We take a look at some of the latest books about film.
The oft-maligned vampire subgenre is a classic example of a phenomenon whose very popularity with the public seems to have contributed to its unpopularity with critics, so it’s good to see a serious attempt to catalogue and consider some key contributions made to it over the past two decades. One might ask just whom this book is aimed at – it will be tough going for many readers – but we are now at a point where the generation that has grown up on Twilight is ready to expand its horizons and this well-referenced volume may help them to do so.
Unfortunately, it is not without flaws. One key facet that seems to be missing is consideration of the films it discusses as adaptations, something all the more important now that they’ve aged as the books are now likely to be discovered first. This leads to some curious oversights, such as the lengthy look at homoeroticism in Interview With The Vampire which ignores the controversy when it came out over the removal of much more directly queer content in the novel. Similarly, the bedroom encounter between the vampire and Mina in Frances Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula is discussed without reference to the shifting of a rapacious scene to a romantic one, with all that has to say about the film’s approach to women. Mina and Lucy’s sexual eagerness is here presented as if it were a feminist triumph, with no reference to the cinematic history of such presentations or the way they come to be substituted for initially prominent personality.
More successful are the book’s efforts to parallel the vampire theme with musings on the nature of cinema itself. This is most directly substantiated with reference to Shadow Of The Vampire but Gelder effectively identifies key moments in several other films to support his idea, and whilst it initially seems gimmicky it ends up woven effectively into the fabric of the book. Similarly, it is when focusing on film theory and the language of cinema that the book is at its strongest. Its exploration of the tension between horror and comedy in vampire films (with some focus on the original Buffy) is a little lightweight and will be over familiar to many genre fans but there is some interesting material on individual works. A worthwhile read for fans, this is not a thorough account but it certainly has something to say.
The latest volume in an eclectic but valuable series, Filmcraft: Screenwriting takes us back to the beginning, where films originate. What attracts people to being screenwriters? They will never enjoy the attention – or even the respect – that directors and actors receive. The pay is often mediocre and they may not even be credited for their work. It’s an interesting puzzle and here, though a series of interviews with those who have achieved success, some answers gradually emerge.
The line-up of interviewees is impressive, including the likes of David Hare (The Hours, The Reader), Jean-Claude Carrière (Belle De Jour, The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoisie) and Robin Swicord (The Jane Austen Book Club, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button). It is perhaps disappointing that Swicord is one of only two women, but this actually makes female writers over-represented in terms of their presence at the top of the industry; one can only hope that, together with some quaint quotes about the difficulty of writing female characters and discovering as one ages that women can be understood as human, it doesn’t put aspiring women off reading the book. This is in fact a very good book for any ambitious writer, with a useful combination of inspirational thinking and practical advice. It is to Grierson’s credit as an interviewer that so much emerges from a book that seems to flow so naturally.
This is in fact a book whose appeal will extend beyond writers themselves to anyone interested in how films are put together. It’s engaging and easy to read, packaged in bite-sized segments and attractively illustrated. The legacy pieces on particularly esteemed writers may not contain much that hasn’t been written before but they’ll prove useful to newcomers and will, one hopes, prompt them to discover essential parts of the cinematic conversation. The presence of these pieces alongside interview portraits of writers who themselves span generations reassures the reader that this conversation is ongoing, and Grierson’s book is a useful contribution to it.
Thinking of making a movie? Then before you let your imagination roam too far, you’ll need to understand the movie business. Louise Levison’s indispensable guide aims to take the reader from enthusiastic newcomer to the point where they can genuinely cut it in the industry.
None of this is about talent – or not filmmaking talent, anyway. You can read plenty about that elsewhere. Rather, this is about the business world, and is specifically focused on how to write a business plan. Doubtless some readers will find it rather dry at first and too similar in style to the endless business self help pages that populate the internet, but they should stay with it; the format is a necessary and there’s a lot of useful advice in there. If it seems to kill the romance of movie making, that’s no bad thing. This is about the reality.
Levison has spent many years teaching people how to sell their films and her breadth of experience contributes to a guide that readers will keep returning to. Its applicability to multiple genres and stylistic approaches is refreshing, whilst its level-headedness makes it easy to follow. If you already own an earlier edition it’s still worth considering this one as significant alterations have been made to keep up with an industry that is very much in flux. Despite recent changes, though, Levison focuses firmly on traditional independent finance. You may also be considering crowdfunding or similar, but big investors remain a cornerstone of the industry.
This isn’t a book written to entertain and it won’t be of great interest to the casual film fan, but for filmmakers it’s a treasure.