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

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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: The Digital Filmmaking Handbook (5th Edition)

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Publisher: Cengage Learning PTR

Release Date: July 3, 2014

Once upon a time, digital filmmaking was the bastard stepchild of cinema. It allowed for a dramatic increase in independent films, but few Hollywood films were produced in the digital realm. Today, film is unfortunately nearing extinction. Nearly every Hollywood is shot using digital cinema technology, and it is becoming a popular distribution and projection method. In other words, The Digital Filmmaking Handbook could have easily been titled The Filmmaking Handbook.

When one compares Sonja Schenk and Ben Long’s text to similar texts (such as Single-Camera Video Production), this 5th edition has the obvious advantage. It covers a slightly wider range of topics, and does so in a more comprehensive manner than many other texts. It is certainly an informative guide for the beginning filmmaker, and should be a wonderful refresher for those that simply want to keep up with the advancements in technology. Teachers might also find that the text is a useful classroom tool, and the pages include various tutorials that should be ideal for certain learning environments.

Review by: Devon Powell

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

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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

Book Review: In the Blink of an Eye – 2nd Edition

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Publisher: Silman-James Press

Release Date: August 1, 2001

“Many of the thoughts that follow… are therefore more truly cautionary notes to myself; working methods I have developed for coping with my particular volcanoes and glaciers. As such, they are insights into one person’s search for balance, and are perhaps to others more for the glimpses of the search itself than for specific methods that search has produced.” –Walter Murch (Preface)

In the Blink of an Eye – 2nd Edition can be separated into two distinct halves. The first covers a very broad range of territory, and is essentially a transcript of a lecture given by Walter Murch at Spectrum Films in Sidney, Australia in October of 1988. The second half focuses on Digital editing (as it stood in 2001).

Both sections are less about the nuts and bolts of editing, and more of a lucid discussion about editing in theory. Why do cuts work? How does one go about editing a film properly? Walter Murch is an established authority on this topic, and one wished that some of the editors currently working would read the book. Their work might exponentially improve. It is obvious that Murch has given film editing a great deal of thought, and his experience and wisdom would benefit anyone wishing to edit features.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: The Filmmaker’s Guide to Production Design

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Publisher: Allworth Press

Release Date: May 1, 2002

Vincent Lobrutto’s “The Filmmaker’s Guide to Production Design” is a wonderful companion to Ward Preston’s “What an Art Director Does: An Introduction to Motion Picture Production Design.” While the latter book is a useful introduction to the responsibilities of the Art Director, Lobrutto’s text focuses in on the Production Designer in a bit more detail. The book is surprisingly comprehensive, and there is quite a bit of information to digest. It isn’t exactly one stop shopping for anyone with the desire of getting into the field of production design, but it is a rather solid foundation that one can build further knowledge upon. Future directors would also benefit from reading the text, because anyone with a vision needs to have a basic understanding of what is necessary to achieve that vision. “The Filmmaker’s Guide to Production Design” is recommended reading.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Film Craft: Production Design

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Publisher: Focal Press

Release Date: October 1, 2012

The FilmCraft book series focuses on specific disciplines within the filmmaking profession using interviews from noteworthy professionals in the field. This volume by Fionnuala Halligan features interviews with sixteen production designers, and profiles of five other production designers.

The production designers interviewed in this volume are:

Ken Adam

Jim Bissell

Rick Carter

William Chang Suk-ping

Stuart Craig

Nathan Crowley

Dante Ferretti

Jack Fisk

Antxón Gómez

Sarah Greenwood

Grant Major

Alex McDowell

John Myhre

Eve Stewart

Yohei Taneda

Dean Tavoularis

The production designers profiled are:

John Box

Cedric Gibbons

William Cameron Menzies

Ferdinando Scarfiotti

Richard Sylbert

There may be a number of people that question the choice of production designers interviewed in this volume, but it would be nearly impossible to include every relevant artist currently working in this field. The individuals chosen for this volume come from very diverse backgrounds. This makes each of the interviews unique and valuable. Any reservations that one initially has are likely to fade once they start reading the book.

There is a wealth of conflicting information related to the readers. The idea that holds the volume together is that each of the artists has a unique approach to their job that set them apart from others working in the field. The book is especially valuable due to the fact that many people do not understand what a production designer actually does.

The text is illustrated with wonderful photos and concept sketches from recognizable films. This makes the book a visual treat. FilmCraft: Production Design will be a treasured addition to the libraries of anyone who loves the cinema, and a wonderful resource of inspiration to future filmmakers.

Review by: Devon Powell