BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS / Cinema: Stars and illuminations

OF COURSE the world needed another 'intimate biography' of James Dean, especially Joe Hyams's James Dean: Little Boy Lost (Century pounds 15.99), which wastes less time than most on the Method and goes directly to the sexual partners, male and female, then concludes with a chapter on where the whole cast - including Hyams, who knew his subject - happened to be when they heard of his fatal accident. Sex and death: isn't that what Hollywood is about?

There is no denying the contribution of both to Bernard of Hollywood's Marilyn (Boxtree pounds 18.99), a picture album with extracts from Bruno Bernard's diary of his friendship with Monroe, edited by his daughter. Everyone should keep a diary. The cinema conveys this illusion of intimacy with the stars, plus the assurance that there is always more to know. No wonder we find it hard to believe they die, especially in explicable ways. In The Hollywood Connection: The Mafia and the Movie Business (Robson pounds 17.95), Michael Munn states as plain fact that Monroe was killed on the orders of Sam Giancana, to spite the Kennedy brothers; no nonsense about evidence. If that is what you want, you'll love JFK: The Documented Screenplay (Applause pounds 12.99), which elevates Oliver Stone's hypothetical exercise to the status of history: we get the full script, extensive documentation on the assassination and all the film reviews. None of this helps to trace an already blurred divide between fiction and reality.

You have to admire the industry of such star biographers as Robert Tanitch, John Parker and Andrew Yule. All three have now done Sean Connery: Yule's Sean Connery: Neither Shaken nor Stirred (Little Brown pounds 16.99) appears this year, as does his Losing the Light: Terry Gilliam and the Munchausen Saga (Applause pounds 12.95), the story of 'the greatest financial disaster in movie history'. Tanitch's Connery, published last year, was a picture book, and not the place to look for details of the star's brief encounter with an ATS girl at the age of 14. This year's Tanitch is John Mills (Collins & Brown pounds 14.99), an actor who was too intent on winning the war to be distracted by the ATS. Warren Beatty: The Last Great Lover of Hollywood (Headline pounds 17.99) prefers his peers: John Parker's index lists 'Affairs' from Adjani, Isabelle to Wood, Nathalie. Beatty 'is very much into women', according to Who's Who in Hollywood (ed Robyn Karney, Bloomsbury pounds 20), clearly a guide for those who aren't, listing actors and directors but not studio bosses.

You don't need to believe in conspiracies to realise that the real power is behind the screen. Anthony Holden's The Oscars (Little Brown pounds 20) promises 'the secret history' of the Academy Awards, and delivers a lot of anecdotes followed by an exhaustive listing of the main winners.

Last year's re-release of Casablanca has been followed up by James C Robertson's biography of the film's neglected director, The Casablanca Man: The Cinema of Michael Curtiz (Routledge pounds 25) and Aljean Harmetz's Round Up the Usual Suspects (Weidenfeld pounds 15.99), a history of the making of the film. Earnest buffs will stay awake browsing through Pauline Kael's reviews, 5001 Nights at the Movies (Boyars pounds 24.95), or the new editions of The Aurum Film Encyclopaedia: Horror (ed Paul Hardy, pounds 35), The Time Out Film Guide (Penguin pounds 12) and The Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats (Guinness pounds 11.99), but don't lose sleep worrying about 'the new auteurism'. This is the principle behind the Cambridge Film Classics, a new series of director studies from Cambridge University Press, which includes James Naremore on The Films of Vincente Minnelli, Maurice Yacowar on Paul Morrissey, Scott Simmon on D W Griffith, James Palmer and Michael Riley on Joseph Losey, Peter Bondanella on Roberto Rossellini (pounds 27.95/ pounds 9.95 each), Sam B Girgus on Woody Allen (pounds 22.95/ pounds 7.95) and David Sterritt on Alfred Hitchcock (pounds 27.95/ pounds 7.95). The theory involves looking at films not only as the work of a single auteur-director, but as 'a complex interaction of bureaucratic, technological, intellectual, cultural and personal forces'. In practice, it means concise, informative introductions to the subjects' films.

If you like the idea of the director as author, you will be pleased to know about The Best Intentions (Harvill pounds 8.99), Ingmar Bergman's story of his parents' marriage, filmed by Bille August; Kieslowski on Kieslowski (ed Daniela Stok, Faber pounds 14.99) and Malle on Malle (ed Philip French, Faber pounds 14.99); and about The Humphrey Jennings Film Reader (ed Kevin Jackson, Carcanet pounds 25), writings by a great documentary film- maker who was also a poet and painter.

Film will be a century old next year, but it has clearly not replaced the printed word. A superb present for some favoured nephew or niece who likes cinema would be Robert Sklar's Film: An International History of the Medium (Thames & Hudson pounds 32): the full works, from the magic lantern to Idrissa Ouedaogo's Tilai (1990), including the subjects more fully covered in Shades of Noir (edited by Joan Copjec, Verso pounds 34.95 / pounds 11.95), Christopher Palmer's The Composer in Hollywood (Marion Boyars pounds 19.95) and Reframing Japanese Cinema (eds Arthur Noletti and David Desser, Indiana University Press, pounds 15.99). If the nephew or niece is into film theory, you probably won't be exchanging presents. If the worst happens, respond with Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (BFI pounds 11.95) - but that way madness lies.

(Photograph omitted)