As a relatively broke college student, Chicago-based writer Rob Christopher didn't have the cash to rent movies from a video store. Instead, he sought out his local library and discovered not only a repository of films vast enough to satisfy his tastes but the ability to try them out for free. "Free" beats Netflix and even Redbox by a mile, and with the demise of video stores, large and small, library film archives are often the only brick-and-mortar places with collections on hand.
But how to replace the handy-dandy recommendations from the bygone knowledgeable video store clerks working the counter? Christopher's recent book, "Queue Tips," offers a solution. A smart, compact collection, the book offers ideas for those with a desire to go beyond the typical blockbuster fare (though these are represented as well) and tap into the offbeat.
Christopher enlisted a host of contributors to flesh out his own recommendations in the breezy, 149-page volume (which, in a nice bit of synergy, is published by the American Library Association). These amateur movie enthusiasts, everyone from SNL performer/writer alumni Julia Sweeney to Chicago jazz legend Ken Vandermark, weigh in with a delightful and pretty cool assortment of film choices in 24 chapters with titles like "Nine Westerns That Aren't Westerns," "Flops That Actually Aren't Half Bad" and "Seven Reasons to Love Nicolas Cage." Perhaps the best reason to pick up the book as a last-minute holiday gift might be a chapter titled "Psycho, and Other Surprising Christmastime Movies." Christopher recently chatted with the Chicago Tribune about "Queue Tips." Here is an edited transcript of that conversation:
Q: This seems to be a guide for people who are really into movies, not your average moviegoer.
A: I think I might disagree with you. A movie like "The Towering Inferno," which is included, is not exactly the most intellectually challenging movie. Nor is the Jeff Bridges movie "Fearless," which is in that same chapter ("Fires, Floods, Crashes, Viruses: Ten Disaster Movies"). These are mainstream movies. I think it just comes down to not standing in front of Redbox at Walgreens and choosing from the 15 movies that were in the top 10 six months ago, and that's your only choice. I think that's ridiculous.
Q: When you look at a normal movie guide with recommendations, they are often so jam-packed you have no idea where to start; they're overwhelming. This book gives you 10 choices or so per category as opposed to 50 or 500.
A: Ironically, it was easier to limit it to small lists. Frankly, I didn't want to rack my brain writing about movies that I didn't care about (laughs). It wasn't like, "Here's every interesting Western I can think of." It was more like, "Here are nine movies that are kinda Westerns but not really" and I chose them because I felt I had something interesting I could point out about each of them, and I feel like they are movies worth sharing.
Q: I like that "Meek's Cutoff" made the cut (laughs) in that chapter.
A: Talk about a movie that fell under the radar. You could say that it's demanding, but it's also so simple and straightforward.
Q: There are recommendations here no matter your mood, everything from "Meet Me in St. Louis" to "Troll 2" to "Persepolis" to "Con Air" to the Zapruder film.
A: I worked really hard to offer a lot of different choices in each of the chapters and certainly got those from my contributors.
Q: How did you select the contributors?
A: I really wanted "guest stars" to add some name value to the book. It was my idea that you'd see these names on the cover and say to yourself, "What the hell are Julia Sweeney, Ken Vandermark and (mixologist) Jeff "Beachbum" Berry all doing in a movie book together?" It was a way to get you interested in what the book would be. They all love movies and have great takes on them.
Q: And you have to love a chapter that finds seven movie reasons to love Nicolas Cage, a list offered by author and blogger Zoe Trope (the list includes "Moonstruck" and six others).
A: She actually came up with that idea, and I loved it.
Q: And talk about unusual — "Psycho" as a Christmas movie?
A: That started with a story I read about "Psycho." When the second-unit footage came back — the background plates that's shown when Janet Leigh is driving — it was pointed out to Hitchcock that you could see Christmas decorations in the background because the footage had been shot in December. Hitchcock decided that unless there was some explanation provided to the audience, that this would be distracting. So he put the title at the very beginning of the movie establishing that it begins on Dec. 11. And, of course, the shower scene was actually shot right before Christmas. Then I was thinking about other movies that take place around Christmas time but aren't necessarily the holiday classics that we all know and love, and a lot of movies came up. Like "Rosemary's Baby," which has a Christmas scene. "Brazil" is another great one because it's almost like a Charles Dickens kind of story, but it's also weird and neon and Monty Pythonesque. The recent Romanian film "Tuesday, After Christmas" I included because for a lot of people Christmas time is kind of an emotional time and not the best time of year.
Q: Is a sequel to "Queue Tips" in the works?
A: Bill Ott, one of my contributors, is urging me to go for it because he wants to write a chapter titled, "Seven Reason to Love Steven Seagal," so I hope there is a sequel, for that chapter alone (laughs).