Book Review: Reconstructing Strangelove – Inside Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Nightmare Comedy’

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Publisher: Wallflower Press

Release Date: January 2017

Mick Broderick offers Kubrick scholars a rare glimpse into the creation of what may very well be the director’s most important film: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The text makes use of Kubrick’s own production papers from the Stanley Kubrick Archives in order to dissect the film’s creative evolution as well as its legitimacy in terms of how accurate the film’s depiction of nuclear warfare policies actually were. Several popular myths about the film’s production are proven false even as others are confirmed. Broderick doesn’t try to document the film’s creation and the reader shouldn’t expect a comprehensive examination of the film’s creation. Instead, we are given a scholarly examination of how the film was shaped by the cold war environment, the scientists and world leaders who created that environment, and Kubrick’s creative collaborators. It earns an easy recommendation for fans of the director and for those who admire the film itself.

Review by: Devon Powell

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Book Review: Partners in Suspense

hitchcockmaster

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Publisher: Manchester University Press

Release Date: January 18, 2017

“This book brings together new work and new perspectives on the relationship between Hitchcock and Herrmann. Featuring chapters by leading scholars of Hitchcock’s work, the volume examines the working relationship between the two and the contribution that Herrmann’s work brings to Hitchcock’s idiom, as well as expanding our understanding of how music fits into that body of work. The goal of these analyses is to explore approaches to sound, music, collaborative authorship, and the distinctive contribution that Herrmann brought to Hitchcock’s films. Consequently, the book examines these key works, with particular focus on what Elisabeth Weis called ‘the extra-subjective films’—Vertigo (1958),Psycho (1960),The Birds (1963)—and explores Herrmann’s palpable role in shaping the sonic and musical landscape of Hitchcock’s work, which, the volume argues, has a considerable transformative effect on how we understand Hitchcock’s authorship.

The collection examines the significance…

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Book Review: Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters

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Inside His Films, Notebooks, and Collections

Publisher: Insight Editions

Release Date: August 30, 2016

“This exhibition presents a small fraction of the things that have moved me, inspired me, and consoled me as I transit through life. It’s a devotional sampling of the enormous love that is required to create, maintain, and love monsters in our lives.” Guillermo del Toro

An unusual new exhibit on the work of Guillermo del Toro recently opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) before moving on to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and the Minneapolis Museum of Art (MIA). Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters is the exhibit’s official catalogue, and claims to focus on del Toro’s creative process, including the well-defined themes that he obsessively returns to in all his films, the journals in which he logs his ideas, and the vast collection of art and pop culture ephemera that he has amassed at Bleak House (the director’s unusual “man cave”). The book is filled with imagery from the exhibition, including art selections curated by del Toro himself and pertinent pages from his own journals.

Essays by various curators and historians focus on the nature of collecting or give historical information about monsters and their importance. These essays are interesting enough, but those wishing for real insight into the director’s creative process might be disappointed. This information is confined to a short but interesting interview with del Toro. Unfortunately, the interview could hardly be considered an in-depth study of his creative process. Even the handful of pages from the director’s notebooks don’t really provide much in the way of actual information about the director’s work.

Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters will make a great souvenir for those who attend his expedition, but those who want concrete insights to the director’s work or creative process will feel short changed. This beautiful but somewhat anemic book is for the completest.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Interview: The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia

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Publisher: Rowman and Littlefield

Release Date: June 09, 2016

A Conversation with Steven Whitty

Several decades after his last motion picture was produced, Alfred Hitchcock is still regarded by critics and fans alike as one of the masters of cinema. To study the life and films of Alfred Hitchcock is to study the history of cinema. From the silent films of the 1920s to his final feature in 1976, the director’s many films continue to entertain audiences and inspire filmmakers. In The Alfred Hitchcock Encyclopedia, Stephen Whitty provides a detailed overview of the director’s work. This reference volume features in-depth critical entries on each of his major films as well as biographical essays on his most frequent collaborators and discussions of significant themes in his work. For this book, Whitty doesn’t merely draw from the overwhelming pool of scholarship that already exists (though this does seem to be the…

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Book Review: Hidden Hitchcock

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Publisher: The University of Chicago Press

Release Date: August 1, 2016

“It is my project here to trace a different, more devious rout taken by the surplus scrutiny that Hitchcock mobilizes in us. In contrast to the games that he is known to play with his Pavlovianly [sic] trained mass audience, I postulate a game he would be playing with that absurdly, pointlessly watchful spectator who dwells within us all, but whom, as members of a mass audience, or as critics in loyal alignment with it, we mostly put on lockdown; and whom I call the Too-Close Viewer. In this game, and for this viewer alone, Hitchcock would cultivate, alongside his manifest style with its hyper-legible images, a secret style that sows these images with radical duplicity. The type of duplicity to which this book gives emblematic pride of place is the hidden picture, in which a strongly narrativized…

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Book Review: Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids – Thirty Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas

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Publisher: University of Texas Press

Release Date: March 1, 2010

Alison Macor’s Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids: Thirty Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas is an extremely entertaining text for anyone that enjoys independent cinema. The focus of the book is the ever growing film community in Austin, Texas. Each chapter focuses on a single film (more or less) as Macor chronicles their creation. There are occasional digressions about the Austin Film Society, The Texas Film Commission, and other film related institutions in Austin.

 The following is a comprehensive list of films that are discussed in detail.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

 Readers are take behind the scenes of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The making of this 1974 classic is as interesting as the final result, and these 47 pages tend to breeze by much more quickly than one might prefer. One might even say that the book is worth reading for this chapter alone, but there is much more to appreciate.

The Whole Shootin’ Match

The production of Eagle Pennell’s debut feature is discussed at length (16 pages). This reviewer has never had the privilege of seeing The Whole Shootin’ Match, but these pages have nursed a strong desire to remedy this oversight.

Red Headed Stranger

 These 23 pages didn’t maintain this reviewer’s interest nearly as much as some of the other chapters, but there are some interesting anecdotes about the making of this somewhat obscure Willie Nelson vehicle.

Slacker

 One of the most interesting chapters in this text covers the creation and release of Richard Linklater’s unusual debut film. Anyone who has already seen Slacker should thoroughly enjoy these pages (as will fans of Linklater’s cinema). The film’s unusual production is covered in exhaustive detail.

El Mariachi

 Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi is also discussed in detail (as is his sophomore effort, Desperado). These 35 pages are yet another wonderful highlight of Macor’s text.

Dazed and Confused

Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused is discussed at length (39 pages). It is interesting to read about Linklater’s struggle with Universal to maintain his vision at nearly every single phase of the film’s production.

The Newton Boys

 While this chapter mainly focuses on Linklater’s first failure, there are also a few passages about Before Sunrise and SubUrbia.

Dancer, Texas Pop. 81

This is another film that this reviewer hasn’t actually seen, but the text was still quite fascinating. It didn’t have the same appeal that most of the other chapters had, but there is no doubt that other readers will disagree.

Office Space

In this incredibly engaging chapter, readers can learn about the career evolution of Mike Judge. These pages discuss the genesis of Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill, and segues into the production of Office Space. These pages are somehow totally different than many of the other chapters, but enriches the text in interesting ways.

Spy Kids

 For the text’s final pages, Macor returns to the career of Robert Rodriguez. The text focuses mostly on the production of Spy Kids, but also briefly discusses Once Upon A Time in Mexico and Sky Kids 2. Rodriguez fans should find this chapter especially interesting.

This book is at its best when it is discussing these films, but many will also find the passages about Austin’s various film organizations interesting. The book definitely earns an easy recommendation.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: The Blair Witch Project (Devil’s Advocates)

The Blair Witch Project (Devil's Advocates)

Publisher: Auteur

Release Date: May 26, 2015

 This reviewer feels compelled to admit that the “found footage” format has never been a favorite. What was unique in 1999 has become a tired approach to the horror film. However, one must admit that few films have had the influence and impact of The Blair Witch Project (1999). Its arrival was a horror cinema palette cleanser after a decade of serial killers and postmodern intertextuality, a bare bones ‘found footage’ trend setter. In this Devil’s Advocate, Peter Turner tells the story of the film from his conception and production then provides a unique analysis of the techniques used, their appeal to audiences and the themes that helped make the film such an international hit, including the pioneering internet marketing.

This study of The Blair Witch Project doesn’t have a lot of meat on its bones. The most interesting chapters are those that tend to focus on the film’s creation (production and post production) and marketing campaign. Unfortunately, these passages are far from comprehensive. The scholarly analysis is occasionally engaging, but Peter Turner has a tendency to repeat himself. Some of his analysis seems like an attempt to stretch what is essentially an article into the 89 pages that make up this “book.”

Review by: Devon Powell

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