Rita Kohn

In the Can

By Lou Harry and Eric Furman

Emmis Books; $14.95

Swiftly paced, this overview of "the greatest career missteps, sophomore slumps, what-were-we-thinking decisions and fire-your-agent moves in the history of the movies" earns thumbs-up. For the general reader and moviegoer, it's illuminating and a boon for good conversation. For the potential and already established screenwriter, actor, director, producer, designer, etc., it's a veritable guide across the minefields of movie making, a Baedeker of sorts traversing careers, and a cautionary tract neglected at your own peril.

It's a great "read" along with a visit to the James Dean photo exhibit at the Indiana State Museum (Culture Vulture, "Enduring Mysteries," Jan. 4-11, 2006, through March 5). While 95 "stars" from Ben Affleck to Bruce Willis lose some glimmer, Harry and Furman state upfront: "James Dean and John Cazale do not appear in this book. That's because James Dean and John Cazale have perhaps the most perfect careers in the history of movie acting."

Dean was cut short at age 24 in the wake of "three critically acclaimed movies" released within a year of each other; Cazale attained a "perfect score" throughout a 20-year career. For the rest of the names, it's a disclosure of at least one "major flop." Succinct synopsis and razor sharp analysis marks each brief essay.

Some actors exhibit a penchant for awful, some fell off the good-choice-wagon but once or twice. The larger question becomes, "Where do producers get the money to make klunkers?" In the Can shows why being a hit on Broadway or a best-seller isn't reason enough to expect seamless translation to cinema. Examples abound, including Chorus Line and Paint Your Wagon as blockbuster musicals, and the never-off-the-list The Portrait of a Lady or The Scarlet Letter.

Directors get their due, too, for choosing poor screenplays or losing artistic vision, and Oscar choices get challenged.

For more information:

Kiss & Tell: A Trivial Study of Smooching

By Kevin Dwyer

Philadelphia: Quirk Books; $14.95

Literature, art, opera, the movies; laws, jibes, pop songs; politics, talk shows, the Bible. They're part of the trivia in this 127-page pocket-size book that's a lot more interesting than it might seem at first glance. You'll be reminded about the Blarney Stone, what Rhett said to Scarlett and that Barbara Bush claims she married the first man she ever kissed.

You'll marvel at the Puritans and their continuing stranglehold on thinking. Yep, there are still state laws about kissing, including one in Indiana. See Kiss & Tell page 10: "It's illegal for a man with a mustache to 'Habitually kiss human beings.'" (Is anyone monitoring that one?)

Lists include MTV Movie Awards for Best Kiss and six decades of pop songs about kisses. Sound bytes provide sly humor: "I wasn't kissing her. I was whispering into her mouth," explained Chico Marx, after his wife caught him kissing a chorus girl.

There's also a lot of "I didn't know that" tidbits, such as the bronze foot of a statue of St. Peter in Rome being worn down by centuries of kissing pilgrims. And the Nov. 22, 1968, kiss on Star Trek between Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura sent some TV stations into blackout. TV's first inter-racial kiss has yet to be aired globally.

And here's one to ponder: Why do people close their eyes when they kiss?