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"Making of" Classic Cinema Filmmakers

Book Interview: Guillermo Del Toro — The Iconic Filmmaker and His Work

Guillermo del Toro - The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work - Cover Artwork

Publisher: Quarto Press

Release Date: November 09, 2021

Ian Nathan’s wonderful “Iconic Filmmakers” series is continued with this lovely coffee table-style book about the work of Guillermo Del Toro. Those who have already discovered this wonderful series of coffee table books know that they can expect a “complete and intimate study of the life and work of one of modern cinema’s most truly unique directors, whose distinct aesthetic and imagination are unmatched in contemporary film” as Nathan “charts the progression of a career that has produced some of contemporary cinema’s most revered scenes and idiosyncratic characters. This detailed examination looks at how the strands of Del Toro’s career have woven together to create one of modern cinema’s most ground-breaking bodies of work.” The book is an excellent blend of career biography, production information, and analysis that attempts to delve into the director’s psyche. “The book starts by examining his beginnings in Mexico, the creative but isolated child surrounded by ornate Catholicism and monster magazines, filming stop motion battles between his toys on a Super-8 film camera” before following him through film school and eventually into the productions of some of cinemas most unique films.  The book is illustrated with rich and alluring production photographs, and thematic illustrations that enhance Nathan’s text. There is even an eight-page “gatefold section” that offers a career timeline.

The books author, Ian Nathan, lives and works in London as one of the UK’s best-known film writers. He is the author of nine previous books — including Anything You Can Imagine: Peter Jackson and the Making of Middle-earth, Alien VaultTerminator Vault, and the other books in his “Iconic Filmmakers” series (which includes volumes on Tim Burton, The Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, and Wes Anderson). He is the former editor and executive editor of Empire, the world’s biggest movie magazine, where he remains a contributing editor. He also regularly contributes to The TimesThe IndependentThe Mail on SundayCahiers Du Cinema, and the Discovering Film documentary series on Sky Arts. Needless to say, we are honored to have an opportunity to discuss this new volume with the author.

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CL: First of all, I would just like to thank you for sitting down to answer a few questions about this excellent series of volumes about contemporary “Iconic Filmmakers.” Let’s start at the beginning. How did you first begin your career as a writer?

IN: This is a long story. The key moment really came as a student, when I was given the entertainment desk on the university newspaper. I had always loved film, almost to an obsessive level, but the chance to express my opinion about what I had seen was transformative – it was a real road to Damascus event, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Then a montage: local newspapers, freelance writing, getting into magazines, joining the staff of Empire (Europe’s biggest film magazine), rising within the ranks to editor. And then, years later, books…

CL: I’m curious as to who you would choose as your favorite filmmaker of all time. Who has made the biggest impression on you as a cinephile?

IN: This is so hard. I’m married to the sheer variety that cinema offers, but I’ll cheat and pick two (out of the multitudes). Billy Wilder managed to squeeze such darkness into his comedies and such life into his dramas. The Apartment is a masterpiece. And the films of the Coen brothers endlessly intrigue me. Every time I return to the likes of Miller’s Crossing or Barton Fink or Fargo, they offer something new.

CL: If the world was burning and you had a chance to save one single film, which film would you rescue from destruction?

IN: One film? Out of all of them? You are cruel. But the world is burning, so I’m going to grab Blade Runner. It has haunted me since the day I saw it in the cinema, aged 12, and I couldn’t imagine not returning to its dystopian embrace.

CL: How was the “Iconic Filmmakers” series was born, and how do you choose which filmmakers to cover for the series?

IN: Well, I had written a couple of books for the publisher, and we got into a discussion about potential books on directors. At that stage, it was picking a director I might want to write about and what might be appealing to a potential readership. Out of that came Tim Burton, and the series was underway. Each choice comes via a mix of things: my passion, a director with a cult following, and a fitting visual palate so the book will look good. (I always joke that you should be able to hang an “esque” on the end of their names: Burtonesque or Tarantinoesque.) Market forces come into play. It is always a discussion with the publisher about what might sell. If the chosen subject has a forthcoming project, so much the better.

CL:  How do the volumes in this series differ from similar books that focus on a particular filmmaker’s work?

IN: Well, the “Iconic” element of the title is important. As I mentioned, the director has to have a personality that inspires a following. It isn’t simply about successful directors. It’s about those who have reshaped the world of film, who have the capacity to surprise us, while having a very distinctive style, ready to be deciphered. You know when you’re watching a film by Quentin Tarantino, the Coens, or Wes Anderson.

CL:  Do you have a favorite out of the books that you have written so far — particularly out of those in the series?

IN: You’re asking me to choose between my children. In terms of the series, each has brought its own pleasures and challenges. It’s never easy to sum up the work of iconic directors. Out of them all, both the Wes Anderson and the Del Toro books feel like I have cracked something of the mystery. Outside of the Iconic Filmmakers series, I’m very proud of a book I wrote on Ridley Scott, plus a more recent tome, The Coppolas: A Movie Dynasty.

CL: How does Guillermo Del Toro stand apart from his contemporaries, and what are the qualities that define him as an artist?

IN: Wow, you could say I’ve written an entire book on this very subject! I’ll try and boil it down. What I love about his work is that he has become a hugely successful Hollywood filmmaker without ever relinquishing his Mexican heart. In fact, that passion and exoticism is what has allowed him to thrive. He is tuned to a more primal part of storytelling — the myths and legends on which the world turn. Fairy-tales are his medium, and he understands how they convey great meaning about the human heart. No one has used fantasy quite as he has done. While he has only made one film on home soil, he still draws deep on the Mexican mix of religion and mysticism. He is also one of the last great physical filmmakers, building sets and props and mechanical creatures to maintain that tactile richness to his creations.

CL: Do you have a favorite Del Toro film?

IN: It’s interesting. Before I begin these books, I write out my order of preference for the films of the director in question. Then once I’ve finished, I do it again to see if the order has changed. And it always does. Hellboy and Cronos moved up in my estimation, but my favourites remained the same. Depending on how I’m feeling it’s either Pan’s Labyrinth or The Devil’s Backbone. I think Del Toro might agree.

CL: Were there any unique challenges to covering the career of Guillermo Del Toro that you didn’t face when writing about other artists?

IN: The biggest challenge was sifting through the sheer volume of material that Del Toro presents to the movie archeologist. He is an extraordinary voice on his own work – like a living biography, which is thrilling. Indeed, he has discussed his films in such depth, noting the many references, that the book could have been three times the length. I say it in the book, he could have been a great critic. Interviewing him is like standing in a waterfall, but that can feel overwhelming at times. Wrestling the story into shape was tough.

CL: The book discusses a number of “unborn films” — or projects that Del Toro was forced to abandon. Which of these films would you most like to see receive a future greenlight?

IN: I know that most would opt for the curiosity of what Del Toro’s Hobbit films might have been like or the icy magnitude of his beloved Lovecraft adaptation At the Mountains of Madness, but I would choose The Left Hand of Darkness. This was Del Toro’s Mexican spin on The Count of Monte Cristo — a  hugely important book to him — that in his hands would have been transformed into a gothic Western. I’ve read the script, and while there are bizarre and wonderful steampunk elements, it stays true to the roots of its genre. And being set in the country of his birth, it would have been both epic and personal.

CL:  Do you believe that the director’s approach to creature design is different from other filmmakers? What sets his creations apart from those found in other films?

IN: I do, very much so. Given his process of storytelling begins with design, sketching out his creatures and annotating them in his fabulous, leather-bound notebooks (themselves a trove of del Toro lore), there is something highly individual about the look and feel of his creatures. They are rarely there simply to frighten us (though often they do). They possess a physicality — he avoids CGI if possible — and embody the themes of his stories. You can tell his heart is with the beasts, maybe he sees himself in them. The aquatic man of The Shape of Water is his leading man! It is the humans who are more often the true monsters.

CL: Which of the director’s iconic monsters is your personal favorite?

IN: Wow, there are so many: the insects in Mimic, the great kaiju of Pacific Rim, half the cast of Hellboy. Since you’ve cornered me, I will opt for a creature that has so much presence, he’s truly unforgettable. The Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth leans toward the terrifying, with his eyeballs on the plate in front of him, ready to be inserted into the palms of his hands, but del Toro also saw him as a vision of the rich and corrupt in Spain doing nothing as the masses starve. Note how he lords it over the feast, and we cross cut with the dinner table of the wealthy locals and the fascist captain.

CL: The Pale Man is my personal favorite as well. Can readers expect future volumes in the series?

IN: They certainly can. I’m not permitted to reveal too much at this stage, suffice to say that I am well underway on the next book in the series. The director in question presents very different challenges to previous subjects. I’ll give you a single word: “cerebral.” It’s always interesting how much the personality and films of the individual shapes the book in question. This book will look and feel very different to previous entries, but, boy, will it be gorgeous. Let the guessing game commence.

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Categories
Classic Cinema

Book Review: Serial Killers at the Movies

SKATM - Cover

Publisher: Ad Lib

Release Date: November 12, 2020

Christopher Berry-Dee’s “Serial Killers at the Movies: My Intimate Talks with Mass Murderers Who Became Stars of the Big Screen” is something of a mixed bag. There’s no doubt that the author knows about his subject, but he doesn’t tend to delve particularly deep into the worlds of the monsters that inspired the films discussed in the book. There are exceptions. The chapters on Silence of the Lambs and The Amityville Horror are well worth the reader’s time and manage to explore the true life monsters that inspired the films in question. Unfortunately, he seems at a loss in other chapters and tends to grasp at straws. For instance, the chapter on Psycho discusses crimes that didn’t even occur until 2013 (most likely because he had already delved into the world of Ed Gein in a previous chapter). His text can be repetitive at times — as in repeating certain opinions “word for word” throughout the book. The book is a very light read and a pleasant way to pass time, but one does feel that it could have been a more comprehensive study than it is at the end of the day. This reader was also a bit disappointed to discover that the author devoted so many pages to fairly pedestrian (and completely forgettable) made-for-television titles that haven’t really endured (even if they were fairly accurate). After all, the book was titled “Serial Killers at the Movies.”

Categories
Classic Cinema Directing

Book Review: Essential Directors — The Art and Impact of Cinema’s Most Influential Filmmakers

Essential Directors - Cover Artwork

Publisher: Running Press

Release Date: November 23rd 2021

For well over a century, those who create motion pictures have touched our hearts and souls; they have transported and transformed our minds, intoxicated and entranced our senses. One artist’s vision is the single most prominent force behind the scenes: the director.

Sloan De Forest’s beautiful new book from Turner Classic Movies is an excellent primer on a wide selection of some of the most noteworthy “American” filmmakers from the silent era through to the turbulent seventies. While a great many of the selected filmmakers were born in Europe or other parts of the world, most of them served a significant part of their careers in Hollywood. Featured directors include Charlie Chaplin, Cecil B. DeMille, Oscar Micheaux, Lois Weber, Dorothy Arzner, Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch, W. S. Van Dyke, John Ford, Orson Welles, William Wyler, Alfred Hitchcock, Ida Lupino, Billy Wilder, Stanley Kramer, David Lean, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and several others. The included profiles span five or six pages and offer insights about each director’s narrative style, unique touches, contributions to the medium, key films, and much more. The work of these game-changing artists is illustrated throughout by more than 200 full-color and black-and-white photographs that should thrill cinephiles.

Categories
"Making of" Classic Cinema

Book Review: Dark City — The Lost World of Film Noir (Revised and Expanded Edition)

Dark City

Publisher: Running Press

Release Date: July 20, 2021

“When I did this book I thought it’d be a fun one-off project. I was so burned out on exploitation films after Grindhouse that I just wanted to write about movies I actually liked.” —Eddie Muller

The “Grindhouse” mentioned in the above quote refers to Muller’s “Grindhouse: The Forbidden World of Adults Only Cinema.” That particular book is just another in a long line of texts penned by Muller, but it is fairly safe to say that the author found his niche with this book as he has gone on to write a number of other books about the genre and is often referred to as the “Czar of Noir.” Disciples of Turner Classic Movies will also recognize both his name and visage as the host of Noir Alley, and he also founded the ‘Film Noir Foundation’ in an effort to restore and preserve lost Noir classics.

Needless to say, the man knows his subject, but what is especially interesting about Dark City is the book’s unique style which will be quite recognizable to anyone familiar with the genre. The book is a tour through a great many of the genre’s best films with a few biological pit stops along the way to inform readers about the actors and filmmakers responsible for those films. (It’s worth mentioning that many of these individuals lived lives that read almost like a synopsis for some of these films, and this fact isn’t lost on Muller.) This “revised and expanded edition” of the book includes new chapters and a “fresh collection of restored photographs” that are certain to thrill cinephiles who adore the genre, and one wonders if it is even possible to be a cinephiles without also having an appreciation for noir since it is one of the most cinematic of all genres. Those looking for classic films that may have escaped their radar could do worse than Dark City for viewing inspiration, and those familiar with the films discussed are likely to enhance their appreciation of these classics.

Categories
Alfred Hitchcock Classic Cinema

Book Review: Perpetual Movement – Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rope’

Alfred Hitchcock Master

Perpetual Movement

Publisher: State University of New York Press

Release Date: July 2021

“I wondered while planning this book if I should divide Rope into hundreds of brief fragments for examination. I quickly realized, however, that Hitchcock’s film… has a textual form that suggests a convenient way in which to separate the text for consideration: it is already divided into eleven lexias.” —Neil Badmington (Introduction, Perpetual Movement: Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rope,’ 2021)

Neil Badmington’s lengthy analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) is the first of its kind. Each of the book’s eleven chapters covers one of the film’s eleven shots—with the first chapter covering the film’s production history and its eventual release since the shot is essentially the credit sequence (although this shot is also discussed briefly). This chapter is only seventeen and a half pages in length, so those who want an in-depth examination of the film’s production and…

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Filmmakers

Book Review: Tarantino – A Retrospective (Revised and Expanded Edition)

Tarantino - Revised Cover

Publisher: Insight Editions

Release Date: September 07, 2021

Born in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1963, Quentin Tarantino spent many Saturday evenings during his childhood accompanying his mother to the movies, nourishing a love of film that was, over the course of his life, to become all-consuming. It is just as well, because he would grow up to be one of American cinema’s most celebrated filmmakers. Known for his highly cinematic visual style, out-of-sequence storytelling, and grandiose violence, Tarantino’s films have provoked both praise and criticism over the course of his career. They’ve also won him a host of awards — including Oscars, Golden Globes, and BAFTA awards — usually for his original screenplays. His oeuvre includes the cult classic Pulp Fiction, bloody revenge saga Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, and historical epics Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained, and The Hateful Eight. This stunning retrospective catalogs each of Quentin Tarantino’s movies in detail, from My Best Friend’s Birthday to The Hateful Eight. The book is a tribute to a unique directing and writing talent, celebrating an uncompromising, passionate director’s enthralling career at the heart of cult filmmaking.

Quentin Tarantino

Make no mistake about this, Tarantino: A Retrospective isn’t merely coffee-table fluff with a lot of great photographs and artwork (although, there are plenty of great photos to be found throughout the book). This is an informative examination of the director’s career. Tom Shone’s text is a seamless mixture of career biography, retrospective appreciation, and film criticism. Surprisingly, there aren’t many essential books available about the director. This makes Shone’s text all the more essential for those who love the director’s work. In our review of the original edition, we mentioned that some might feel that the text was slightly premature since Tarantino has consistently insisted that he will only make ten films before he retires from making movies. It seemed a shame that his final two films were inevitably left out of the retrospective.

Well, this new edition of the book tries to rectify this one issue slightly by adding a sixteen page chapter that covers Once Upon A Time in Hollywood and a slightly different epilogue that is slightly updated from the 2017 edition. Everything else about the book is exactly the same, so it may not be worth the money to purchase this new edition if you already own the first edition. Having said this, those who do not yet own either edition of the book will want to pick up this “Revised and Expanded Edition.”

Tarantino - Revised Edition - Open

Categories
Classic Cinema

Book Review: Silence of the Lambs (BFI Film Classics)

BFI Film Classics - Silence of the Lambs (October 07)

Publisher: British Film Institute 

Release Date: July 25, 2019 (First Edition) / October 7, 2021 (Second Edition)

Yvonne Tasker’s book examines “one of the defining films of late twentieth century American cinema” in this very short booklet. There’s no question that Silence of the Lambs is one of the best police procedurals ever made, and this book is really the only book available that attempts to examine the film. Those expecting a proper account of the production (or a standard “making of” text) will almost certainly be disappointed, but Tasker does offer an exploration of the film’s content that is likely to add to one’s appreciation of Jonathan Demme’s masterpiece as it discusses “explores the film’s weaving together of gothic, horror and thriller elements in its portrayal of insanity and crime, drawing out the centrality of ideas about gender to the storytelling. She identifies the film as a key genre reference point for tracking late twentieth century interests in police procedural, profiling and serial murder, analyzing its key themes of reason and madness, identity and belonging, aspiration and transformation.” One doubts if the book will hold much value to casual fans of the film, but die-hards will enjoy the read if they keep their expectations in check.

Silence of the Lambs - Hannibal

Categories
Alfred Hitchcock Classic Cinema

Book Review: The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock Master

The Twelve Lives Of Alfred Hitchcock - Cover

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Release Date: April 13, 2021

Edward White’s The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock is called a biography in the book’s marketing materials, but this text is actually a different animal. In any case, it falls short as a biography. It’s best to look at the book as a study of various aspects of Alfred Hitchcock’s personality or persona. There are twelve in total, and each is given its own chapter:

“The Boy Who Couldn’t Grow Up”

“The Murderer”

“The Auteur”

“The Womanizer”

“The Fat Man”

“The Dandy”

“The Family Man”

“The Voyeur”

“The Entertainer”

“The Pioneer”

“The Londoner”;

“The Man of God”

Each of these elements are examined in some depth as we learn biological information mixed with theoretical commentary. It’s all very interesting and thoroughly enjoyable even if we might disagree with certain opinions peppered throughout the pages or question some of the…

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"Making of" Classic Cinema

Book Review: Alright, Alright, Alright – The Oral History of Richard Linklater’s ‘Dazed and Confused’

Dazed - Book Cover

Publisher: Harper

Release Date: November 17, 2020

Melissa Maerz’s Alright, Alright, Alright – The Oral History of Richard Linklater’s ‘Dazed and Confused’ is what it claims to be. The text reads a lot like a transcript from the interview portion of a comprehensive “behind the scenes” documentary of the film in a lot of ways. Each chapter is given an extremely brief introduction to orient the reader before presenting a well-organized array of interview snippets (or quotations) that tell the story of the film’s creation. However, the information gleaned from this approach is largely anecdotal and concentrates on the individual experiences of making the film. It certainly isn’t a comprehensive account of the film’s creation. There is more about the interpersonal relationships than there is about the filmmaking itself, and this is probably the book’s primary weakness. Luckily, it is an extremely enjoyable read if you happen to be a fan of Linklater’s sophomore effort, and the book does offer a fair assortment of viewpoints so that the anecdotes relayed aren’t too one sided. Recommended.

Categories
Filmmakers

Book Review: The Nolan Variations

The Nolan Variations - Cover

Publisher: Penguin / Random House

Release Date: November 03, 2020

Imagine a college course on the cinema of Christopher Nolan. Tom Shone’s The Nolan Variations: The Movies Mysteries, and Marvels of Christopher Nolan would be the textbook. This beautifully rendered comprehensive examination of the director’s work is the most complete text on the subject to date, and it has benefited from the cooperation of Nolan himself. He has written a book that outclasses his incredible career-spanning texts on Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese (Tarantino: A Retrospective and Martin Scorsese: A Retrospective, and he takes a different approach to this volume in that he doesn’t present the information in a strictly chronological manner but is organized instead by thirteen themes and motifs (each constituting a chapter of the book): Structure, Orientation, Time, Perception, Space, Illusion, Chaos, Dreams, Revolution, Emotion, Survival, Knowledge, and Endings. Nolan fans will welcome and cherish this extensive volume as it will certainly embellish their knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of Nolan’s work. Highly Recommended.