The old adage warns against judging books by their cover, but who can deny the effectiveness and appeal of well conceived cover art? Over the years as I’ve encountered various editions of Parker Tyler’s film writing I’ve been consistently struck by how consistently eye-catching the covers have been, and came across the idea of collecting them together on this site in a kind of archive. That project begins here.
So first up we have the first edition of Magic and Myth of the Movies, published by Henry Holt & Co in 1947:
For a book published just two years after World War II, this cover exhibits a very contemporary sensibility–I can easily imagine this dust jacket gracing a 2018 new release. Unfortunately I have so far been unable to pinpoint the exact artist behind this striking design.
I particularly like the technique of presenting the various faces of stars in negative, rending them at once recognizably human but also otherworldly, even phantasmal. The synopsis on the inside flap (included below) characterizes Tyler’s approach to film analysis as getting “under-the-skin,” so collaging x-ray-like images of the Hollywood stars he studies is an extremely clever way of visually signaling both his specific interests and even critical methodology.
Also of note–and probably deserving of its own post–is that Magic and Myth of the Movies would later become beloved by Myra Breckinridge, the irrepressible heroine of Gore Vidal’s novel by the same name. As Myra writes in her diary, “Tyler’s vision (films are the unconscious expression of age-old human myths) is perhaps the only important critical insight this century has produced.” David Bordwell cautions that Vidal’s treatment of Tyler’s film writing in his novel should be taken as double-edged, “partly respectful, partly mocking” (112), but nonetheless this would undoubtedly be the edition Myra owns and refers to as she undertakes her late husband’s mission to write a definitive study of 1940’s Hollywood cinema.
And to state in an author bio on a book about film that “he loves the movies, but… also hates them” is about as patently Parker Tyler as it gets.
New York Public Library Digital Collections
Bordwell, David. The Rhapsodes: How 1940s Critics Changed American Film Culture. University of Chicago Press, 2016.
Vidal, Gore. Myra Breckinridge; & Myron. Penguin Books, 1997.