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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Book Review: Hollywood’s Second Sex The Treatment of Women in the Film Industry, 1900 – 1999

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June Butler reviews Irish author Aubrey Malone’s latest book, Hollywood’s Second Sex The Treatment of Women in the Film Industry, 1900 – 1999.

 

If an author could win an Oscar for most thorough research, Aubrey Malone would be right up there with the best of them for his well-thought through and insightful tome on Hollywood’s Second Sex – The Treatment of Women in the Film Industry, 1900 – 1999.

On first reading, it seems more anecdotal than directional but with each subsequent scrutiny, it soon becomes apparent that the narrative builds up to an impressive overview of just how shabbily actresses were treated in Hollywood from the inception of film right up to the present day. Malone brings the story forward, stretching beyond the lifespan of most humans to realise that in the broader scheme little seems to have changed in the way women are regarded amongst the hierarchies of the film industry during the twentieth century.

The dedicated and in-depth knowledge of every spirited actress from silent movies until more modern times places Malone in a league of his own. From Theda Bara’s muted luminosity to tragic Louise Brooks and her iconic pixie hairstyle. Katherine Hepburn was once cruelly nicknamed ‘Katherine of Arrogance’ merely for refusing to kow-tow to studio demands. Doris Day – America’s sweetheart lived through a relationship with Al Jordan, a trombonist. Day wasn’t particularly into the idea of marriage but did so because she was pregnant by Jordan who went on to physically beat Day to the point where she almost miscarried. Jordan then decided that suicide was the way forward – one day he thrust a gun into Day’s stomach urging her to kill herself. Her erstwhile spouse promised faithfully he would follow suit. Finally seeing sense, Day sought a restraining order against Jordan who stalked her for a while but eventually moved on. Decisively (and possibly much to the relief of his second wife), he followed through on hollow rhetoric by shooting himself in the head – forgetting perhaps that the golden rule of an empty threat is not to carry it out.

Jodie Foster in her auditions for The Accused (Kaplan, 1988), had to have a makeover in order to render her more ‘rapable’. In the first audition, the studio felt she wasn’t convincing enough to make audiences believe anyone would want to molest her. So Foster gamely set about changing the perception by wearing more make-up and less clothes. It is almost inconceivable that Foster should have been put in such a position yet no one batted an eyelid as her status of ‘rapability’ was mused over and tacit permission was given to those who would despoil Foster’s character by deeming her to have ‘asked for it’.

By contrast, women were for the most part, presented by Hollywood on pedestals – beautiful, alluring, incandescent, unobtainable and mainly adored from afar. In such scenarios it would not be too much to assume that respect and dignity for women should follow closely behind. According to Aubrey Malone, this was most assuredly not the case.

As a lover of film, this book initially appears somewhat voyeuristic considering the amount of salacious information – but that is only at first glance. Further reading is so detailed as to create an unrelenting tableau that does not flinch when it comes to revealing the unpalatable truth – which is that despite a plethora of denials, Hollywood’s second sex was female.

 

 

  • Paperback: 244 pages
  • Publisher: McFarland (April 10, 2015)
  • Language: English

 

 

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Book Review: Fan Phenomena: The Lord of the Rings

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Ronan Daly relaxes in the Shire and leafs through Fan Phenomena: The Lord of the Rings, which  delves into the philosophy of the series and its fans, the distinctions between the films’ fans and the books’ fans, the process of adaptation, and the role of New Zealand in the translation of words to images.

 

We all know that the Lord of the Rings is huge. No, I’m not talking about the hefty weight of the combined literary tomes. I’m not even talking about the marathon length of the (extended or original) cinematic trilogy. The Lord of the Rings is huge in terms of its impact; the adoration that its fans feel, the significance of the films within modern cinema and the fact that it legitimised the fantasy genre, whilst ensuring that all other fantasy films would be forced to live in its shadow.

Fan Phenomena: The Lord of the Rings, edited by Lorna Piatti-Farnell, takes up the daunting challenge of investigating exactly how and why The Lord of the Rings has come to be such a landmark in the worlds of literature, cinema, fantasy and beyond. Remarkably in depth and well researched, this book examines the significance of the differences between text and film and even the importance of fan-films in understanding LOTR in a series of essays by a number of contributors in a very concise and accessible package. Chapters include looks into how different fans celebrate the series worldwide, the roles of women both in fandom and within the books and films, and even an examination into why the more recent Hobbit film trilogy never really stood a chance of living up to the acclaim or popularity of LOTR.

There’s a special focus given to New Zealand in places, both as the filming location for the films, but also in its adopted identity as the “official” site of Hobbiton, the hobbit village, and its status as the Mecca for the majority of Tolkien-themed pilgrimages. This is also contrasted quite astutely with Birmingham, the place of Tolkien’s childhood and therefore the “true” site of veneration for many fans whose love of the series far predates or, perhaps even ignores, the films.

Incredibly respectful to the books and films, and to the fandom, Fan Phenomena feels quite academic at first, but in truth it’s a labour of love, an examination of what makes this series quite so spectacular in the eyes of so many people. Eleven contributors present the world of Middle Earth from all angles, providing insights and background information that may have escaped even a lot of major fans. From behind-the-scenes photos to excerpts from obscure interviews and insider info, this book has really done its homework into the worlds created by Monsieurs Tolkien and Jackson, as well as everything from fan-fiction to video games and Lego adaptations.

For a series with such a diverse following, spanning generations, continents and media, this book does a superb job in bringing the world behind the creation(s) of Middle Earth to life. So, whether you’ve devoured the books and films and just haven’t satisfied your LOTR appetite or you just want to know a little bit more about what makes this series’ following tick, the fine folks at Intellect Books have you in good hands.

 

Paperback: 156 pages

Editor: Lorna Piatti-Farnell

Contributors: Lorna Piatti-Farnell, Alexander Sergeant, Maggie Parke, Joshua Wille, Miguel Angel Perez-Gomez, Emily M. Gray, Cait Coker, Karen Viars, Paul Mountfort, Anna Martin, Abigail G. Scheg

Publisher: Intellect Book

 

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Book + DVD Review: The Woman Who Married Clarke Gable

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Cathy Butler takes a look at The Woman Who Married Clark Gable.

Edited by Lance Pettitt and Beatriz Kopschitz Bastos (Sao Paulo, USP/Humanitas Press, 2013).

256 pages + DVD.

ISBN: 978-8577322251 (paperback).

 

Many established directors have had their ‘pivotal short film’; a successful short that gains critical success, does well on the festival circuit, and gives the director a more recognisable name. This is especially true of Irish directors, for whom the transition from shorts to features is a rite of passage of sorts, with very few Irish filmmakers progressing to features without having a few shorts in their back catalogue. This book, a bilingual publication from Humanitas and the WB Yeats Chair of Irish Studies in Brazil, takes a look at the early career of Irish director Thaddeus O’Sullivan, and, more specifically, his ‘pivotal short film’, The Woman Who Married Clark Gable.

The book comprises three critical essays on the subject of O’Sullivan’s work, by scholars Lance Pettitt, Roy Foster, and Anelise R. Corseuil. It also features the short story of the same title by Seán O’Faoláin that O’Sullivan’s film is based on, as well as the adapted screenplay by Andrew Pattman. In this way, the book serves as an examination of the process and effects of adaptation, as the various texts show the transition from short story, to screenplay, to produced film.

Pettitt’s opening essay is a thorough and in-depth account of O’Sullivan’s early career, from his emigration to London, his time as an art student in that city, and his first produced films. The piece takes its title and central focus from a quote from O’Sullivan regarding his emigrant existence as similar to being in a “ ‘crack’ – somewhere between the two cultures.” Pettitt examines the effect of this existence on O’Sullivan’s work, and his struggles as an artist in ‘60s and ‘70s London. It is a common theme of Irish artists and filmmakers – the need to emigrate to seek out success. The experience of being an Irish artist producing work in another country, and the merging of elements of an artist’s native culture with the culture of their adopted home, is engagingly brought to light through the examination of O’Sullivan’s work at that time, and resonates with the climate of Ireland’s arts industry of recent years, where the arts took something of a back seat in the wake of the country’s economic downturn.

The concluding essays, from Foster and Corseuil, look at Clark Gable in terms of its adaptation, both critiques proposing that O’Sullivan expands upon and adds greater depth to the themes and characters that are briefly sketched in O’Faoláin’s short story. The film follows a few days in the lives of married couple Mary and George, played by Bob Hoskins and Brenda Fricker, in Dublin city in the 1930s. Mary is a devout Irish Catholic, and George is British and a half-hearted Methodist, which is the first obvious point of conflict between the two. They share an enjoyment of cinema, however, but Mary’s enjoyment starts to get out of hand when she starts to imagine that George is in fact Hollywood actor Clark Gable. After seeing him perform in the film San Francisco, where his character turns from non-believer to believer throughout the course of the film, Mary develops an infatuation with Gable, much to George’s chagrin.

The inclusion of O’Faoláin’s short story, Pattman’s adapted script, and a DVD of the final produced film give the reader/viewer the opportunity to assess the adaptation from start to finish. Considering the story and film side-by-side, the film is certainly a more developed narrative, with greater characterisation and emotional resonance. It omits the more ironic voice of O’Faoláin’s omnipotent narrator, and ultimately produces a more engaging and impactful story. Hoskins and Fricker’s performances add great weight to the piece, and engross the viewer in the couple’s journey. The film is a good example of that rare adaptation that adds more to the original text than it takes away.

For a slim volume, this examination of The Woman Who Married Clark Gable manages to serve as both an introduction to the early work of Thaddeus O’Sullivan, and as an engaging examination of prose-to-screen adaptation. As with most academic texts, it may be of more interest to students and researchers than to the casual enthusiast, but it is certainly a welcome addition to the body of Irish film criticism.

 

The Woman Who Married Clark Gable is available from the IFI Film Shop.

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Book Review: Seeing Is Believing: The Politics of the Visual

 

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Seeing Is Believing: The Politics of the Visual

Rod Stoneman (London: Blackdog Publishing, 2013)

 

Barry Monahan is stirred and stimulated by Rod Stoneman‘s personal and analytical investigation into the politics of visual communication.

 

One might be led to believe, in the light of many recent public discussions on the development of the World Wide Web and its consequences for hard copy publishing, that the book as we know it is as dead now as was the author in 1967. Anecdotal evidence of young children (i-Kids?) dragging their fingers over glossy paper printed images, expecting them to respond to the touch, may reinforce the same thinking. A contemporary notion of “Western” literacy, it would seem, requires – or invites – more than an ability to recognise twenty-six letters and ten numerals, and to understand the syntactic rules by which they are arranged on a rectangular piece of paper, in order to be read from top-left to bottom-right. Even the most basic interaction with a page of material on the web can stimulate the eye and mind from regular two-dimensional linear reading, towards multi-layered, intertextual and inspirational digressions, diversions and distractions. It is not difficult to see why a certain pessimism about the fate of the traditional hard bound copy might emerge in the face of this new stimulating, multifaceted and almost synesthetic way of sharing knowledge. Traditional conceptualisations of reading and thinking may have now forever become just that: “traditional”.

 

It is fitting then, that a book whose very content asks probing questions about the construction of identity, our understanding of our planet and each other, and about what it means to be an observing individual in the 21st century, is as performative in its thematic observations as it is in its formal design. Rod Stoneman’s Seeing Is Believing: The Politics of the Visual is simultaneously a stirring assault on the mind and an invitation to engage with the flat page in a multi-directional, four-dimensional way. With a very non-traditional format, Stoneman’s text interacts with footnotes, referential comments and images with a wonderful dialectical layering that is both rich in information and creatively thought-provoking.

 

What’s more, the dialectical approach that Stoneman has used is not just superficial to the engaging design of the manuscript. Core arguments, propositions and polemical interventions that run through the book are interwoven with reflections that set personal memory in dialogue with the historical, the private biographical moment into conflict with the global political, and merge the mechanics of mediation with fields of ontological and ethical discourse.

 

Take, as two examples, Stoneman’s sections “Crying Wolf Too Late” (in the chapter Film/Television) and “Family Snaps” (in The Quotidian/The Strange). Stoneman begins the former with a personal recollection of a BBC Horizon documentary that, in the early 1970s, offered one of the most public declarations of the imminent destruction of the environment by mankind. He develops his thinking by making constant connections between his own personal experiences and the broader eco-political developments as they unfolded over three decades. A significant encounter in 2006 with a friend who worked in television news is used to bring his own involvement with the issues into contact with mediation of the same information, and the increasingly anxious contemporary political concerns on the matter. Having just met with “senior government scientists”, his contact expressed hopelessness at being unable to find a broadcast space of dissemination that could usefully relate the gravity of the situation to the public. Her feelings of concern and powerlessness to transmit the facts about the pressing issue leave Stoneman with similar exasperation and he concludes: “Whether it was the responsibility of a broadcaster or the worries of a mother, it was a serious epiphany, and by osmosis I felt the shock.” (119) At this poignant moment in the chapter, Stoneman juxtaposes his own feelings neatly with the words “broadcaster” and “mother” in a way that, so typically in the rest of the book, endows the individual with a responsibility that reaches beyond the immediate, private (domestic) and personal, towards processes of mediation, and the public and political spheres. “Family Snaps” also binds the private experience – as mediated – to the universal truth of mortality as inevitable confrontation. Although the section is no less politically probing its focus is more ontological. In this segment Stoneman questions the consequences for contemporary understanding about living and dying in a world of new digital technologies of communication. As polemical, and honest, as the preceding sections, he ends with a rhetorical suggestion: “We should repurpose pictures to develop more advantageous understandings of the world in our short life together before we cross the abyss.”

 

Stoneman’s preface is appropriately unapologetic when it comes to the polemical moral and ethical concerns at the heart of his thesis. The potency of the image – both beautiful in its transformative capability and perilous in its propagandist potential – is set out from the get-go. While he confesses to having had a position of privilege in relation to the management of certain aspects of visual culture, his implicit invitation is a call to responsibility to all of those who create, design, disseminate and consume images (a call to no less than every 21st century member of the human race). His critical influences are also foregrounded – Adorno, Barthes, Benjamin and Debord are all evoked – and their voices emerge periodically throughout the whole work. While there is no question that Stoneman rejects outright any pragmatic distinction held between active doing and dynamic thinking, and reflects affirmatively upon this epoch’s melting of “traditional distinctions between text and commentary, theory and practice” (10) – he calls these “advances” – his book engages the reader so intimately, and actively, that one can have faith in the sincerity of conviction held throughout.

 

Perhaps surprisingly, in the light of the analytical depth and empirical breadth which the reader is invited to explore peripatetically, the prose is always engaging, lucid and gently rich in the information offered. Note, as one example of this, how a single three-line sentence presents a wealth of evidence with prosaic simplicity: “Bataille was active in a tributary of French Surrealism and is directly connected with psychoanalyst and theorist, Jacques Lacan since they were both married to Sylvia Makles, the actress in Renoir’s Partie de Campagne, France, 1936.” (35) With a neat imbrication of historical account and personal reflection, Stoneman inserts the first person pronoun in ways that subtly transform ideologies into idealisms, and constantly reminds his readers of their role in moral issues that have often become in other writings too conceptual, remote and safely removed from individuals’ sense of responsibility.

 

Elsewhere, Stoneman removes himself from the commentary and lets the participating witnesses of history speak for themselves. On the infamous photograph of Nguyen Ngoc Loan’s street execution of a Viet Cong office, he notes: “Eddie Adams was haunted by the picture he had taken and its consequences: ‘The general [sic] killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths.’” (36) Then, with inconspicuous artistry, Stoneman immediately draws the reader directly back into the conversation, demanding reflection by presenting six hanging rhetorical questions, the penultimate one of which asks: “How is it possible to keep open a softness of response, a tenderness in relationship with as many aspects of the world as possible, when receptivity is hurt, shocked and hardened into something that is more able to deal with images like these?” (36)

 

Stoneman’s modulated personal interventions into his polemic – whether though direct personal reflection or opinion, autobiographical detail, or photographs or screen shots of himself or his family – are testimony to his deep-rooted conviction in the ideas that he presents. But they also invite implication of the reader into the political, historical, cultural and socio-economic realities that continue to perpetrate – increasingly potently, through images – numerous global social inequities in the 21st century experience. In spite of manifestly expressed disappointment, Stoneman ultimately offers hope, as individuals’ access to the technologies of production and dissemination of visual culture increases year by year and, even progressively, month by month.

 

This personal and political treatise offers from its core a reconsideration of the need to connect – and remind ourselves of the necessity to connect – the personal with the political. It enacts, in content and design, what it challenges its readers to do. It will stimulate thinking for anyone who loves to think: students (amateur and “professional”) of visual culture and of the contemporary global situation will find this publication stimulating, demanding and, ultimately, a thoroughly enriching experience. With the first modern technological intervention into the world of publication – “making public” – circa 1439, Guttenberg facilitated a connection between the individual and the masses; and the first web of ideas took shape. That it is now a worldwide phenomenon and mediation has become almost “immediate” is not evidence of the death of the book, a fact to which this innovative and avant garde work amply attests.

 

 

Dr Barry Monahan is a College Lecturer in Film Studies in the School of English at University College Cork. His main teaching and research interests are: the history and aesthetics of Irish and other national cinemas and film theory.

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Book Review: Rex Ingram: Visionary Director of the Silent Screen

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Stephen Totterdell takes a look at  Ruth Barton’s latest book, Rex Ingram: Visionary Director of the Silent Screen.

 

“Had Rex lost his grip on the little grammar and syntax he had learned? What was a ‘broad’? And a ‘cinch’? Did he mean ‘clinch’?”

The story of Rex Ingram could be an emigration story. Born in Rathmines, Ingram fled to the U.S. to work first as a manual laborer, before enrolling in Yale and then becoming, uh, a Hollywood director. Unlike many other Irish artists in America, however, Ingram never played stage-Irish. Instead of a hard-living, hard-drinking, sweater-wearing Irishman, Barton describes an aesthete much more at home in the world of movies than in the bar. Ahead of his time, Ingram traveled in LGBT circles and had a deep interest in sex. Barton speaks of his rumoured bisexuality, but it remains unconfirmed. Certainly in his work one can see undertones of what was probably an actively bisexual life, and his work will be of interest to scholars of Queer Theory.

Ruth Barton is best known as one of the core figures in Film Studies in Ireland. Instead of an academic analysis, however, this book focuses on telling the compelling narrative of Ingram’s life. It could be argued that the book represents the inroads academics have been making for the last few years into public discourse. The notoriously squeezed field of academia has led a number of scholars to pursue what is known as ‘AltAc’, or Alternative Academia. Writers such as Anne Helen Petersen for Buzzfeed, or Slavoj Žižek are two high profile examples. These academics hope to bring theory and research to mainstream audiences, a practice which reminds one of the golden years of public intellectuals such as Walter Benjamin or Jean-Paul Sartre.

With this Rex Ingram biography, Ruth Barton brings an under-represented director to the surface. Well written and – importantly – slim, the book requires little effort to read. It is full of great details about the director. One of the great anecdotes about Rex Ingram is that he was born a Hitchcock, but changed his name in order to break into Hollywood. In contrast with his aesthetic interests, “One of Rex’s peculiarities was his liking to dress like a bum,” and his tyrannical on-set behaviour is in contrast to his charming social persona. Barton describes an eccentric and intriguing man who refuses to be categorised. Perhaps this is why we remember him less than some of the other figures of the period – just what is the Ingram brand?

Certainly that is not something that will be said of Barton. A tireless scholar of Irish cinema, she continues to enrich the field both inside academia and out of it. This biography is insightful, exciting, and – best of all – fun.

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Book Review: The Films of Pixar Animation Studio

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The Films of Pixar Animation Studio

                      James Clarke

David Prendeville delves into James Clarke‘s book on the rise and rise of Pixar Animation Studio.

Since their debut in 1995 with the timeless Toy Story, Pixar Animation Studios have continued not only to make films that excel at the box-office but also that garner huge critical acclaim. With modern classics such as the aforementioned Toy Story and its sequels, Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up the studio has managed to make films that satisfy both children and adults alike.

This book attempts to chart the studios rise from obscurity when they made their first short in 1984 to the success of Toy Story and their subsequent features and their continued, lucrative partnership with Disney. In the book’s introduction Clarke attempts to contextualise Pixar’s work, relating to that of a tradition of American Romanticism in painting and across all the arts. He ponders the question of why it is that animation suits the humanistic emotional qualities inherent in Pixar’s best work. Indeed few would argue that there have been many more emotionally effective sequences in recent cinema than the genuinely heartbreaking opening to Up.

Subsequent to this, Clarke moves on to detailed accounts of the individual films from Toy Story to Brave (2012). The book mixes the type of contextualisation and analysis prevalent in the Introduction with the charting of Pixar’s journey and the stories behind the individual films, examining such things as how the films were cast and how characters were designed. While this occasionally results in the book feeling somewhat caught between two different methodologies, for the most part, Clarke’s book is engaging, informative and insightful.

By charting the individual stories behind each of the films, Clarke illustrates the practical manner in which the artistic achievements of Pixar can be seen to be completely created by human imagination as opposed to live action films which rely on at least some element of a captured reality. His assertions of the power of this imagined universe has on viewers in the sense of taking them to a consciousness untainted by the lived world is a fascinating idea and when coupled with the enormous power of Pixar’s work, makes for a persuasive argument.

Ultimately, Clarke’s book manages the difficult task of being both a rags to riches tail, while also being rigorous, informed and even inspirational in the manner in which it relates the artistic achievements of Pixar in a broader historical sense.

A fine piece of work highly recommended to Pixar and film fans alike.

 

Paperback: 192 Pages

Publisher:  Kamera Books 2012

Language: English

ISBN:978-1-84243-937-1

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Book Review: Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground

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Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground by Matthew Chojnacki

 

Rory Cashin eyes up the spectacular art of underground film posters in a new book, Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground.

Starting with a foreword by the author about “how things just aren’t like they used to be” probably wasn’t the best way to get things off on the right foot. We’ve heard film critics tell how Hollywood has lost its lustre, how things have been all downhill since the 1970s, blah, blah, blah. Well, Chojnacki chimes in with something similar, telling us how movie posters just aren’t as good since the arrival of Photoshop and the likes, making sure everything is as blemish (and interest) free as possible.

Unfortunately, in this case, Chojnacki is all too correct, as trying to think of a great movie poster from the last decade amounts to less than you could count on one hand. So instead, he’s amassed a collection of Alternative Movie Posters (there’s that title!), with influences from every type of artist you could imagine, many of which are truly impressive.

Some poster artists have become (almost) household names by this point, with the likes of Olly Moss and Mondo Posters having found a hugely popular cult following, but this beautiful collection goes beyond what most folk may have already been exposed to. With over 200 gloriously reprinted images, covering movies from Blade Runner to Child’s Play 2, from Fight Club to The Third Man, and everything in between, this is a must-have for any movie fan you might know.

The art-work ranges hugely in style and substance, with some nothing more than an atmospheric representation of the movie, to artistic takes on the original poster, to minimalist graphics used to get the most across.

While the posters themselves are fantastically represented, some of the layout around them is a little messy, with the poster authors and details about the print displayed at a head-turning angle to the poster itself. Then there’s the more personal details underneath, with poster designers answering what their favorite movies are, or the first film they ever saw, when more time and space should have been devoted to the creative ideas behind the posters themselves.

But these are just minor niggles, as this is primarily a book about visuals, and the visuals are expansively impressive. A great coffee-table book, not to mention a great addition to anyone interested in design and promotion.

 

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing Ltd (28 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0764345664
  • ISBN-13: 978-0764345661
  • Product Dimensions: 26.9 x 21.8 x 2.5 cm
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Book review: The Black Irish Onscreen: Representing Black and Mixed-Race Identities on Irish Film and Television

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Sarah Griffin welcomes Zélie Asava‘s book that applys divergent theoretical concepts of Irishness, whiteness, gender and the particular place of the ‘other’ to the ‘conceptual whiteness of Irishness itself’.

While the intricacies of white and non-white filmic representation has been a subject of much study, most particularly in relation to Hollywood’s output, there has been less focused investigation into the particular relationship Ireland has to its own ‘whiteness’ and how that translates on our big and little screens.  Zélie Asava does so here, bringing together theorists and researchers from disparate decades and tying their ideas to a particularly Irish situation – a country that has only begun to integrate the multicultural nature of a relatively recently expanded populace.  From Sigmund Freud’s ‘return of the repressed’, Julie Kristeva’s abjection, Richard Dyer’s seminal contributions to the study of whiteness, and Judith Butler’s performativity, to the more recent work of Diane Negra on ‘off-white Hollywood’ and a compendium of Irish contributors, Asava blends theorists and personal experience (as an Irish/Kenyan actor) to position herself at the front line.  This book provides a welcome opportunity to apply divergent theoretical concepts of Irishness, whiteness, gender and the particular place of the ‘other’ to, as she calls it, “the conceptual whiteness of Irishness itself”.

 

Asava comes not only from a firm footing of understanding non-white actors’ situation in Irish film and television, but from a gender specific approach that applies feminist performance analysis to the similarly structured area of studies in whiteness and ethnicity.  Beginning with an introduction that lays bare all of Asava’s foundations – rightly giving no apologies for making the ‘personal political’ – we are given a map of how the book will approach each case study as it applies to the chapters’ goals.  Asava also broaches a broad historical framework of a nation still denying its multiculturalism, shown in her observations of the refusal of hyphenated identities, like Italian-Irish or Chinese-Irish.  Ireland is therefore in the strange position – particularly in this ‘year of The Gathering’ – of accepting somebody who’s grandmother went over to America in a famine ship as being more Irish than a second-generation Nigerian-Irish child born here.  “[L]egitimate Irish identity” is no longer (if it ever was) a solid thing, something that can be defined in a simple way – as Asava goes on to show again and again through our media output.

 

The chapters follow a logical flow of ideas, beginning with a treatise on “being black and Irish”.  Asava focuses here on two emblematic Neil Jordan movies, The Crying Game (1992) and Breakfast on Pluto (2005), touching on (amongst others) The Commitments (1991) and the now infamous battle cry of ‘I’m black and I’m proud!’  From there Asava moves to the concept of the ‘other’ and how non-whiteness and the gendering of ‘the other’ are so firmly intertwined.  This second chapter approaches the subject via Irish television, most particularly Love is the Drug (2004) and Fair City (1989-present), though again her discussion takes in a myriad of supportive works.  In a move that will endear the book to genre students, two of Asava’s chapters (three and five) deal with specific modes – the Irish Horror and the Multicultural Irish Thriller.  Kristeva’s theories apply most assiduously to the horror genre and are used to great effect here but, showing a continual command of the subject, Asava draws a parallel in the question of “Black and Mixed Masculinities in Irish Cinema” for her fourth chapter, moving smoothly on from horror in a flow of theoretical concepts.  Her final chapter deals with the “raced stranger”, using various examples of this symbolic character through recent cinema, but perhaps focusing most specifically on The Guard and Between the Canals (both 2011).  Throughout the chapters, examples in film and television are underscored by reference to the vaster media world – music, Youtube posts, newspaper reports and government programmes are all represented in an effort to show the broad reaches of the subject.

 

Asava’s conclusion neatly ties up the various threads of thought explored throughout the book and “[frames] the future of the Black Irish Onscreen”, looking beyond the current cultural loading of casting decisions.  She approaches the subject from her own very informed perspective, as an Irish/Kenyan trained actor who has dealt with the casting constraints and impositions of being a non-white woman with an Irish voice.  This book provides a wealth of collaborative knowledge for film, sociology, gender and media students, but also offers a lot to the casual reader who seeks an introduction to the subject.  Asava’s style of writing and liberal use of examples throughout this work makes it a page-turner in a way some academic approaches don’t manage, meaning her ideas are presented clearly and her theories supported at every turn.

 

Sarah Griffin

  • Paperback: 213 pages
  • Publisher: Peter Lang AG, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften; 1 edition (29 Aug 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 3034308396
  • ISBN-13: 978-3034308397
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 15 x 1.3 cm
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Book Review: Watching the World: Screen Documentary and Audiences‏

Title: Watching the World Screen Documentary and Audiences‏

Author: Thomas Austin

With Watching the World: Screen Documentary and Audiences, Thomas Austin provides the reader with an accurate account of documentaries recently screened around the world. As far as documentary interest goes, Austin’s book probably represents one of the most up-to-date works on the documentary rise both among cinema goers and TV audiences.

Screen documentary has experienced an unbelievable growth in popularity in these last few years. The reason behind this extraordinary golden age for documentaries is basically the main focus of this book. This interesting academic research covers widely acclaimed documentaries such as Etre et Avoir, Touching the Void and Capturing the Friedmans amongst others. To do so, the author utilizes a system of questions and answers to get into audience tastes along with his own academic research that serves as back up for the vox populi that he gathers.

Thomas Austin’s study of documentary and audiences is timely, as there are now more documentaries in the cinemas and consequentially more audience interest in them.  The films that Austin discusses at length belong, as he sees it, to that documentary ‘boom’ of the last decade. The documentary ‘boom’ is, above all, a commercial categorization, and Austin’s case studies are those documentaries that can be deemed popular especially for their extraordinary success at the box office. Thus, films that did not gross very much, but which were nevertheless part of the boom in documentary production such as The Fog of War (Errol Morris’s film about Robert McNamara) or Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette’s lacerating autobiographical home movie) are only mentioned. Although Austin states at the outset of Watching the World that his main focus will be ‘documentaries viewed at cinemas and on home video and DVD’, there is also one chapter (the last) on wildlife television documentaries.

Taking a closer look at the documentaries analyzed in this engrossing work, Austin investigates and assesses several documentaries. In Etre et Avoir’, director Nicolas Philibert has followed a year in the life of an infant school in rural France: one teacher and a dozen or so little kids, aged from four to ten, all taught by the old master M Georges Lopes in one room. In Touching the Void instead, the main topic tackles specific politics and the concept of location. The analysis of this film shows how a geographical remote place can become a source of inspiration for the more common demands of everyday life. And Andrew Jarecki’s documentary Capturing the Friedmans, which relies heavily on videos and footage from the family’s life during Arnold and Jesse’s last months of freedom, looks into troublesome human relationships. This is the story of how, in 1984, after US customs intercepted child pornography addressed to the main character and family man Arnold Friedman, a disturbing secret was revealed to an entire family.

Watching  the World is a very valuable account of how audiences and academics, with an impressive amount of well-researched material, look at this cinematic art form today which seems to be living its ‘golden age’. In terms of documentary surely there is still more to be (re)discovered, but definitely Austin provides a rare opportunity to start this journey into this fascinating process of documenting reality, with the ultimate merit of bringing to the foreground a remarkable list of the most recent non fictional successes.

Nicola Marzano

Paperback: 215pp
Publisher: Manchester University Press
Language: English
ISBN: 978 07190 76893

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Book Review: World Film Locations: Dublin

 

World Film Locations: Dublin is part of the admirable Intellect Books collection of World Film Locations – the Phileas Fogg-like series that travels around the world celebrating an array of cities and the different ways they have been imagined and utilized as movie locations.

Dublin is the focus of the latest addition to the series and provides a fascinating angle on Ireland’s capital city through scenes from classic and contemporary Irish films, providing 46 snapshots  from films that were shot or set in Dublin.

Impress your friends the next time you’re supping stout in Mulligans on Poolbeg St by casually mentioning that ‘My Left Foot was shot in here’ and have tremendous craic as people look down at your foot with alarm before you reassure them ‘No, not my left foot; My Left Foot – the film.’

Next time time you’re walking around the laneways of Camden Street amaze your friends with the hilarious anecdote that ‘this is where Paul got mugged, beaten and castrated by 2 scumbags’ and have tremendous craic as people look at Paul with alarm before you reassure them ‘No, not Paul; Paul in Savage – the film.’

The book’s scenes feature chronologically from 46 films spanning from 1959 to 2011, from Shake Hands with the Devil to Between the Canals, and each analysis is accompanied by 5/6 stills from the scene in question bringing each brief synopsis to visual life.

A series of two-page essays punctuate the book, taking in  a variety of angles of the portrayal of Dublin as a cinematic city; a musical city; a city of revolution; a literary city; a city of gangsters; and of booms and busts.

The book’s editors, Caroline Whelan and Jez Conolly, have put together an accessible and enjoyable read that can be dipped into for nuggets or appreciated for its more cultured examination of Dublin’s cinematic heritage on a deeper level.

Providing an insight into how Dublin has both shaped and been shaped by filmmakers, World Film Locations:Dublin is an engaging journey through Dublin and its representation on screen.

Steven Galvin

 

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Intellect (13th April 2012)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1841505501
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841505503
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 15.2 x 1.3 cm
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Book Review: The Naked Brando: An Intimate Friendship

The Naked Brando: An Intimate Friendship

Title: The Naked Brando: An Intimate Friendship

Author: George Englund

There may have been tons of words, articles, books and blogs about Marlon Brando but the new book published by Gibson Square and penned by George Englund definately has a quality that cannot be underestimated. George Englund was one of Marlon Brando’s best friends from the mid 50s onwards and a long-time business partner. The Naked Brando: An Intimate Friendship – is a captivating, crafty and insightful account of the life of one of, or perhaps the most, talented and restless Hollywood actors of all time: Marlon Brando, or Mar, as he was affectionately called by his friend George Englund.

The memoir keeps track of how and why Brando had such a significant impact on film acting, and how he became the foremost example of the ‘method’ acting style. Nonetheless the account also helps to understand the reasons why he was also so resentful of the world, and so scornful of himself. Even so, he was the American actor of modern times, and of the second half of the 20th century; someone who was regularly placed in that small circle of the finest actors, the most potent and dangerous actors who could take a role and bring their audience into emotional territory that no one had anticipated.

Englund’s account reveals to the reader many interesting gems about Marlon Brando and his acting instinct. Amongst others, it emerges that while Brando became notorious for his ‘mumbling’, just a few knew that this was directly inherited from his father, with whom he notoriously had a troubled relationship, to put it lightly, all their lives. In fact at some stage during the late 50’s, George Englund met with Brando’s father to talk about the creation of a film production company. This encounter proved pivotal to Englund in revealing that so much of Brando’s raw animal magnetism and his mercurial performances were directly connected to and undoubtedly a legacy from his father.

Plenty of episodes showing the macho Brando and his love stories with his wives and occasional girlfriends are reported by Englund with juicy details on the side. Brando married three times – to Anna Kashfi (Anglo-Indian), Movita Castenada (Mexican) and Tarita (Tahitian). However, there were many more affairs, and he was the father of many children (rumours claim at least 11). On the one hand, he was particularly intrigued by seducing married women and then abandoning them; on the other hand, the book also talks about those women who said he was a magical lover and an enormous influence on their lives. Also, as accounted by Georgie ( how Brando used to call Englund), during his golden age, Brando was incredibly rebuffed by a fascinating female member of the UN.

Brando’s early career from unremarkable films to his masterpieces (to name just a few: On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, Last Tango in Paris, Apocalypse Now) are followed exclusively through the trajectory of Englund and Brando’s friendship. This gives the memoir perhaps a confined space from which Brandos life is accounted but also undoubtedly it gives an unknown insight into Brando’s life and his way of living as an idol and hero for many generations of actors and fans.

The biography is also enriched by some revealing and never before published letters written by Brando and addressed to Englund during the years of their friendship (these letters were mainly composed towards the last years of Brando’s life). Englund’s work is a personal point of view on Brando’s life and career, during which their relationship was so intense that at one stage in his book, Englund borrows a famous line from the Greek philosopher Aristotle: ‘What is a friend? – A single soul dwelling in two bodies…’

Nicola Marzano

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Gibson Square Books Ltd; New ed edition (16 Mar 2011)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1903933757
  • ISBN-13: 978-1903933756
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 1.8 cm
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Book Review: Censoring Hollywood: Sex and Violence in Film and on the Cutting Room Floor

 Censoring Hollywood: Sex and Violence in Film and on the Cutting Room Floor

 

Title: Censoring Hollywood: Sex and Violence in Film and on the Cutting Room Floor

Author: Aubrey Malone

‘I believe in censorship. After all, I made a fortune out of it.’ This quotation from Mae West, scourge of the Hays Office in the early 1930s, is one of a host included by Aubrey Malone in this hugely entertaining history of film censorship. It’s a quip which underscores the fundamental dichotomy in attempting to protect the public from the perceived evils of sex and violence. As West soon found out, the more controversy her films generated, the more spectacular the results at the box office. While the likes of Will Hays and the fiercely anti-Semitic Joe Breen became the self-appointed moral guardians of the nation, the savage cuts they inflicted on some of the more daring films of the day did  nothing to stem the public taste for salaciousness and violent sensation. Accordingly, Malone’s book is both a condemnation of the asinine and ham-fisted proscription of some of these films, as well as a celebration of the cunning exercised by directors like Cecil B. de Mille in circumventing the Production Code’s litany of regulations.

Censoring Hollywood is a daringly ambitious and panoramic overview of the history of film censorship – stretching from the early silent cinema of Hollywood, when ‘vamps’ like Theda Bara first attracted the ire of self-appointed moral guardians, through the steamy undercurrents of film noir and cinematic adaptations of Tennessee Williams’ plays, right up to the pivotal late ‘60s/early ‘70s liberalisation of Hollywood and modern cause célébres like Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. The author is strong on the subject of notorious censor-baiting landmarks such as A Clockwork Orange, The Devils and Bonnie and Clyde – but lesser known works which challenged the established orthodoxy (such as The Miracle and The Pawnbroker) are also explored. Roberto Rosselini’s now half-forgotten The Miracle – scripted by none other than Federico Fellini – an allegorical tale of a peasant girl who believes she has been impregnated by St.Joseph, was instrumental in loosening the stranglehold of Catholic groups on what was permissible on screen. By the dawn of the ‘60s the old days of Breen and Hays were buried forever by the new classification system – when Midnight Cowboy became the first X-rated film to win a Best Picture Oscar® in 1969 it was a defining moment, an emphatic signal of the mainstream’s absorption of what would once have been considered outré material. The subsequent incremental erosion of the power of film censors reached its logical extreme when Michael Winterbottom’s sexually graphic 9 Songs was passed in Ireland completely without cuts in 2004.

What sets this book apart from others on this subject are the arcane and sometimes hilarious details : such as the little known fact that E.T. was banned in, of all places, Sweden, for apparently showing a child being treated with criminal neglect by its parents, and Will Hays cutting a scene from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs because it hinted at a possible sexual relationship between the heroine and the titular dwarfs. (This is far from the most risible example of the censor’s ludicrously myopic reading of otherwise innocuous film material.) There is also plenty of interest here for any student of the history of Irish film censorship, with a detailed exploration of the furore caused by Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, when embattled censor Sheamus Smith was flooded with piously outraged entreaties from hundreds of Catholics who managed to be grossly offended by the film despite never having seen it.

The author’s deft turn-of-phrase and liberal use of pomposity-pricking humour lend a much-needed air of levity to this sometimes vexed subject. Entertaining personal reminiscences – such as memories of an abortive attempt to stage a viewing of the infamous Last Tango in Paris in Trinity College Dublin in 1972 – also help to keep the material in the realm of free-wheeling historical guide rather than drily academic treatise.

Witty, well-structured and rigorously researched, this is an indispensable examination of the century-long battle between meddling censor on one side, and the priceless creative freedom of the film artist on the other.

Martin Cusack

Paperback: 218 pages
Publisher: McFarland & Co Inc (27th May 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0786464658
ISBN-13: 978-0786464654
Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 15 x 1.4 cm

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Book Review: Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin

 

Title: Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin

Author: Pierre Assouline

The Tintin comics are amongst the most beloved in our history, its clean lines and simplicity exist in stark contrast to the complicated CGI of today and yet fans are still enraptured by the boy and his dog. Despite having an international following, biographies of the man who created Tintin are just now being made available to the English-speaking audience. Timed to coincide with the release of the magnificent new Spielberg offering The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Pierre Assouline’s stunning biography Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin is now available.

This biography is one which has taken a great deal of time to craft. There is almost as much effort put into each and every paragraph as there is into Tintin himself. Assouline, a biographer and journalist by trade, is arguably one of the most dedicated in the business as he leaves no stone in the life of Georges Prosper, or Hergé as he is more widely known, unturned. We are given unprecedented access to personal and previously unpublished letters which give the reader a new insight into the man we have only known to exist behind Tintin. Here we are thrown into the world of the man behind the pen and we gain a new understanding of the characters he created. The text is so lovingly translated by Charles Ruas that the transition is seamless, proving him to be a master in his craft.

The book itself has been thoughtfully pieced together, and like most biographies, we follow a linear narrative, but the difference here is that we are introduced in the preface as if we are an immediate friend of Hergé, rather than being positioned on the outside. We witness the humour and charm of the man for ourselves. This is a very visual text which insists on thrusting the reader into its universe. From the outset we are presented with the colour grey, which is described as being the colour of Hergé’s childhood. This use of colour changes this from the average biography to an emotional experience as we follow the progression of Georges Prosper from a child in a grey world, to Hergé, the man who gained colour in his life, and then injected it into the world around him through his art.

Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin is a labour of love, almost a portrait in itself which reveals stunning details about the man who revolutionised the world of comics and art with one simple sketch. In conjunction with Spielberg’s offering, this biography is sure to introduce this important character and his creator to an entirely new audience. A must for all comic fans.

Ciara O’Brien

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  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0199837279
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199837274
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.5 x 2.3 cm
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Book Review: Maurice Pialat (French Film Directors)

Pialat

Title: Maurice Pialat (French Film Directors)

Author: Marja Warehime

Marja Warehime amongst many other merits in writing this Maurice Pialat biography, has finally offered the English reader an account of French director Marcel Pialat’s life as until now most of the texts written about him have mainly been in French. As far as biographical information is concerned, Warehime’s book probably represents one of the more accomplished works about the life and the career of an anti conformist director. Warehime’s style of writing to describe Pialat’s career and approach to life is astonishingly warm and passionate. The biography chronologically portrays the entire career of the French director from his first short films to his last film feature Le Garcu.

Through Warehime’s account we discover that after training as a painter and making, during the ’60s, several short films, Maurice Pialat in 1968 wraps up his first feature film with the co-production of Francois Truffaut’s L’Enfance nue (Naked Childhood). Using non-professionals, this was a stark and moving portrait of a boy pushed into frenzied adolescence by his parents inability to cope with his difficult personality; it won critical acclaim and the Prix Jean Vigo. A second personal film was made in 1972, Nous Ne Vieillirons Pas Ensemble, a harrowingly accurate account of a love affair turned sour.

In 1974, Pialat directed his first masterpiece, La Gueule Ouverte, the story of a 50-year-old mother dying of cancer, told from the perspective of an impotent son and a promiscuous father, rather than the protagonist. Its long takes emphasise the claustrophobic intensity of the situation. It was released in English as The Mouth Agape. A Nos Amours’ in 1983 marked a turning point in his career, as his works were becoming more intense and demanding while adopting a tone close to the autobiography. A Nos Amours’ brought him the César for Best Film and at the same time it revealed the actress Sandrine Bonnaire to the public.

Pialat and his troublesome relationship with the ‘Nouvelle Vague’ is contained in the second chapter of this book but possibly represents the most relevant text as it allows the reader to get a great insight into the difficult relationship between Pialat and all the writers from the French film magazine, Cahiers du Cinema. In fact Pialat on some occasions expressed his resentment over the fact that the young directors of the ‘Nouvelle Vague’ had already begun to make names for themselves in the 1960s while he was still struggling to make films.

Through the pages of his work, Warehime draws the style of the French filmmaker as something very close to his character, expressed through his strength and his raw and uncompromising approach, becoming a form of cinema that might be well described with the term ‘naturalist’. After finishing Police, Maurice Pialat, in 1987, received the Palme d’Or in Cannes with Under the Sun of Satan, a film adapted from a novel by Georges Bernanos, causing scandal at the awards ceremony, he addressed the crowd with the famous line: ‘If you do not love me, I can tell you I don’t love you either.’

In 1991, Pialat finally decides to pay homage to his love of painting realizing a film on Vincent Van Gogh with Jacques Dutronc in the title role, for which he won the César for best actor in 1991. Four years later, the filmmaker completed his latest feature, Le garçu (The Boy), where he directs Gerard Depardieu, one of his most loyal actors.

Always against the role model, anti-conformist and pessimistic – such traits conveyed to his character a certain legend to the extent of being considered one of the greatest French directors, if not the greatest, by many of his peers.

This biography is a valuable account of the French directors work, with an impressive amount of well-researched material, logically arranged. The information about Pialat’s controversy with established French culture, which is given as much space here as his cinematic achievements, is particularly useful as it helps the reader to grasp the mood in which Pialat’s cinema was trying to express itself.

Marja Warehime offers a fascinating text combining an account of the filmmakers remarkable work through interesting photos from his films and locations, original transcripts of some of his most important public interviews (with English translations as footnotes) and sharp observations on the way he approached the creative process of filmmaking.

Nicola Marzano

Paperback: 182
Publisher: Manchester University Press
Language: English
ISBN: 978071906823.2
Product Dimensions: 20.7 x 13.5 x 1.7 cm

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Book Review: Anthony Asquith (British Film Makers)

Anthony Asquith (British Film Makers)

Title: Anthony Asquith (British Film Makers)

Author: Tom Ryall

When Anthony Asquith began his career in the 1920s, he initially ran neck and neck with Alfred Hitchcock as one of the leading lights of British silent cinema. From a privileged background – his father, H.H Asquith, was Prime Minister during the years of World War I – he benefited hugely from the connections his family had made in the United States, enjoying an apprenticeship under none other than the great Charlie Chaplin. In his first handful of films, Asquith demonstrated a desire to absorb the influences of the European avant-garde and the experimental montage techniques of the Soviet School, early silent efforts such as Underground and Shooting Stars dealt with realistic themes in a visually striking and original fashion. Ironically, his later successes as a director of adaptations of stage plays by the likes of Shaw, Wilde and Rattigan led to him being labelled a conservative journeyman, content to play it safe with the un-cinematic business of filming established plays with middle-class themes. As Tom Ryall points out in this indispensable study of Asquith’s films, his career seemed to run in a sort of strange, reverse parallel with the development of film form itself.

While cinematic innovators sought to establish a dynamic filmic language to escape from the stifling influence of the stage-bound traditional play, Asquith seemed to retreat from his initial bold innovation into a conservative style very much dependent for his material on proven stage successes. Unlike his contemporary Hitchcock, Asquith has never been a fashionable figure, perhaps as a result of soiling his legacy with bloated late efforts such as the U.S-British co-productions The VIP’s (1963) and The Yellow Rolls Royce (1964), two films that could not be further from the spirit of the ‘60’s zeitgeist exemplified by continental directors like Godard and Truffaut. Part of Ryall’s mission in this book is to re-evaluate Asquith’s career, replacing the unfair emphasis on Asquith’s more conservative efforts with a perceptive look at how some of his lesser-known works reflected the Britain of the times as well as expressing a very British sense of national identity and character.

Tom Ryall’s study of Asquith and his career concentrates solely on his films, veering away from any biographical detail of the director’s often turbulent life. A closeted homosexual who struggled with alcoholism, Asquith’s placid demeanour masked an inner torment which Ryall acknowledges informed the themes of deception and identity crisis which were a strong element of some of his most illustrious efforts, including Pygmalion (1938), The Browning Version (1951) and most famously, The Importance of Being Earnest (1952). The real strength of Ryall’s book however, is how it draws parallels between contemporaneous events in Britain and how these coloured and influenced Asquith’s output. The book is particularly strong on the war years, when Asquith put his shoulder to the wheel for his country by making a succession of stirring, patriotic war films which encouraged a powerful sense of national pride. Films such as Freedom Radio (1941) and We Dive at Dawn (1944) extolled the virtues of freedom in a way which brilliantly reflected the stiff-upper lip stoicism of a very particular type of Britishness, these films are now of immense historical interest to anyone with an interest in the period. Ryall also re-evaluates some of Asquith’s less-trumpeted works – such as the noirish The Woman in Question (1950) and the sci-fi curiosity The Net (1953) – doing much to re-ignite interest in some of the director’s less stagey efforts.

Asquith’s distinguished career stretched from the early days of British silent cinema up to the experimental climate of the 1960s, and so this intensive look at his filmography also serves as a handy potted history of British film itself. This study is another exemplary entry in the British Film Makers series, and while readers looking for any biographical detail on this highly interesting figure will have to look elsewhere, Tom Ryall’s book is absolutely invaluable for any student of the British film industry in the first half of the 20th century.

Martin Cusack

Paperback: 204 pages
Publisher: Manchester University Press; New in paperback edition (28th Jun 2011)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0719064538
ISBN-13: 978-0719064531
Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14 x 1.5 cm

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Book Review: Ken Loach: The Politics of Film and Television

loach

Title: Ken Loach: The Politics of Film and Television
Author: John Hill

Ken Loach is a filmmaker who, more than any other, has been able to tell the difficult reality of the British working class (and beyond). Spanning almost five decades, his extraordinary career is characterized by a steady political commitment and a deep sympathy to the problems of the lower classes of British society. Born in 1936 in Nuneaton, England, to a working class family, the director has never forgotten his proletarian roots, which have always been a strong component of his political activism and work as a director. Having turned 75 in June of this year, Ken Loach joined the BBC in 1963 to start an incredible career made up of television works, documentary and film features. To celebrate all this, John Hill, Professor of Media at the Royal Holloway University of London, has written a compelling book about Ken Loach’s career entitled Ken Loach: The Politics of Film and Television which has been published by the British Film Institute.

Through Hill’s writings we discover that it’s not so often that a film director can also claim a TV directing career as eventful and remarkable as Ken Loach’s one. His film and TV trajectory has often followed an intertwined path that share certain common factors, such as realism, naturalism and tackling political issues as well as (and this is one of the most valuble and original contributions we can retrieve from John Hill’s account) showing us a certain ‘Loachian’ tendency for-non conventional filmmaking , quirky stories and somehow an almost ‘Fellinian’ approach towards some of his productions (amongst others Two Minds and The Golden Vision as examples of the latter).

Works like Diary of a Young Man and Days of Hope are largely reviewed and analyzed by John Hill with an in-depth insight into the historical as well as the political context, giving the reader the chance to explore the politically engaged Loach. In the specific case of the analysis of Days of Hope, for example, Hill brings to the foreground the importance of this TV series in making a departure from other period dramas of the time, as Loach does not portray just the British families in general but also the political outlooks that he adopts.

The Politics of Film and Television tells us of a consistent, honest and sincere Loach throughout his work life. These are indeed revealing qualities for a director who tells stories of men and women on the margin of society, who strongly demand his attention, like the characters in Kes, Family Life and Sweet Sixteen. Through his stories of everyday life, Ken Loach has often been able to create tough and merciless portraits of humankind’s perennial struggle.

Loach’s early career was rooted in television but at the same time by pushing for the increased use of film in television drama, he questioned the existence of any essential distinction between film and television. However, as the use of film in television drama grew more frequent, the economics of television began to render the ‘single play’, or filmed drama, less common as it increasingly made way for the filmed series and serial.

The great strength of John Hill’s work is his ongoing crossing of the boundaries between Loach, the television director, and Loach, the film director. Moreover the book’s considerable lasting value lies in the quality and depth of the contextual material, accompanied by a lenghty and precious bibliography. Hill’s account of Loach’s career is a particularly valuable tool, as is his exploration of the peculiar historical, cultural and political context that allowed Ken Loach for nearly 50 years to build his reputation as one of the most passionate and politically engaged television and film directors in British and European history.

Nicola Marzano

• Paperback: 256 pages
• Publisher: British Film Institute (3rd June 2011)
• Language English
• ISBN-10: 184457203X
• ISBN-13: 978-1844572038
• Product Dimensions: 24.4 x 17.4 x 2 cm

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