Posts published under “Picture Books”
MAKING MOVIES (1995/KNOPF) by SIDNEY LUMET Acclaimed director Sidney Lumet prefaces his 1995 insider how-to book on, well, making movies, with a telling anecdote about how he once asked one of his favorite directors, the great Akira Kurosawa, why he’d chosen to frame a shot in a particular way. Kurosawa explained it in the plainest terms possible: If he’d have panned the camera an inch to the left, you’d see the Sony factory; an inch to the right, the airport. Neither belonging in a period movie.
This story sets up Lumet’s book perfectly. Making Movies is a Hollywood tell-all of a variety not often enough seen, devoid of the usual kiss-and-tell, sensationalist twaddle, instead concerning itself with the fascinating(ly tedious) day-to-day process of how a film is created frame by frame. There’s some wonderfully exclusive stuff in here—a step by step detailed lesson explaining coded info on actual daily call sheets from previous Lumet productions, for example—you wouldn’t otherwise get wise to unless you’d find yourself somehow working on an actual set, or perhaps knee-deep (read: $100K+) in film school.
Yes, Lumet wants to make clear, there IS a great amount of chance-taking, inspired artistry in the filmmaking process, but there are also the thousands of tiny decisions that have to be answered NOW, and obstacles popping up left and right (say, a factory and an airport) that a director has to be able to consistently overcome—sometimes via the dreaded compromise—while still somehow maintaining the integrity of this thing to which you’ve dedicated the next year or more of your life.
While Lumet does mine his greatest successes—including Network, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Murder on the Orient Express, The Verdict, and Running on Empty—for much of the book’s anecdotal material, he also interestingly focuses on many of his lesser known (or sometimes, just lesser) films, for example, his 1992 Melanie Griffith-led A Stranger Among Us, a film that you totally forgot ever existed, until I just now mentioned it. (Also something you forgot ever existed? Melanie Griffith.) Read more »
WHO THE DEVIL MADE IT (1997/KNOPF) by PETER BOGDANOVICH Director/writer Peter Bogdanovich’s conversations-with-directors tome, Who the Devil Made It, is a spectacular achievement—and one hell of a gossipy beach-ready paperback. Collecting a lifetime’s worth of revealing and often quite personal conversations with an amazing array of nearly every great early-to-mid-20th century Hollywood filmmaker, PB is in giddy film historian mode here—and just as enthusiastic as the movie-crazy, star-struck kid he used to be.
The book’s best conversations are often just as much about the writer’s own personal experience with the subjects as the subjects themselves. While most film nerds are familiar with PB’s long and fruitful friendship with Orson Welles (read his 1992 gem This is Orson Welles), his long personal relationship with gadfly raconteur Howard Hawks is less well known. The longest chapter by far, Hawks is brimming with dishy dirt about everybody, period (Howard Hawks did not give a shit, yo!), and it is he who provided the book’s title, remarking on his preference that a director make his style known through his pictures so viewers will recognize a director’s work even if they arrived after the opening credits have rolled, never needing to ask, “Well, who the devil made it?”
Check out this roster of Totally Bitchin’ Dead Guys: Howard Hawks, Allan Dwan, Alfred Hitchcock, George Cukor, Leo McCarey (on his death bed, basically), Fritz Lang, Josef von Sternberg, John Ford (not actually featured in this tome but somehow working his way into everybody else’s stories)…and this is only a portion of the great directors featured in the book. In this captivating collection (and his stellar follow-up companion piece focused on actors, Who the Hell’s in It) PB has given a priceless gift to future generations of film enthusiasts—you-were-there glimpses into the lives, works, triumphs, and tragedies of these trailblazing pioneers. Who the devil made it, indeed.