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: The Making of ‘The Wizard of Oz’

The Making of 'The Wizard of Oz'

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Release Date: October 1, 2013

The question before us is as follows:

Is The Making of ‘The Wizard of Oza good book or a bad book?

Aljean Harmetz’s seminal text about the production of MGM’s 1939 classic trumps all of the Oz texts that followed it, and this 75th Anniversary edition of the book gives fans of the film a good opportunity to visit this text if they haven’t already indulged. This compressive history of the production is superior even to the various documentaries on the subject (it covers more territory).

These pages go beyond the film to discuss the climate and methods of studio filmmaking (particularly at MGM). It goes a long way to dispel a lot of untrue myths that surrounded the production, and should exponentially enhance one’s enjoyment of the film. Other books may provide a larger array of stills and production images, but no amount of eye candy can replace the research that went into this book. It receives a most enthusiastic recommendation.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Chainsaw Confidential

Chainsaw Confidential

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Release Date: September 24, 2013

Gunnar Hansen has written an incredibly lucid text on the making of one of cinema’s most beloved (and hated) horror films. Chainsaw Confidential: How We Made the World’s Most Notorious Horror Movie chronicles the story of how the original 1974 version of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ was created and the impact that it had on future horror films. Better yet, fans will learn the story from one of the film’s most instrumental actors. Yes, Gunnar Hansen is the man that portrayed “Leatherface.” However, we are not limited to his personal perspective. Hansen has seen fit to conduct interviews with other members of the cast and crew, and he has put these interviews to excellent use.

It must be said that the book is an enjoyable and interesting reading experience. Horror fans that have not yet read the book should remedy this immediately.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Crystal Lake Memories – The Complete History of Friday the 13th

Crystal Lake Memories

Publisher: Titan Books

Release Date: October 11, 2006

“Over the past few years, I have gotten to know Peter Bracke, the author, as he has carefully and painstakingly assembled his research. At this point, I’m sure that Peter’s the world’s most informed expert on the subject. Now, I think that it’s hilarious that when I have a question about events concerning any one of the movies, I always call Peter to ask him what really happened. Peter Knows.” –Sean S. Cunningham (Forward to Crystal Lake Memories)

Those that believe that Jason Voorhees is the king of masked killers will probably agree that Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th is the king of coffee table books. Peter Bracke spent countless hours researching a film series that most people would discount as trash. The stories of all eleven films are discussed using the words of those involved in the making of the films. (Luckily, information on the ill-advised remake isn’t included.) Better yet, these aren’t the rants of devotees of the series. The interviews put the films in their proper perspective (and words aren’t minced). Not everyone that participated in the making of these films can be described as fans, but their testimonies aren’t censored.

The book probably won’t be helpful to those that are looking for practical information on how to make a movie, and those looking for a studied analysis of the genre will also be disappointed. This is simply a comprehensive look at the making of each of the Friday the 13th films. It is a low-brow text for the fans of a low-brow series, and this is as it should be. Bracke obviously knows his audience. The book earns an easy recommendation for fans of the series, and is probably essential for devotees of the slasher genre. It would also make a fabulous Halloween gift for fans. Many would prefer it to bags of candy.

CLM

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: On Location in Blairstown – The Making of Friday the 13th

On Location in Blairstown

Publisher: AuthorMike Ink

Release Date: September 13, 2013

David Grove has written an extremely comprehensive history of the low budget exploitation film, Friday the 13th. He has based the book’s structure on the film’s original shooting schedule, filling in details and anecdotes in the general order that they happened in the film’s production. The meat of this detail is built from exhaustive original interviews with the film’s cast and crew. One might question why one would go to this much trouble to document such a critically reviled production, but the fact is that there is much to learn from the success of these little exploitation flicks. Friday the 13th is one of the most iconic slasher films of all time, and it would be a mistake to disregard it because it doesn’t strive for high art. As a matter of fact, part of the fun of Grove’s book comes from the fact that Sean Cunningham was merely trying to make a profitable exploitation film to keep his head above water. The film is treated as a fun piece of entertainment that was custom made for the average Joe. Fans of the film (and the series) will find the book difficult to put down. New filmmakers will find inspiration in the cast and crew’s guerilla techniques. We are happy to recommend this text to anyone that enjoys a few decent low brow thrills.

On Location in Blairstown - back

Review by: Devon Powell

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: Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece

Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story - Cover

Publisher: Voyageur Press

Release Date: November 11, 2013

Pulp Fiction: The Complete Story of Quentin Tarantino’s Masterpiece by Jason Bailey is an extremely engaging work about what is probably Tarantino’s most popular film. The cover states that the book features “film stills and behind-the-scenes photos from the archives of Miramax and Quentin Tarantino.” While these photos are forthcoming, the book is instead mostly made up of Pulp Fiction inspired pop art. One shouldn’t consider this a flaw. On the contrary, the fan art contained in these pages is a testimony to the film’s impact upon pop culture. Since Tarantino’s film was heavily influenced by pop culture, the cycle seems to be complete.

What is even more pleasing is Bailey’s lucid text, which is comprehensive and enlightening without becoming mere dry commentary. Pretension is kept to a bare minimum as he discusses the creation of this influential film, and the impact that it has had upon contemporary cinema. In addition to Bailey’s text, there are a number of essays contained in this volume that cover everything from the history of Pulp literature (“Putting the Pulp in Pulp” by Adam Rosen, the film’s structure (“Pulp Fiction’s Modern Classical Structure” by Kevin Howley), the film’s eclectic music (“Pulp Music” by Gary Graff), the history of the F-bomb (“Pulp Fiction and the F-Word” by Mark Peters), and Tarantino’s blaxploitation influences (“Pulp Fiction and the Black Cool” by Alisha Harris). There is even a chart that puts each scene in chronological order! Tarantino fans should certainly clear a place for this book on their shelves. However, cinemaphiles should be aware that the book is extremely difficult to put down!

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Review by: Devon Powell