Hands down and no question about it: For me, the entertainment book of 2016 is A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies. Written by Trapped Ashes screenwriter Dennis Bartok and collector extraordinaire Jeff Joseph, the University Press of Mississippi hardcover shines a light on the rarest of film subcultures: one I didn’t know existed!
There’s a whole history of FBI arrests and/or investigations into film obsessives who sold and/or traded actual prints — typically 35mm and often stolen from studios and theaters. They range from Hollywood’s own (Roddy McDowall and Rock Hudson) to two-bit ex-cons, and nearly two dozen of them have their colorful stories told here, run-ins and close calls included.
Rather than attempt to weave them all into one continuing narrative, Bartok and Joseph wisely divvy them up into their own chapters. Among them are men whose names you may know, like Gremlins director Joe Dante, RoboCop producer Jon Davidson and Something Weird Video founder Mike Vraney (who, as with an alarming number of subject, since has passed).
But outnumbering them are those whose names you do not, like Joseph, who did time behind bars for his cinematic misdeeds; Rik Lueras, who hand-paints poster art onto the cans of films in his collection; and Mike Hyatt, whose life’s work, more or less, has been devoted to rescuing 1962’s The Day of the Triffids from vinegar syndrome and eventual oblivion. Each profile is fascinating, making A Thousand Cuts an essential work, its contents now preserved for generations to come. Highly, highly recommended! —Rod Lott