relationship with Anderson’s aesthetic) and see it rendered on the following page, for instance.
You don’t need a film degree to understand them, but even the most ardent cinephiles will find something rewarding about these little portable chunks of scholarship.
But as they say, you can’t judge a book by its cover – luckily, each Close-Ups book (I was sent review copies of all three by the publisher for review) is a delightfully quick, informative read on each of its respective subjects. Kaufman’s expedition into the deepest recesses of indie perfectionist Wes Anderson, for instance, splits its attention between the different elements of Anderson’s psyche – Wes the Family Man, Wes the Romantic, Wes the Artist – picking up on how all of these elements manifest themselves in his films. Hers is a deeply personal perspective on the artist, musing on her attraction to the Andersonian school of meticulousness in light of her own self-perceived messiness.
Meanwhile, Asch’s look at the cinema of New York takes a much more geographic approach, splitting the city into its respective boroughs and landmarks (Central Park, Lower Manhattan, etc.) to see how the silver screen has depicted the Big Apple throughout the medium’s history. His is a surprisingly political lens, linking Home Alone II to Giuliani’s broken window theory and the racial politics of films like Cotton Comes to Harlem and New Jack City.
But for this reviewer, the real highlight was Bramesco’s deeply spooky interrogation of the vampire myth throughout cinema – how different cultures and filmmakers manifest them, the various anxieties and cultural concerns they invariably signify, the actors who’ve played such iconic figures, and so on. With Vampire Movies, his journey is split by the different schools of vampires he sees depicted throughout cinema – seducers, cowboys, monsters, children – and how each of them warps the vampire myth into something deeply fascinating.
I’ve been a fan (and friend) of Bramesco for some time, so I’ll freely admit to some bias here; he’s a hell of a writer, snappy but informative, as ready with a witticism as he is a trenchant point about his subjects. That style doesn’t abate with Vampire Movies: if you wanna read beautiful commentary about blaxploitation vampires right alongside references to the Asylum mockbuster Transmorphers, it’s a book I highly recommend.
Perhaps the best thing about the Close-Ups series is its accessibility, which is par for the course with Little White Lies: these are works of film scholarship, to be sure, but packaged in wonderfully digestible two-hour reads that can fit in your pocket or messenger bag easily. I cranked out most of Vampire Movies on the train over the course of two or three days, and it was a lovely companion on those midday commutes to and from screenings. You don’t need a film degree to understand them, but even the most ardent cinephiles will find something rewarding about these little portable chunks of scholarship.
Little White Lies’ Close-Ups might just be the perfect solution for those film fans who want to dip their toes into deeper film scholarship, but don’t have a lot of time and find a lot of cinematic scholarship too dry and academic. They’ve got eye-popping art, fresh perspectives from vibrant, exciting film writers, and they’re a breeze to get through. I know Marie Kondo (allegedly) said to keep your book collection to 30 books or less – but if 10% of your collection consists of these lovely reads, that oughta spark enough joy for any self-respecting film fan.
You can pick up the Close-Ups series at your favorite bookseller, or on Little White Lies here.