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"Making of" Classic Cinema

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

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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.

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"Making of" Classic Cinema

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

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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.

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"Making of"

Book Review: The Secrets of Tenet – Inside Christopher Nolan’s Quantum Cold War

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Publisher: Insight Editions

Release Date: September 15, 2020

It must be said that The Secrets of Tenet – Inside Christopher Nolan’s Quantum Cold War took me by surprise. Most books of this sort tend to offer a somewhat superficial glimpse at a films production while relying on an excess of photographs to pad the sparse information provided. At best, one can call these attractive coffee table books “collector’s items,” but they are all gloss without any substance.

At first glance, James Mottram’s examination of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet seems as if it might follow this same pattern. After all, the book offers an incredibly rich assortment of photographs and is only 156 pages long. However, there is actually a rather interesting textual examination of the film’s production, and the “behind the scenes” photographs are hardly superfluous. They offer a revelatory look at the process and will certainly please Nolan’s many devotees. It’s a pleasure to scroll through the book’s pages.

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Those fortunate enough to own Mottram’s earlier examination of The Making of Dunkirk will have some idea as to what they can expect with this volume. It earns an easy recommendation for fans of the film and for anyone who admires Nolan’s work.

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"Making of" Directing Filmmakers

Book Review: My Best Friend’s Birthday – The Making of a Quentin Tarantino Film

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Publisher: BearManor Media

Release Date: October 06, 2019

My Best Friend’s Birthday: The Making of a Quentin Tarantino Film is a book that few expected. The film discussed wasn’t even completed, and most books on the director relegate this abandoned effort to a mere footnote. Andrew J. Rausch hopes to remedy this unfortunate tendency amongst Tarantino scholars. The writer interviewed a great many of those who worked on the project—including Tarantino himself—and presents these textual interview snippets in an order that traces how each of these people came together, other early film projects they worked on, and how they ended up making (or trying to make) a black-and-white screwball comedy. The final section of the book is a breakdown of the film as it would have been if it had been completed. He also makes the argument that My Best Friend’s Birthday is something far more meaningful than a curiosity. After all, the film’s production was a formative experience in Tarantino’s life. It helped shape his voice and prepared him for bigger and better projects. If the book has a weakness, it is that the “oral history” nature of the text results in a book that is sometimes slightly repetitive. However, one imagines that scholars and fans will be thrilled to have this information available to them as it offers a relatively detailed account of a part of Tarantino’s history that has been largely reduced to mere trivia until now.

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"Making of" Classic Cinema Production Design

Book Review: Joe Alves – Designing ‘Jaws’

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Publisher: Titan Books

Release Date: December 03, 2019

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) is one of the most enduring movies ever made. It has thrilled generations of audiences worldwide, and it is no wonder why there have been several books devoted to telling the story of the film’s production. On the surface, it may seem that another book on the subject is superfluous, but Dennis Prince’s beautiful new coffee table book zeros in on the enormous contributions of Joe Alves (the film’s production designer). Included are Joes’ stunning pre-production illustrations; handwritten location and production notes; on-set photographs; blueprints of the shark’s design and first-time publication of his complete catalogue of storyboards used to chart the heart-stopping action. Designing Jaws proves that there is still quite a bit more to learn about the film’s creation, and it adds to one’s appreciation of the film. Scholars will reference the book and fans will treasure it.

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"Making of" Classic Cinema Filmmakers

Book Review: Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film (40th Anniversary Edition)

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Publisher: Quarto Press

Release Date: November 19, 2019

For 40 years, audiences have been simultaneously captivated and appalled as the spaceship Nostromo is invaded and its crew stalked by a terrifying parasitic creature. From the gore of the infant alien bursting from Kane’s chest to the mounting claustrophobia as Ripley discovers the monster has followed her into the escape shuttle, Alien is a chilling masterpiece. It is a film that deserves an excellent “Making of” text, but are two texts really necessary?

Quarto Press is giving Ian Nathan’s Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film a 40th Anniversary edition that falls on the heels of J. W. Rinzler’s The Making of Alien—a larger and longer coffee table epic that this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed. However, there is something to be said for Ian Nathan’s original book, which manages to be just as gorgeous and engaging as Rinzler’s later work.

There is plenty of informational overlap, and both books contain some of the same production photographs. However, there are enough differences to recommend both texts to die-hard Alien fanatics. Both books trace the path of the film’s production “from embryonic concept to fully fledged box office phenomenon,” but there are differences in their delivery and a few nuggets of information that don’t cross over. What’s more, both books include a wealth of production photography, sketches, storyboards, and all sorts of pertinent visual documentation.

In fact, Nathan’s book adds icing to the cake by adding two compartments containing “ten meticulously reproduced artifacts—such as replications of storyboards, a detailed schematic of the Nostromo, early designs of O’Bannon’s face-hugger concept, and a promotional poster from Japan.” It’s a nice tactile bonus for fans to enjoy. What’s more, this 40th Anniversary edition has an added chapter that discusses “Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien saga with Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.” Better yet, lends this text added legitimacy by providing the book’s forward.

In other words, each book is nice enough to warrant a special place on the cinephile’s bookshelf. Casual fans who prefer to only add one book to their collection may find the Rinzler text a bit more substantial, but don’t proceed under the illusion that you aren’t missing anything by not examining Nathan’s beautiful book.

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"Making of" Directing Filmmakers

Book Review: Quentin Tarantino — The Iconic Filmmaker and His Work

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Publisher: Quarto Press

Release Date: October 01, 2019

Those who have read Ian Nathan’s wonderful book about the Coen Brothers (The Coen Brothers: The Iconic Filmmaker’s and Their Work) will know what to expect on this even better book about Quentin Tarantino’s filmography. One could call it a career biography as it is a nice fusion of scholarly analysis and “behind the scenes” information. Tarantino fans will want to have this on their shelves as it makes for terrific bedtime reading, and film scholars will be happy to have it as a resource (especially since there aren’t that many books about Quentin’s work). The book covers each of the director’s nine primary films—including Once Upon A Time In Hollywood—as well as those he wrote but didn’t direct (True Romance, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Natural Born Killers). Honestly, I am going to keep an eye out for any future books written by Ian Nathan.

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"Making of" Classic Cinema

Book Review: The Making of ‘Alien’

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Publisher: Titan Books

Release Date: July 23. 2019

Titan Books is marketing the book as “the definitive work on this masterpiece of popular cinema,” but it is difficult not to become skeptical about these so-called “making of” coffee table books. They are too often anemic in terms of actual information, and the often gorgeous production photography tends to feel like padding. This isn’t at all the case here as J.W. Rinzler’s text is surprisingly comprehensive. It covers each stage of the filmmaking process in rich detail, and the sometimes rare production photography is icing on a very enjoyable cake. It’s an essential book for fans of the film (although they are certain to already know at least some of the information presented here).

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"Making of"

Book Review: Rocketman – Inside the World of the Film

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Publisher: Carlton Books

Release Date: May 21, 2019

Elton John bestows his personal blessings upon this book by providing this book with a forward, but one feels that Rocketman: Inside the World of the Film may have limited appeal for casual fans of the film. Much like their earlier book about Bohemian Rhapsody, Carlton’s beautifully illustrated book about Rocketman is short on actual information. There are plenty of textual quotes and blurbs about the film’s production, but they aren’t terribly revelatory. It seems as if it has all been chosen from the film’s press book (and it probably was taken from the same promotional interviews). However, while Bohemian Rhapsody: The Inside Story claimed to be an all-access glimpse at the production of that film only to disappoint fans who were expecting this to be the case, Rocketman: Inside the World of the Film makes no such claim. In fact, the marketing materials describe the book quite admirably. It merely claims that this book “contains a wealth of amazing photographs from throughout the development and shooting of the movie as well as quotes and interviews from the cast and crew.” However, they may be stretching a point by claiming that it provides “a fascinating insight into how the film was made.” The production photographs are the meat and potatoes of this book. It’s a book for the die-hard fans of the film. It may also become a collectable as one doubts that this book tie-in will see many future printings, but those hoping for a comprehensive “making of” text are likely to be disappointed.

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"Making of"

Book Review: Bohemian Rhapsody: The Inside Story

 

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Publisher: Weldon Owen

Release Date: November 6, 2018

Queen alums lend this lavishly illustrated book a certain amount of legitimacy by providing a forward, but the fact is that the textual information provided here is little more than the sort of content expected from a well-produced press book. The marketing for “Bohemian Rhapsody: The Inside Story” claims that it will examine “all aspects of the making of the Queen biopic and the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen.” While this statement is technically true, it is certainly stretching a point. Readers are promised “full access to key cast and crew members who recount how Freddie Mercury (and Queen’s) story was brought to life,” but there is so much pertinent material pertaining to the actual production that is never mentioned. For example, it is public knowledge that Dexter Fletcher replaced Brian Singer as the film’s director for the final two weeks of production when Singer was fired. If Singer or Fletcher is even mentioned in these pages, it was an incredibly brief mention and probably presented in a fleeting comment about something else. The book does offer quite a bit of information as to what went into the production, some brief biographical information about the cast and about Queen, and a wealth of production photos. Actually, it is a massive understatement to say that the book is filled with a wealth of production photos, because more than two thirds of its 160 pages taken up with photography.

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One feels that the book does have something to offer die-hard fans of the film who are not expecting any kind of comprehensive production history. There is certainly information to be gleaned from the text, and the photos will please those looking for a light bedtime distraction. However, this is a book that is unlikely to satisfy casual readers. This one has been produced for the completest.

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