Cinema Speculation, Quentin TarantinoThe Funhouse make up the core of the book and are free-wheeling, stream-of-conscious rants not unlike some of the famous dialogue in his films.
PATRICK BROMLEY TAKE NOTE: QT calls Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre “one of the few perfect movies ever made.”
The thing I liked best about this new book is the hidden subtext on every page—an undercurrent of the personal. Tarantino discusses his influences and gives us a road map to the type of filmmaker he would eventually become; yet he never hits the reader over the head with the enormous shit-hammer of obvious historic irony. Highly recommended.
All About Me, Mel Brooks
I had trepidations last year when I originally read the hardcover. I was expecting a quickie, “transcribed from taped interviews” sorta-biography full of stories we have all heard before. This is not that book. It’s quite good, particularly in the chapters covering Brooks’ early years before Your Show of Shows. I love how Brooks quickly throws out any pretense of being objective, omniscient, or humble when discussing his remarkable career. The passage of time has not dimmed masterpieces like The Producers, The Twelve Chairs, Blazing Saddles, and Young Frankenstein—Brooks’s first four films and also his best—and All About Me takes us back in time for a fun production history from the man who made them. To hype the release of the paperback last week, Brooks gave an interview to The New York Times on Sunday, focusing on his influences. Judging by the comments, many Brooks fans were unaware of just how fantastically well-read he is.
TANGENT: From Brooks’s Oscar acceptance speech for The Producers’ Best Screenplay Academy Award: “I’ll just say what’s in my heart: bah-bump, bah-bump, bah-bump, bah-bump.”
Camera Man, Dana Stevens
Stevens is awesomely erudite about what makes Buster and his films so special; she even connects Buster’s story with the history of the movies and the history of the whole twentieth century. You won’t find better discussions of Keaton’s silent masterworks anywhere. The real achievement? Stevens weaves this film criticism into a deeper tapestry about the nature of art and history. The chapters on Mabel Normand, Roscoe Arbuckle, and One Week are particular highlights, but the entire book is tremendously insightful.
I don’t often read books more than once because there are too many new books waiting.
I have now read Camera Man three times. Highly recommended.
Filmed in Brooklyn, Margo Donohue
This book is full of facts (I love things that are full of facts!) and yet never reverts to dry “academicism” and never wears out its welcome. Other things to love: 1) The book goes all the way back to the turn of the century with its discussion of the Vitagraph Studios. I hate books that pretend that film history encompasses only the last twenty years. 2) Donohue breaks Brooklyn into more manageable “chunks” to facilitate her tour: “Brownstone Brooklyn,” “The Brooklyn Bridge,” “Coney Island,” and “Gritty Brooklyn,” for example. 3) The appendix of famous Brooklynites is a lot of fun.
It’s the fun I’ll remember most we thinking back to this book. It’s incredibly well-researched and intelligent. Donohue’s love of the subject just jumps off the page. Highly recommended.
BFI Monograph: From Russia with Love, Llewella Chapman
BFI Monograph: Duck Soup, J. Hoberman
These two latest additions to the great BFI monograph list represent a rather twisted dichotomy: one of them is among the very best of these I’ve read, and the other just might be the worst.
Chapman’s take on From Russia with Love is engrossing, detailed, and intensely readable. She is of the opinion that FRWL is the single best Bond film, an opinion shared by many film critics. While I find myself forever loyal to “Camp Goldfinger,” I must admit that Chapman makes a fine case for the earlier film. Tangents on production personnel, star salaries, and hair and costumes make the book an even more irresistible deep dive. This new book represents everything we have come to expect from this long-running series. Highly recommended.
The Duck Soup book, on the other hand, has me scratching my head. It may exist only to prove that nothing’s perfect, not even the editorial board at the BFI.
I cannot understand how this got published. Devoid of significant insight (or anything really new), the book resembles nothing more than a rambling transcribed audio commentary, hastily made while the author watched the film late one night after a few cocktails. My first red flag came when I realized the only words to describe the book’s structure was “long plot summary.” Perhaps, because I love the film so much, my expectations were too high? I’m at a loss to understand this book. Highly disposable.
If you’re looking for two much better books about the Marx Brothers’ greatest film, look no further than Hail, Hail Euphoria: Presenting the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, the Greatest War Movie Ever Made, by Roy Blount, Jr.; or Classic Film Scripts: The Four Marx Brothers in Monkey Business and Duck Soup, published by Lorrimer.
Remember, gentle readers, right after Thanksgiving Break, I will be administering a written test... on all these books... to all of you. Study hard!