What makes a world director? Baz Luhrmann still seems fairly early on in his career to receive such an accolade, but he certainly has a distinctive voice, and his reinvention of the musical is a significant achievement. He is also, of course, important in terms of the way he has changed people's expectations of Australian cinema. This book provides an in-depth analysis of his work so far and also examines its place within a changing cultural landscape.
As someone who isn't a great fan of Baz Luhrmann's work, I found the book a bit hit and miss - the chapters on Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge are intriguing, but the one on Australia really feels like it's trying too hard with its spirited defence of the film's racial politics and sentimental themes. The fact that Cook spends a whole paragraph analysing the title of Romeo + Juliet is symptomatic of an approach that looks for depth in unlikely places rather than celebrating what the director is undeniably good at - approaching big stories with a lightness of touch. I also felt the book didn't say enough about the man behind the movies, surely an area where fans will be keen to know more. There are occasional fascinating details, but overall the book feels a bit distant from its subject.
Where the book succeeds is in its forward looking approach to film criticism and its exploration of hoe Luhrmann's work is situated in the information age. Here Cook seems to find her own voice and her enthusiasm feels more genuine. The book isn't really an essential for Luhrmann fans, but it will appeal to some of those who feel his work is critically undervalued, and it will no doubt be interesting to look back on as his work develops further.
Writing a whole book about a single piece of art, of whatever type, is always a risky venture. Ideally, such a work should speak for itself, with commentary merely fitting around it like a frame, providing context. But when a work is under appreciated as Sweet Smell Of Success is today, and when a changing film culture has left it stranded in a context which itself is little-understood, a book like this can be exactly what's needed to set things right.
James Naremore's concise yet thorough analysis of Alexander Mackendrick's ground breaking work is almost as ambitious as the film itself. Casual readers may find this somewhat intimidating, and there's an extra barrier to entry for non-Americans, who may be confused by references to televisions programmes and public figures not well known elsewhere. But those who make the effort will find this much more accessible and enjoyable than they might expect. Progressing from a rich exploration of the film's back story to a thorough scene-by-scene analysis, it will be of particular interest to beginner filmmakers keen to learn more about the mechanics of scriptwriting and direction - and coping with other people on set.
Telling the story of a small-time reporter corrupted by a powerful media figure, Sweet Smell Of Success is all about big personalities, and in Naremore's study the personalities of Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster fairly leap off the page. Yet despite their inability to compete in this aggressive world, less celebrated players like Mackendrick also get their chance to shine, and personal stories are well rooted in relation to the politics of the time, especially Macarthyism. As a result the book has much more to offer than simply an analysis of the film on which it centres, and it will appeal to anyone with an interest in Fifties America.
Few directors have had a greater impact is demonstrating the artistic potential of the horror genre than Dario Argento. As such, he has already been the subject of a considerable amount of critical attention, including two books. So what new things does this one have to offer?
At the risk of sounding biased, I must say that Gracey's book is the most thorough on the subject yet. This may or may not be to your taste. For those looking for a simple, easy-to-read guide that tells them what to expect from this horror icon, it may be a bit much. For fans, however, it's a must.
To be fair, Argento is not the most challenging of subjects. He has always been willing to talk extensively about his work and about himself, and this book opens with an introductory section focusing on he man that helps to put everything else in context. Later chapters are structured around the careful categories Argento constructed for his own work, reflecting the self referential nature of his films, but what makes the book stand out is that there's also extensive material bout his minor films and television work, contributing to a much more rounded appraisal of what his career has been about. Music, too, has its place, with a look at Argento's numerous intriguing connections in the music world - and, of course, his particular fondness for Goblin.
With a strong set of references and lots of fascinating additional material, this is sure to contain something new for even the most dedicated Argento fan.