Book Review: The Coen Brothers. This Book Really Ties the Films Together

 

“I don’t pretend to be a critic, but lord knows I have a gut, and my gut tells me it’s simply marvellous.”

Adam Nayman’s The Coen Brothers; This Books Really Ties The Films Together reviewed by contributing writer, Niall James Holohan.

 

Joel and Ethan Coen have been making influential feature films for over thirty years now and so it stands to reason that Canadian critic Adam Nayman thought a full-bodied retrospective might be in order.

For any avid cinephile, being asked to name your favourite Coen Brothers’ movie is like being handed a Rubik’s cube of Sophie’s choices, to which the answer may change depending on the stakes but will most likely always begin with a plaintive ‘Oh Geez’. This is a testament to how elastic the brothers’ storytelling abilities are and, Nayman argues, affirmation of an enduring interest in the subversive.

In order to do this persuasively, This Book Really Ties The Films Together swings energetically between red-letter interviews with the Coen brothers as well as key collaborators like DOP Roger Deakins and Nayman’s own essays on the films that the brothers have written and directed. It is packed full of fun facts and Easter eggs for the über fan too. For example, did you know that fifteen different babies were cast to play the part of the Nathan Arizona’s kidnapped quintuplet in Raising Arizona? Or that the first draft script for Barton Fink (my favourite Coen brothers film) emerged during a week’s period of writer’s block while working on the screenplay for Miller’s Crossing (a film, by the way, which the brothers’ turned Warner Bros. Batman down to make).

From the ubiquitous uniformed lift operators to Gabriel Byrne’s hat, motifs are revealed and their significance discussed. What’s more, cinematic theme is considered not just within a particular film but across a body of work.

You’re darn tootin’

I have been a huge Coen brothers fan since I first saw Fargo, the film that pretended to be true, as a teenager in 1996 but so far-reaching is Nayman’s research and insight into the creative process behind the Coen’s cult classics that I am sure even the most avid fan will find this formidable book very revealing.

For instance, I learned that Marlon Brando was their first choice to play Jeffrey Lebowski and that while many chin-stroking film critics like to talk about O, Brother Where Are Thou? in terms of Homer’s Odyssey, the brothers themselves admit that they were really going for a Great Depression era Wizard of Oz so perhaps Ulysses, the peacocking cat featured heavily in Inside Llewyn Davis is the closest they’ve actually got to filming Odyssey.

That said, as you progress through the book, I couldn’t help but think of Reidenschneider in The Man Who Wasn’t There who says that “the more you look, the less you really know” but to judge the journey Nayman takes us on with this abundant trope would be to misunderstand that it is a far more instinctual book than it is an analytic one. In harnessing this wonderful abandon juxtaposed with a painstaking attention to detail, he effectively channels what I think we all love about the Coen Brothers themselves. Think about it. Whether it’s between art and commerce, peace and disruption or humility and hubris, the Coen Brothers’ characters are usually engaged in an epic and darkly comic battle between chaos and reason and often the absurdity of the notion that anything could be definitively logical and appropriate is all that prevails.

He was alive when I buried him.

Since the release of their dark neo-noir mystery Blood Simple in the mid-eighties, the brothers Coen have been hailed as ground-breaking chroniclers of the ruinous and riotous tale. So, if you have a friend who ever wondered how the inventor of the hula hoop might find himself suicidal at Christmas or how a baby in a car seat might survive a high-speed chase, then maybe they’d be reckless enough to pick up Nayman’s book.

There are few other filmmaking teams that can boast the latitude that the Coens have managed to explore in their work and Nayman’s book attempts to illustrate how it is possible to succeed in breaking such diverse productions as Barton Fink and True Grit or Intolerable Cruelty and A Serious Man.

Drawing heavily on his knowledge of film production methods and cinematic history and with a keen eye for the concepts that emerge and re-emerge in the Coen Brothers’ work, Nayman has put together an urgent and compelling tribute to the two mild-mannered brothers from Minnesota showed us the life of the mind. The Coen Brothers; This Books Really Ties The Films Together is a must for any film buff and required reading for all the stoned bowlers and murderous insurance salesman out there.

 

Adam Nayman is a contributing editor for Cinema Scope and writes on film for The Ringer, Sight and Sound, Reverse Shot, and Little White Lies. He has written books on Showgirls and the films of Ben Wheatley, and lectures on cinema and journalism at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University

Niall James Holohan is a contributing writer for Film Ireland, The Psychologist and the L.A. Review Of Books. He is currently a Psychology undergraduate at the University of East London and Film Studies undergraduate at the University of Cambridge. 

www.nialljholohan.com

 

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Book Review: Twenty First Century Horror Films

Sarah Cullen checks out Douglas Keesey’s examination of over 100 contemporary horror films. 

In the opening note of Twenty First Century Horror Films, author Douglas Keesey writes that “This book gives explanations of what these movies mean.” Such an assertion is a bold move for any film critic to make. And one which I am not sure the collection is wholly successful in achieving – after all, what does Keesey mean by this?

Covering over a hundred movies from the last twenty years and broken into three major sections, “Nightmares,” ”Nations,” and “Innovations,” Twenty First Century Horror Films spans a wide range, both from the United States and worldwide.  Keesey uses this format to explore an expansive collection of films, each examined thematically or with regards to their country of origin, with approximately a page and a half for each instalment.

Focusing mainly on story summary with a psychoanalytical bent, Keesey’s film-outlines tend to prioritise the actions of character over issues of style or production. Some of the subsections, particularly in “Nightmares”, are surprisingly short, with many of the subsections having only two films per subheading. Several, such as ‘Sharks,’ have only one (Open Water in this instance). There is also surprisingly little value judgement to be found, which is disappointing because some of the most interesting material to be found is in the compendium’s more analytical moments. Keesey’s examination of both the pros and cons of the 2013 Carrie remake, and the discussion of Cloverfield‘s problematic interrogation of 9/11, to take two examples, provide some interesting food for thought.

There is, however, no explanation given as to why certain films are chosen over others. While no collection of the twenty-first century could expect to be fully comprehensive, some explanation regarding the selection process would be helpful here, particularly due to the decision to include horror films from the late nineties, such as The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project.

Keesey also warns in the opening note that the “meaning” of a film is often tied up with its ending, and for this reason he advises readers to have either watched the film already or to be prepared for spoilers. While this advice works for the most part, there are a couple of times when prior knowledge of the films may in fact be required, as the plot summary does not provide quite enough information to be followed otherwise. In the description of Under the Skin, Keesey writes that many of the men Scarlett Johansson interacts with were in fact “regular Glaswegian guys unaware that their conversations with this woman were being filmed by hidden cameras.” Following this, he describes one man as being “mesmerised by the sight of her flesh” to the point that “he does not notice himself sinking into a sticky black substance” where he soon implodes: “his innards sucked out of his skin.” While the reader will no doubt discern that this is presumably not a “regular Glaswegian guy”, the text unfortunately does not make this entirely clear!

While Keesey’s collection is often a thought-provoking look at many of the most influential horror films of the past two decades, it’s hard to argue that he has achieved his goal of explaining what these movies mean. Certain sections of the book are stronger than others and in particular more critical assessment would be welcome. However, Twenty First Century Horror Films will be a useful tool for academics and horror enthusiasts alike, providing as it does some interesting alternative viewpoints to an established canon.

 

  • Paperback: 1 pages
  • Publisher: Kamera (23 Mar. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843449056
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843449058
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2 x 19.7 cm
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Book Review: The Chaplin Machine: Slapstick, Fordism and the International Communist Avant-Garde

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June Butler takes a look at Owen Hatherley’s The Chaplin Machine: Slapstick, Fordism and the International Communist AvantGarde.

Owen Hatherley has left no stone unturned in this marvellous book on Charlie Chaplin basing it on the rather novel angle of ‘Slapstick, Fordism and the Communist Avant Garde’.

For most authors, tackling one aspect of this subject would be a daunting task – Hatherley however, simply takes it in his stride. And to say he keeps his promises is an understatement – the opening lines present a rousing soliloquy from Charles Chaplin himself as he breaks character in The Great Dictator (1940):

“Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfil that promise! Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!”

Hatherley leads with an in-depth study of Frederick Winslow Taylor, (an American industrial theorist and engineer), who recounts how he succeeded in persuading an ‘ox-life’ Dutch immigrant called Schmidt achieve a seemingly impossible output of work based on Taylor’s mathematical calculations. In these sums, Winslow estimated the ‘precise measurement and recording’ of Schmidt’s physical abilities in order to maximise the worker’s capabilities. Taylor constantly teases Schmidt by asking if he is a ‘high priced man’, thus leading the poor fellow to consider lifting 48 tons of pig iron per day for $1.85, an increase of merely 70c on the previous output of 30 tons. The goal as Winslow puts it, is to deflect Schmidt from considering the impossibility of the task and instead dangle a pay rise in front of him so it becomes all he sees. Hatherley posits the idea that there is something essentially masterful about effectively duping the hapless Schmidt into working harder for not much more money. He feels that were it not for the context, it would be almost as if Taylor has become a stage hypnotist with Schmidt as his gullible victim. Hatherley makes the statement that his book concerns those people who envisaged ‘turning industrial labour into a circus act’.

Taylor’s principles came to be applied within the Ford Empire as ‘time and motion’ and was strictly adhered to in accordance with Henry Ford’s own work ethic. Such was the success of Taylor’s theories, they were diligently put into practise when the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics set up their own institutes. A former metalworker, trade union leader and poet in the Proletkult (‘proletarian culture’), Alexei Gastev founded an Institute of Labour in order to train workers in the new concepts of Taylorist principles and, as his ideas grew in success, they came to be applied outside the factory walls and into daily life.

Hatherley maintains his book is based on an unplanned cultural exchange between three poles. Two consist of the Trans-European route that went from Weimar Germany to the U.S.S.R. The third refers to America but without denoting the actual space of the country itself, the allusion is accredited to a collection of ideas, concepts, technologies, and the mass-production of goods and art objects. ‘America’ was the place where mankind had begun to truly take control of nature and attempt to bend it to its will yet, astoundingly, very few Russians who welcomed American theories had ever actually visited the country which meant that for a number of these, America was a dream, not an actual place. 

For the moralising Soviets, however, ‘America’ came under fire for its supposed exploitation of labourers and minority groups. Dziga Vertov’s 1926 documentary film, One Sixth of the World, offers a panoramic view of the industries and peoples of the Soviet Union and opens with images of that which it is not – a black American jazz band energetically plays as affluent whites dance and shimmy with gay abandon. According to Vertov’s condemnatory intertitles, this is the descent of a dying class – the danse macabre of an era coming to an end. While Vertov extrapolates what he needs from these images, the mesmerising rhythm and pace of the dancers, essentially he is also creating a heartbeat which resonates for the duration of the film. Vertov and others, including Elizaveta Svilova who edited One Sixth of the World, were part of a sect called the ‘Kinoks’ otherwise translated as ‘life caught unawares’. Vertov et al, wanted to depict post-revolutionary life in all its comicality – a veritable banana skin applied to a world turned upside down.

It is this positioning and careful placement of American mass culture against a backdrop of political critique, a nod towards labour and contemporary urban life as comic or ‘slapstick’ containing plenty of ‘new stupidities’, and the creation of a new comic space as well as innovative forms of architecture, that have provided the core theme running through this book. Americanism can be thus referred to as Chaplinism.

Hatherley has researched his topic thoroughly and relentlessly – points are made and supported with pithy quotes and examples. Nothing is left to chance. This truly is an impressive read and an excellent research guide to those who would like to investigate the topic further – a lot further!

 
 

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Book Review: Alex Cox’s Introduction to Film – A Director’s Perspective

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June Butler finds a lot to like in Alex Cox’s Introduction to Film – A Director’s Perspective.

 

 

Alex Cox’s An Introduction to Film – A Director’s Perspective is probably one of the best in-depth pieces written on cinema for some time – not since Peter Biskind’s Gods and Monsters or the equally wonderful Hollywood’s Second Sex by Aubrey Malone, has anecdotal story telling become such an intrinsic part of reading film. From Cox’s text, it is eminently clear how deep his passion for the magic of movies runs. Each description is imparted with authority and an easy familiarity that makes every narration so worthwhile. It makes readers want to investigate this book again and again.

Cox is probably better known for the Moviedrome series – a BBC weekly showing of cult films held during the summer months. The episodes commenced in 1988 headed by Alex Cox, and continued until 1994 where the series came to an end. It restarted in 1997 introduced by Mark Cousins but the second round lacked the connection Cox had so ably instilled in his loyal viewers and the final airing of Moviedrome was in 2000. While Cox did not chose the movies, he had some say in what was shown – his introductions to the films alone (according to die-hard fans), were considered more interesting than the screening itself and some viewers confessed to tuning in solely for Cox’s opening words. Although for this particular reader, no words could replace Robin Hardy’s 1973 film, The Wicker Man – happily included in the launch of Moviedrome.

Cox’s book is a cross between expert storytelling and incredibly detailed research into all things cinema. He explains easily without making it obvious – chapters consisting of such titles as ‘The Editing Room’ and ‘Cinematography, The Frame, Understanding Crew Roles’, deconstructs the art of ‘how to’ rather than posing the question of ‘what’s that?’.  At one stage, Cox makes the point that there is a ‘sort of insanity that follows film sets and goes on to narrate a number of instances where the safety of actors, extras, and stunt actors were placed in jeopardy. He cites The Day of the Locust (Dir. John Schlesinger, 1975), a big-budget movie where an unfinished and clearly unsafe film set collapsed beneath the cast and crew as they were filming. Cox then recounts a catastrophic accident on set for The Twilight Zone – a 1983 film based on the television series comprising four segments with separate directors (Joe Dante, John Landis, George Miller and Steven Spielberg). The devastating occurrence, which was placed firmly at the door of on-set negligence, caused three lives to be lost, of which two were children. Cox sums up the code of conduct when he says ‘there is a tendency to think, on movies sets, that the film is the most important thing. It isn’t. The most important thing is the safety of your cast and crew’.  He damningly continues ‘making a film is also an opportunity for some people to behave extremely badly and immorally, and this has not been lost on filmmakers’. Cox doesn’t mention the culprits but such a statement coming from someone so well respected in writing on film makes readers pause for thought.

Cox manages to captivate completely from the first page right through to the last. His analytical skills are impressive and this book will delight every cinema lover and garner a few new fans to boot.

 

 

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Book Review: Ireland and Cinema: Culture and Contexts

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Deirdre Molumby takes a look at Ireland and Cinema: Culture and Contexts, which offers a broad range of academic approaches to contemporary and historical Irish filmmaking and representations of nationality, national identity, and theoretical questions around the construction of Ireland and Irishness on the screen. The volume is edited by Barry Monahan, College Lecturer at University College Cork in Film Studies.

Initially it would seem that Ireland and Cinema: Culture and Contexts has chosen a vague, all-encapsulating title to sew together its disparate and broad range of content. Fortunately, this breadth is the book’s strength, and whether one’s interest is in Irish cinema or in a broader field of study – gender, politics, and international perspectives seem to feed into most of the individual essay’s subject matter – there is accessible reading and scholarly provocation for all. What Ireland and Cinema achieves most impressively is its capturing of this present, unique moment in the field of Irish film studies in which the work of a number of impressive new scholars is gathering momentum. Reference is made to what has come before, the excitement of what is occurring in academia right now is captured, and the anticipation of what is to come is evoked.

The foreword, entitled ‘Irish National Cinema – What Have We Wrought? Contemporary Thoughts on a Recent History’ provides an engaging opening to the book. It encapsulates an impressively neat summary of the subject in question, and includes a history of the Irish Film Board, a look at the international attention given to Irish cinema (initially through the seminal work of Jim Sheridan and Neil Jordan), the opening up of the Irish film and television industry to major international co-productions, the development of a film industry in Northern Ireland, as well as thoughts on Irish film studies as an academic field. The choice of writer for this foreword could not be more appropriate – the recently retired Martin McLoone has written key texts which would be most Irish film studies students’ go-to books, including Irish Film: The Emergence of a Contemporary Cinema (2000) and Film, Media and Popular Culture in Ireland: Cityscapes, Landscapes, Soundscapes (2008).

Editor Barry Monahan provides an introduction to the book which includes a contemplation of the meaning of national cinema and praise of the innovative work of Ireland’s academic commentators, before providing a practical summary of each of the essays included in the volume. Therein follows a vast range of rich, diverse and immersive essays. The contributors come from Ireland and Northern Ireland’s top universities, while alternative equally interesting perspectives come from France, Germany, Finland and America. A spectrum of researchers, lecturers, PhD candidates, sociologists and professors make up the writers of the volume, each providing thoughtful and confident viewpoints of their specialty field.

It is far too great a challenge to select the standout chapters with such a selection so only a summary to the collection, which simply cannot do justice to the vista of its content, will be provided here. Part I consists of an essay that contemplates historical and more recent ideological functions of home and place in Irish cinema, followed by a chapter on space, mobility and gender in the Veronica Guerin films. This section also includes a particularly intriguing chapter on representations of accents in Dublin-set films, and another on Snap, considering how trauma and sexual abuse are worked through in Carmel Winters’ film.

Part II opens with a riveting essay on female stardom in Irish cinema, focussing on the actresses Saoirse Ronan and Ruth Negga, which is followed appropriately by a contemplation of Johnathon Rhys Myers’ role in The Tudors, arguing that there is a particularly Irish masculinity in the construction of his character, King Henry VIII. The next essay explores ethnic and gender stereotypes in P.S. I Love You, followed by a review of His & Hers that mourns the documentary’s lack of transgression in its gender representations.

Part III consists of essays on Northern Ireland, including an analysis of a collaborative film project made on the experiences of women as workers and visitors of the Maze and Long Kesh Prison, and another on the political body in Steve McQueen’s Hunger.

Part IV presents some overseas perspectives of Irish cinema. The volume ends with an interview conducted by Ciara Chambers and Barry Monahan with Susanna Pellis, the artistic director of the Rome Irish Film Festa. The interview provides a compelling consideration of the role of film festivals in the industry, and, through discussions about prize-giving, finance, the future and other topics, aptly captures the recurring thoughts of the book – a celebration of the current state of Irish cinema (with regards both production and academia) and speculation for the years ahead.

 

 

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (26 Aug. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1137496355
  • ISBN-13: 978-1137496355
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.4 x 21.6 cm

 

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Book Review: Directory of World Cinema: Russia 2

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Deirdre Molumby takes a look at Directory of World Cinema: Russia 2, a companion to the filmic legacy of one of the world’s most storied countries.

 

With their far greater budgets, clever marketing strategies, and major advertising campaigns, Hollywood cinema often forces other world cinemas to take a back seat in terms of international reach and viewership. The Directory of World Cinema series reminds us of the great films that have been brought to us from outside of the Hollywood canon, and analyses films that are of cultural, national and historical significance both within the countries in which they are produced and on a globally influential scale. The tone of the books is academic but its layout and language are accessible for all readers.

The first book on Russia provided an analysis of directors – including Sergei Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovskii, Nikita Mikhalkov, and Alexsandr Sokurov – and movie titles which most familiar with Eastern European cinema would be familiar with. Films that are listed among the greatest of all time, including Battleship Potemkin (1925), Man with a Movie Camera (1929) and Andrei Rublev (1938), Oscar-winning titles Moscow does not believe in Tears (1979), War and Peace (1967) and Burnt by the Sun (1995), and national treasures such as The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (1924), The Irony of Fate (1975), and My friend Ivan Lapshin (1984), as well as more recent hits like Brother (1997), Brother 2 (2000), Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2005) are all included in this collection.

Directory of World Cinema: Russia 2 is one of the most recent outputs by the series. The reader may feel initially reproached with the material due to the unfamiliarity of the films it includes. Due to the nature of it being a follow-up to the first Russia book (and in what is almost a slightly ironic and self-reflexive move, the book actually includes a section on ‘Sequels and Remakes’), Russia 2 explores titles less well-known to a western audience, although followers of Russian cinema should have heard of most of them. However, one should not be too discouraged as whether you have an interest in Russian history, culture, or in world cinema generally – be it the fresh, new stories offered or innovative industrial developments of interest – Russia 2 is a thoughtful and enjoyable read.

The book covers genres that would not be overly utilised by Russian cinema, including blockbusters, science fiction, and horror. Interestingly, the collection also explores genres that are relatively unique to Russia, including cold war spy films (which saw the state take an active role in production through censorship and propaganda), chernukha (a sort of neorealism, with bleak films that reflect on the political and social turmoil following the collapse of the Soviet system), and auteur animation. Similar to other books in the Directory series, Russia 2 includes an essay on its ‘Film of the Year’ (Rasskazy/Short Stories, and an interview with the director, Mikhail Segal, is also included), profiles of a number of famous Russian directors, and lastly, its analyses of Russian films, which are organised by genre and take up the majority of the book. An essay on the first Moscow international film festival is also included and provides a contemplative historical and political perspective on this particular aspect of the industry.

Within the director biographies, there is an underlying integrated story of the development of Russian theatre and the film industry (the latter owes much to the former, while the book also reflects the industry’s strong roots in national literature, particularly that of Nickolai Gogol), adding great interest to what would otherwise be simple profiles. There are reflections on artistic and aesthetic developments from early cinema right up to the modern day. Regarding the Soviet epoch, the book reflects how in spite of the hindrance of censorship arising from Stalinism, there was also great creativity in the period. The socio-cultural reasons for the emergence or lack of popularity of genres are also explored within each section, for example, science fiction was until recently unpopular as ‘to open up a discussion of what constituted the universal mission of humankind could easily be considered sacrilegious from a dogmatic point of view’, while horror has been read as exhibiting ‘a brutal, traumatic history through a graphically realistic depiction of violence and vicious destruction of human life.’ The descriptions of each film are engaging and show that there are imaginative and unique stories to be found in Russian cinema (with the animated and horror selections providing particularly innovative narratives). The section on ‘chernukha’ films is another stand-out, as it reflects how cinema can allow for a mirror to be held up to reality, whereby directors can present the truth even in defiance of state power.

Each movie description includes production credits, a synopsis and a critique which provides further contexts to the film and food for thought. The contributions come from mostly scholars, professors and lecturers. The more praising reviews, for example, for Tarkovskii’s Solaris (1972), entice the reader to find and view the film post-haste, although unfortunately, one sad fact that is left out of the book is that many of the more unusual titles are extremely difficult to find with English subtitles. The book’s inclusion of television series, though also an interesting read, gives the impression that the material needed to make a second book on Russian cinema requires a degree of leniency.

The reader will find themselves alternatively bewildered, laughing, and touched by the narratives of films about Russia and its people. At the same time, Russia 2 calls for concern regarding the ‘Hollywoodization’ of domestic cinema, for example, with the recent increase of blockbusters being produced and with local director Timur Bekmambetov recently leaving to make films such as Wanted (2008) and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) (which are also included in the collection, though it is debatable how ‘Russian’ these films are) in the US. If this means the loss of innovative themes and moving stories, as can be found in this book, in favour of popcorn entertainment, it is cause for concern indeed. At the same time, the popularity of Russian cinema within its own country demands celebration as it hardily competes with American features. Perhaps we could learn a thing or two about supporting our own film industry.

 

 

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Intellect (5 Jun. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1783200103
  • ISBN-13: 978-1783200108
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 2 x 25.4 cm

 

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Book Review: Fan Phenomena: James Bond

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Richard Drumm drops his his guns and gadgets and picks up Fan Phenomena: James Bond.

Edited by Claire Hines, Fan Phenomena: James Bond is a collection of essays and interviews that examines both the Bond franchise itself (mainly the EON-produced films but with reference to the novels, video games, etc.) and the multifaceted and ever-altering fandom for Bond. Some of the interviewees include author of the official continuation Bond books Raymond Benson, the owner of the James Bond Museum in Sweden, some of the newly emerging James Bond ‘crossplayers’ and more.

The essays themselves meanwhile offer a wide variety of topics; from examining the fandom and franchise’s tenuous relationship with continuity, Alan Moore’s scathing deconstruction of Bond in his work, the relationship between Bond video games and an authentic transmedia experience and a look at what the more cult-like and lifestyle-appropriating elements of the fandom can tell us about Bond as a cultural icon.

Of course, no self-respecting collection of Bond essays written in 2015, by academic types, would be complete without a look at Bond and gender and the collection certainly boasts a nicely varied selection of topics; from examinations of the changing representations of masculinity in the Craig-era to a defence of being a female Bond fan and an interesting discussion of queer readings of Skyfall from a growing fanbase of online female fan fiction writers. All presented in highly digestible chunks and with an eye toward the casual reader, Fan Phenomena: James Bond offers an insightful, varied and accessible exploration of James Bond.

The book on the whole is undeniably a good read but two things struck me, in a good way, that seemed noteworthy. The first is the sheer volume of essays from female scholars, they heavily outweigh the contributions from male authors. It’s just fascinating given the (well documented, highly problematic) nature of the franchise under discussion, that most (of the already quite sparse) scholarly readings of Bond come from women.

The second, related, point is that there is a very clear willingness on everyone’s part to acknowledge and engage with the glaringly problematic aspects of Bond as an institution. Given that this is geared toward fans, there must have been the temptation to make this one big love-in but that would have been disingenuous as no self-respecting Bond fan would avoid addressing these aspects. That’s not to say the book is judgemental (except perhaps Stephanie Jones’ highly amusing chapter that tears apart the James Bond Lifestyle Guide book) but rather takes a respectably mature view of the franchise and will deal with these elements where necessary or when they become of interesting relevance.

With a book like this it can sometimes seem like it would be of zero interest to anyone but hardcore fans and I’ll admit right now that as a hardcore fan that greatly enjoyed the book, it’s difficult to say ‘objectively’ how much mileage non-fans would get from it. However, the topics are varied enough that anyone with even a passing interest in cultural studies should find plenty to hold their attention. Similarly, the essays that make up the latter half or so of the book would definitely be worth reading for anyone with an interest in gender or LGBT studies as Bond presents a decidedly unusual starting point for those discussions. Especially since the last two essays in particular argue for the recent Bond installments offering something close to a progressive stance on those topics.In that sense Karen Brooks and Lisa Hill’s ‘Resurrecting Bond’ is possibly the highlight of the collection, a well-researched and in-depth analysis of the Craig trilogy as both a deconstruction and rebuilder of the franchise while also offering a compelling argument in favour of Craig’s Bond being highly feminised for a less rigidly gendered modern world.

Accessible as the book is, it does delve early on into topics like Transmedia and Phenomenology. And while both Matthew Freeman and Lucy Bolton, respectively, do an excellent job of providing simplified definitions of those concepts, they still remain a bit too complex to be fully explored within the confines of what a collection such as this is trying to achieve. Which is to say they still offer interesting discussions and fine introductions to those theories if you’re not already familiar with them but it seems like there’s still a lot to be explored from, say, Freeman’s arguments about Bond successfully defying transmedia logic. This is, however, a very minor nitpick and really more of an observation that really doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the collection.

On the whole, it’s a strong collection. Obviously, they aren’t all winners but none of them are ever boring and they’re short enough that even if you aren’t particularly taken by one you’d be on to another, different topic soon. And that’s the highest praise that can be given to Claire Hines’ editing of this book; she’s assembled a highly varied series of pieces which automatically negates the possibility of repetition of material. Her interviews with the various fans are also interesting but never pandering and again consist of a very varied selection of individuals with very different relationships to Bond.

I still feel that to really get the most out of the book you’d need to be quite a big Bond fan but even to more casual readers (and casual Bond fans) there should be more than enough to justify giving it a read if you have any interest in any of the areas under discussion in the book, which, given how wide that net is cast, you’re likely to find something.

If nothing else, it’s worth picking up for Karen Brooks and Lisa Hill, and Elizabeth J. Nielsen’s two closing essays along with Lisa Funnell’s ‘Thoughts on Female Scholarship and Fandom of the Bond Franchise’.

 

 

  • Paperback: 150 pages
  • Publisher: Intellect (15 Nov. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1783205172
  • ISBN-13: 978-1783205172
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 1.3 x 24.1 cm

 

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Book Review: Film and Games: Interactions

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Deirdre Molumby reviews Films and Games. Interactions, a descriptive dialogue between theory and practice. With international contributions from multidisciplinary perspectives including film studies, game studies, art and cultural studies, media studies, and pedagogy.
 
Published by the Deutsches Filmmuseum and extending from an exhibition of the same name currently being held there, Film and Games: Interactions focuses on the relatively young medium of video games and investigates how games are informed by movies. In fact, the book analyses this relationship from every possible angle you can think of – intersections between the two mediums’ origins, visual comparisons of the two, adaptations of one to the other, the role of music in both, and, of course, the interactive role of the game player versus the movie viewer. Though the title of the book suggests equal focus on films and games, and indeed ‘Film’ actually comes first in the title, the book is really more about games and how film has affected their development.

The large hardback book isn’t ideal for popping in one’s handbag or bringing down to the beach, but it has a comprehensive layout and engaging format whereby each section consists of two to five essays replete with much illustrative content. The references to both older games from the 1980s and 90s as well as contemporary games, and the interviews with established game developers such as Jörg Friedrich, design director YAGER (Spec Ops: The Line, 2012), senior game designer at Crytek Dennis Schwartz (Crysis, 2007; Ryse: Son of Rome, 2013), and James Mechner (Prince of Persia, 1989) should find an invested audience in enthusiastic gamers. At the same time, the information is also accessible to those who are not avid players, with the inclusion of definition boxes for several terms, for example, ‘glitch movie’ and ‘flow channel’, throughout. There are also interviews with filmmakers Paul W.S. Anderson (the Resident Evil franchise) and Uwe Boll (Rampage, 2009; Attack on Darfur, 2009).

Several of the essays strike one as being geared towards an academic readership, for example, gender stereotyping is questioned while the construction of space in games (which is again contrasted to film) is also explored. Indeed several of the contributions come from professors and lecturers. While these are punctuated by interviews and illustrations, some may dislike the predominantly theoretical style of the book. At the same time, the arguments put forth in the book, which includes a particularly interesting section on creative gaming whereby games have developed in such a way that players now have the potential to become a kind of filmmaker in their own right, facilitate in giving an intellectual perspective on the phenomenon of video games for which they are long overdue.

The book asks ‘Are video games a form of art?’ but it investigates several other issues as well. Camera aesthetics, the potential of machinima and archival processing also get a look while one of the more film-focussed chapters looks at media reflections in Fahrenheit 45 (François Truffaut, 1966), The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, 1999), eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999) and The Zero Theorem (Terry Gilliam, 2013). From its introduction to the final essay, which criticises how recent games like The Last of Us (2013) and Red Dead Redemption (2010) are trying too hard to be like film, the reader is left with much food for thought and is free to question, investigate or merely ponder on the many reflections that have been raised by the book. You may never play a video game in the same way again.

 

 

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bertz + Fischer (1 Oct. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 3865052428
  • ISBN-13: 978-3865052421
  • Product Dimensions: 21.5 x 2.7 x 28.7 cm

 

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