Geoffrey O’Brien’s Arabian Nights of 1934 is a remarkable book by an author whose previous works of criticism and poetry now seem to have melded into one volume – a book devoted to memory traces, and no-doubt reviewing, of a host (226 are listed) of Pre-Code movies. The Hurlstone Park Pre-Code Movie Club should be all over it.
The book consists of seventy six short essays, notes, memories (hard to describe) each around a page long, bookended by two essays Dorothy at 17 and Aloysius at 18. These latter are intended to be homages to O’Brien’s parents who were brought up in the short Pre-Code era between the end of silents and the imposition of hard line censorship. The Hollywood studios made wild movies back then and scholars still study them endlessly to discover what the ‘real’ world of the time was all about. O’Brien’s chapter headings give you a quick entrance “This Modern Age”, “City Streets”, “Loose Ankles”, “Fast Life”, “Blood Money”, “Doorway to Hell”, “Turn Back the Clock”, “The Crash”, “Laughing Sinners”, “Bright Lights”, “The Code” and “After Tomorrow”.
Scattered throughout are lines in italics most of them taken from movies but an occasional one of the author’s own invention. They fill you with the pleasure of recall. My favourite, and I have no idea of the movie it came from: Any mug that don’t think so will be treated to the swellest funeral that ever stopped traffic.* Wont think it’s so funny then.
As is the wont of modern publishing the back cover provides some appreciative quotes to assist possible purchasers. There are thoughts from Stuart Klawans and Albert Mobilio and this from Henry Bean “Shares with Marclay’s The Clock and Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinema a total rapturous, insatiable cinephilia. What you feel, finally, is that you have been stuffed to the gills with so much story you will die if you take another bite. And all you want is more.”
A very handsome and beautifully printed volume published by Terra Nova Press in New Jersey, I bought my copy from Booktopia
*Underlined section spoken by Lew Ayres in The Doorway to Hell (Archie Mayo, 1930)