Friday, 16 December 2011

Film Books For Christmas

Forgot to post this. My round-up from The Sunday Times.


The Dream Repairman: Adventures in Film Editing by Jim Clark (Landmarc) 311pp

How apt that this book slipped out unnoticed. Editors are the unsung heroes of filmmaking — the weavers of silk purses from sows’ ears, more poetically, the Dream Repairmen.

Veteran editor Jim Clark’s tale of life in the cutting room runs from Ealing Studios to James Bond by way of his long collaboration with director John Schlesinger (it was Clark who slapped Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talking At Me onto Midnight Cowboy).

Though the best bit is when Clark, an Oscar-winner for The Killing Fields, is whisked off to Columbia Pictures as David Puttnam’s right hand man, charged with salvaging the dreadful slate of movies Puttnam inherited.

There are some wonderful anecdotes — Clark spurning an invitation by Noel Coward to “Sit in the Rolls with your old uncle”; Marilyn Monroe paralytic on The Prince And The Showgirl; and the author piecing together Robert De Niro’s dialogue word-by-word on The Mission.


The Good The Bad And The Multiplex: What’s Wrong With Modern Movies by Mark Kermode (Random House) 328pp
 Mark Kermode has built up a cult following as a Five Live critic. Hysterical tendencies notwithstanding, he clearly has a profound love for film and the depth of knowledge to go with it. If you want to get the blood pumping with a humorous rant about the inadequacies of 3-D, or how there is “a tenth circle of hell in which Michael Bay’s movies play for all eternity”, this is your baby.

In Glorious Technicolor: A Century Of Films And How It Shaped Us by Francine Stock (Chatto & Windus) 344pp
 The more measured arts broadcaster, Francine Stock, cites wartime censorship and the moral strictures of the Hays Code amongst numerous examples in support of her lofty thesis. Though her book works best as a bright and breezy movie history charting cinema’s evolution from carnival sideshow to CGI monstrosity.

Robert Redford: The Biography by Michael Feeney Callan (Simon & Schuster) 468pp
 Genial Irishman Callan spent sixteen years tailing Robert Redford for one of the most thoroughly-researched showbiz biographies ever penned. His subject still remains something of an enigma — serious artist, creator of Sundance, eschewer of film stardom, but who, according to his long-term collaborator, the late Sidney Pollack, “will always be thirty, blond, perfection.”

Pete Postlethwaite: A Spectacle Of Dust, The Autobiography (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) 279pp
 Pete Postlethwaite started this memoir but, sadly, didn’t live to complete it, the job finished by writer Andy Richardson. The Warrington-born actor was embraced by Hollywood but never forgot his theatrical roots, preferring a British tour of Macbeth over one starry role in particular. “Steven (Spielberg) offered me Saving Private Ryan,” he notes. “He went ahead with Tom Hanks.” The final chapter, as Postlethwaite succumbs to cancer, is immensely moving.

Tough Without A Gun: The Extraordinary Life Of Humphrey Bogart by Stefan Kanfer (Faber & Faber) 288pp
 “Impersonators don’t do[ital] Tobey Maguire or Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio or Christian Bale,” reminds the author. The (much misquoted) Humphrey Bogart, on the other hand, has endured as a screen icon, ranked by the American Film Institute as the greatest male legend in cinema history. The actor has been written about endlessly, but there’s a sense of getting up close and personal with “Bogie” — the delinquent scion of East Coast privilege who fell into the movies by accident.
Spencer Tracy: A Biography by James Curtis (Hutchinson) £25, 1001pp 
Hepburn chasing Spencer Tracy with a loaded shotgun is one of the highlights of this epic deconstruction of a notorious drunk and womaniser (she had suspected him of carrying on with Ingrid Bergman). Tracy and Hepburn enjoyed a 26-year affair on and off the screen, though the real star here is Louise Treadwell Tracy, the wife who stuck by her husband throughout.

Christopher Hitchens

Alas, another writer-hero shuffles off this mortal coil. An essayist par excellence Hitch was the very reason I've subscribed to Vanity Fair these past sixteen years. And what a dignified exit. Although it seems like old news now, I think his skewering of Bill Clinton, post-Lewinsky, was particularly brilliant (and this from a natural political bedfellow). Slick Willie got away with murder... some would say almost literally. Farewell C.H.