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: 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