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

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Book Review: Boyhood: 12 Years on Film

Boyhood: 12 Years on FilmPublisher: The University of Texas Press

Release Date: November 1, 2014

“Unlike the film, which embodies the passing of time, Matt Lankes’ stills and portraits capture something very different – single moments in suspended time. You would look around on the set and there was Matt with his camera, shooting behind-the-scenes photos, and with his impromptu black portrait booth, grabbing everyone for a few precious minutes. I have really been looking forward to the day all his work, this long-term photographic project, could be viewed as a collection. I’m so glad this book exists, as a gallery of his portraits and a testament to the memories that we created in making Boyhood.” –Richard Linklater (Boyhood: 12 Years on Film)

In 2002, director Richard Linklater and a crew began filming the “Untitled 12-Year Project.” He cast four actors (Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, and Lorelei Linklater) in the role of a family and filmed them each year over the next dozen years. Supported by IFC Productions, Linklater, cast, and crew began the commitment of a lifetime that became the film, Boyhood. Seen through the eyes of a young boy in Texas, Boyhood unfolds as the characters—and actors—age and evolve, the boy growing from a soft-faced child into a young man on the brink of his adult life, finding himself as an artist.

Photographer Matt Lankes captured the progression of the film and the actors through the lens of a 4×5 camera, creating a series of arresting portraits and behind-the-scenes photographs. His work documents Linklater’s unprecedented narrative that used the real-life passage of years as a key element to the storytelling.

 Just as the film calls forth memories of childhood and lures one into a place of self-reflection, Boyhood: Twelve Years on Film presents an honest collection of faces, placed side-by-side, that chronicles the passage of time as the camera connects with the cast and crew on an intimate level.

Each chapter is introduced with an article written by the principal participants in the making of the film (Richard Linklater, Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland, and of course Matt Lankes). Some of these articles are more in-depth than others, but each is unique and supplies the reader with a context of what it was like to work on this interesting project from their own individual perspectives. These articles add richness to the beautiful photography contained in the book.

This gorgeous book is a rare treat for anyone that appreciates still photography, and a blessing for anyone who loved Linklater’s wonderful film.

Review by: Devon Powell

Book Review: Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work

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Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic

Release Date: March 15, 2007

J.J. Murphy’s Me and You and Memento and Fargo: How Independent Screenplays Work is a study of the screenplay structure used in twelve successful independent films (Stranger than Paradise, Safe, Fargo, Trust, Gas Food Lodging, Me and You and Everyone We Know, Reservoir Dogs, Elephant, Memento, Mulholland Drive, Gummo, and Slacker). Murphy compares the structure of these films to the ‘traditional’ three act paradigm that is taught in the manuals. Syd Field, Linda Seger, Robert McKee, and other notable manual writers are discussed and quoted at length. Murphy often does this in order to compare the structure of these independent films to traditional structure that is taught by screenwriting manuals. These quotes are often associated with the films discussed in the book, but while the manuals tend to explain why these diversions from typical structural paradigms are a mistake, Murphy argues that these diversions are actually responsible for the success of the film. Murphy claims that these unusual diversions from the structure taught in manuals subvert audience expectations in original ways (and actually add resonance to the themes covered in these films).

While this book isn’t a screenwriting manual, it has the potential to serve future scriptwriters by validating the desire to digress from traditional paradigms. It makes a nice companion to the more rigid manuals on the market. This text will also be of interest to fans of the various films discussed in these pages. Before reading Murphy’s book, this reviewer had only seen seven of the twelve films discussed. It created a strong desire to watch the other five films, and managed to raise my appreciation for the seven films that I had previously seen.

Review by: Devon Powell