For movie lovers, it’s an analog pleasure in an increasingly digital world.
It’s a hefty companion that never crashes, never needs charging and never has any trouble communicating with any other devices, so long as they speak the universal language of cinema.
Leonard Maltin’s indispensable movie reference guide is ubiquitous in the offices and homes of bizzers and non-pros alike. It’s hard to remember a time when the brick-sized book wasn’t around, and that’s because Richard Nixon was in the White House when the first edition was published.
“This was not only before the Internet, but before homevideo and pay cable,” Maltin says. “Back then our target audience was the kind of person who sat at home watching old movies on TV.”
The newly released 2013 edition has the tagline “The Modern Era” added to its familiar cover. Entries for many vintage pics (pre-1966) have migrated to the “Classic Movie Guide,” simply because of the physical limitations of binding a paperback book thick enough to hold everything Maltin has compiled in his 43-plus years as the Herodotus of filmdom.
Yet there’s something wonderfully unmodern about this thick tome. Sure, it’s now available as an ebook, all 1,664 pages and 16,000 capsule reviews.
But just ask anyone who’s ever worn out a copy. The joy of using “Movie Guide” is in the tactile sense of holding that much movie history in your hands, and the flappety-flap sound the densely packed pages make while being thumbed through.
For Maltin, working on the book has been more a calling than a vocation, one that began when he was a movie-crazy high school student in Teaneck, N.J. He had already been publishing his “Film Fan Monthly” fanzine for two years — he was the kind of kid who’d set his alarm for 2 a.m. to catch an airing of “My Man Godfrey” — when his 12th grade English teacher put him in touch with an editor at Signet. “Movie Guide” was born in 1969 (first cover price: $1.25). It was smartly marketed not only to bookstores but also Woolworth’s and the like — anywhere it could get into the hands of film buffs.
Signet released periodic updates throughout the 1970s. By the early 1980s, when homevid took off and Maltin became “Entertainment Tonight’s” resident film critic (he wrapped 30 years on the show this spring), “Movie Guide” became an annual endeavor for his core team of researchers and editors.
Among the biggest challenges in keeping it current these days is the rise of direct-to-video releases. “Every time we read about a DVD sequel, our antennas go up,” Maltin says.