Book Review: Tarantino – A Retrospective

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Publisher: Insight Editions

Release Date: October 03, 2017

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.

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 fans of the director, but it almost seems a bit premature when one considers the fact that Tarantino has consistently insisted that he will only make ten films before he retires from making movies. With eight films under his belt, one wonders why Shone didn’t wait a few years to release the book so that it could include those two new projects. We can’t answer this question with any authority, but we can say with absolute certainty that fans will be very happy that they didn’t have to wait!

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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: 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: Hitchcock Lost and Found: The Forgotten Films

hitchcockmaster

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Publisher: The University Press of Kentucky

Release Date: March 6, 2015

“Our aim has been to examine successive stages of Hitchcock’s career in a level-headed way, finding out as much as possible about the material from his early years in the industry that still remains lost and providing solid data about a wider range of lost or neglected or otherwise problematic material…

…Most of our research has come to focus on three periods, the first parts of three successive decades: the apprenticeship of the early 1920s; the unstable period of the early 1930s, involving a response to the new technologies of synchronized sound and of primitive television; and the early 1940s, during which Hitchcock did a wide range of topical war-effort work on both sides of the Atlantic in the margins of his Hollywood features…” –Alain Kerzoncuf and Charles Barr (Introduction)

While recent books and articles discussing Alfred Hitchcock’s work…

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Book Review: FilmCraft: Screenwriting

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Publisher: Focal Press

Release Date: April 11, 2013

The FilmCraft book series focuses on specific disciplines within the filmmaking profession using interviews from noteworthy professionals in the field. This volume by Tim Grierson features interviews with 15 screenwriters, and profiles of 5 other important screenwriters.

The screenwriters interviewed in this volume are:

Hossein Amini
Guillermo Arriaga
John August
Mark Bomback
Jean-Claude Carrière
Lee Chang-dong
Stephen Gaghan
Christopher Hampton
David Hare
Anders Thomas Jensen
Billy Ray
Whit Stillman
Robin Swicord
Caroline Thompson
David Webb Peoples

The screenwriters profiled are:

Woody Allen
Ingmar Bergman
Paddy Chayefsky
Ben Hecht
Billy Wilder & I.A.L. Diamond

There will certainly be those that question Tim Grierson’s choice of screenwriters, but it would be nearly impossible to include every relevant writer in a single volume. The writers were chosen come from very diverse backgrounds, and this makes the individual interviews unique and valuable. Any reservations that one has about these particular choices are likely to fade once they start reading the book.

Those looking for a manual about script structure or a manual on “how to write a screenplay” will likely be disappointed with the text. The book is meant to be a resource of inspiration. There is a wealth of conflicting information (and advice) related to the readers. The idea that holds the volume together is that there are as many approaches to writing a screenplay as there are screenwriters. The writers interviewed talk passionately about their craft, and engage the reader immediately. The text is illustrated with wonderful photos, set drawings, and storyboards that make the book a visual treat. FilmCraft: Screenwriting is another addictive volume in the FilmCraft series. It will be a treasured addition to the libraries of anyone who loves the cinema, and a wonderful resource to future screenwriters.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition

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Publisher: Focal Press

Release Date: September 1, 2010

“I always wanted to have a guide that specialized in the specific requirements that are inherent to the composition of shots intended for telling stories with moving images, also known as cinematic composition. The reason for the differentiation is simple: the composition of shots for movies has developed its own set of conventions, sometimes appropriating concepts from other art forms (like painting or still photography), but also creating its own aesthetic principles and visual language because of its unique characteristics (the fixed size of the frame, the movement of the subject and/or camera, the technology used to capture images, the way images are shown in conjunction with other images, etc.).

 As you can probably guess, I never found such a guide, so I decided to write The Filmmaker’s Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition to fill the gap in this critical area of filmmaking. This book combines, for the first time, a specialized, focused guide to the most common and basic shots of the film vocabulary, from the extreme close up to the extreme long shot…” -Gustavo Mercado

Gustavo Mercado’s book is an essential read for anyone wanting to work in the film industry. This is especially true if they plan to direct a film, or work as a cinematographer. The book opens with general information about composition. This overview covers such topics as aspect ratios, frame axes, the rule of thirds, balanced and unbalanced compositions, and image systems. The information learned in the opening pages is essential for the reader to get the most out of the following chapters.

These chapters cover the various different shots that one finds in films (Close Up, Medium Shot, Long Shot, Dolly Shot, Zoom Shot, and etcetera). Each chapter is exactly six pages in length. The first page contains a screenshot that provides a visual example of the kind of shot the chapter will discuss, and second page gives an overview of this particular type of shot. The next two pages provide another example of this kind of shot, along with text to explain why the shot works. The fifth page does into the technical considerations that one must understand before trying to achieve such a shot. Finally, the sixth page provides a screenshot (or a series of screenshots) from yet another film. The text included on this page discusses how one might subvert the rules in order to achieve unique results with this kind of shot (or how to break the rules).

This is an excellent introduction to cinematic composition. It is certainly the best resource on this particular topic that I have read. Mercado wisely uses screenshots to illustrate his text in a way that the reader can quickly grasp the material. Film schools should use this book in their curriculum (if they don’t already).

Review by: Devon Powell