The Oscar Project
I really hope you are enjoying the posts this week as the kick-off to my Year in Review. If you missed any, please be sure to go back and check them out at the links below.
Behind the Scenes
While Dan Talbot may be in love with movies, I was in love with the stories he told in this book. Despite the famous company he keeps throughout the stories in this book, I never once felt that he was bragging. Offhand comments about meetings with the likes of Werner Herzog (who penned the introduction) or any number of other famous actors, directors, producers, and distributors were related as someone just talking about their fun evenings with friends.
From beginning to end, the stories, memories, and vignettes that Daniel delivers throughout the volume are full of real conversations and interactions with some of heavy hitters in international and independent cinema from across the 20th century. What became completely clear to me as I read about Dan's love of film, is that I have only scratched the surface of great films from around the world. My only regret in reading this book now is that Dan Talbot is no longer with us and didn't get the chance to see the book published. I'm sure he would have loved the feedback provided from the book, even if he didn't fully agree with all of it.
Don Bluth had such an impact on my childhood even though I didn’t know his name at the time. I grew up on his films, specifically The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go to Heaven, and An American Tail (affiliate links) and reading about the man behind those stories took me right back to my formative years.
Bluth’s story is one that takes him from his birth in Texas, to Utah, before landing at Disney as an animator. This book is told in his own words, and it truly feels like you’re sitting fireside, listening to him recount his life. Bluth brings plenty of humor and wit to the telling, and weaves in “conversations” he had with his biggest critic, the man in the mirror, throughout his life.
After reading this book, I have a better appreciation for the world of animation, understanding what a stranglehold Disney had on the animation industry throughout the 20th century. When Bluth left Disney to create his own company, everyone told him he would fail, and Disney threw as many hurdles in his way as they could.
What could possibly be written about a famous sequel from nearly 50 years ago that hasn’t already been written? Plenty it turns out in this concise volume by Jon Lewis.
Following up on his book on the first Godfather film (affiliate link), Lewis provides a detailed look at not just the making of one of the greatest movie sequels of all time, but also delivers insightful analysis and critique of the film. Lewis provides a recap of the film, helpful for those who may have never seen it or haven’t seen it for some time, as well as plenty of images from the film to make his point throughout. Interspersed with this review of the plot are insights relating the sequel back to the first film while also pointing out relevant context.
When I first picked up the preview copy of this book, I honestly thought it was a historical narrative of the making of Frankenstein. Much to my surprise, the book was a fictionalized imagining of the days leading up to the beginning of shooting on one of the most famous Universal monster films of the 1930s and that was just as good if not better than what I had originally anticipated.
The opening pages of the book feature snippets from actual news outlets of the time, tracking down the latest rumors during pre-production when Bela Lugosi was initially cast in the film following his success with Dracula earlier in 1931. It then becomes clear that Lugosi is no longer the choice, and the story picks up the Friday before filming is to begin with Carl Laemmle, Jr., aka Junior, fretting about his lack of a star for the role of the monster in Frankenstein.
The story is fast paced, bouncing between Hollywood royalty like Lugosi and eventual Frankenstein star Boris Karloff, with Junior providing the focal point around which the entire plot revolves. While not a factual record of events, there is certainly plenty of research that went into making a book like this and for fans of the movies, especially classic Hollywood, it’s fun to get in the heads of these names we know so well and imagine that these are the things they might have been thinking and saying at the time.
Perhaps best known for his roles as Chuck Bartowski in the television series Chuck, Flynn Rider in Disney’s Tangled, and the lead role in the superhero film Shazam!, Zachary Levi has been a rising star in Hollywood over the past decade. That success is only part of the story, a story that Levi discusses in his new book Radical Love: Learning to Accept Yourself and Others (affiliate links).
This book surprised me in many ways. There is often a feeling about Hollywood actors that they have it all and oftentimes, nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, they are people just like us and have some of the same problems we have. Levi presents the struggles he has experienced throughout his life including strained relationships with both of his parents, dealing with depression, and even thoughts of suicide. The book is really an exploration of why he struggles the way he does, but also a bit of a guide as to how he is working to overcome those struggles.
In my second monthly installment of the film book spotlight, I am highlighting a book I just got last month that is a great addition to any cinephile's library.
This month I am highlighting the 2017 book Cinemaps: An Atlas of 35 Great Movies by Andrew DeGraff and A.D. Jameson. I picked this book up with a gift card I received for my birthday last month (thanks to my brother for that!) and absolutely love this book.
The concept of the book is simple. The maps of each film plot the main action that occurs throughout the film (or films in the case of the Lord of the Rings trilogy). Each character (or in some cases vehicle) is represented by a different colored line on the map and you can see where different characters' lines intersect and sometimes even travel together.
The maps themselves are not drawn to any real scale and often bring together parts of the films that are not geographically close, in the interest of fitting the entire map on one page. The perfect example of this comes early in the book with King Kong (the original 1933 version). Kong's map features an enormous Skull Island in the foreground, dominating and dwarfing the island of Manhattan that fills the rest of the map, and showing the relative importance of Kong's home in the film.
My favorite thing about some of these maps is how creatively they address some oddities in the films they capture. The map for The Wizard of Oz features a dull brown corner which covers Dorothy's home in Kansas while most of the rest of the map is in the vibrant colors that make up Oz. The Alien map is one of the simplest in that 90% of the action of the film is contained within the Nostromo.
Two of my favorites are for The Breakfast Club and Back to the Future. In the former, all the action takes place in the Shermer High School, but there are so many little nuances that are captured in the map, it's fun to find the little details. From all five detentionees (is that a word?) running the halls trying to stay away from Principal Vernon to Bender's famous exit across the football field, each little piece of the film is there.
When it comes to another 1980s favorite, Back to the Future, there is the added complexity of time travel. The film takes place in the same town, but it could be two completely different locales for how different they look. The art here is handled well by creating two separate maps, one for 1985 and one for 1955, connected by Marty's travel from one to the other. This is also once instance where an inanimate object (the Delorean) get a separate line. Again, subtle details make all the difference here from the time (1:19) displayed on the Twin Pines Mall sign to Biff's car sideways against the manure truck in 1955.
My one and only criticism of this book is that some of the maps are so detailed that it's hard to fully see all the hidden gems they contain while some of the line colors blend together and make it a little tough to figure out who's who. This is a small complaint, but one I hope will be remedied if and when the authors create another volume
If you missed last month's book post, check out my article on Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen and grab your copy today!
As I'm diving into the history of film more and more lately, I found myself slowly building a library of books about movies and wanted to share that with folks. That being said, this is the first in what I hope will be a monthly segment here spotlighting one book about movies.
My first spotlight here is going to focus on the 2019 book Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen by Brian Raftery. The book walks through the year 1999 in movies from beginning to end, giving some of the stories behind the great films of the year from the big budget blockbusters like Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and The Matrix, to the unexpected hits like Office Space and The Sixth Sense, and even giving insight into the phenomenon that was The Blair Witch Project.
The book came about as a result of countless interviews conducted by the author as well as compiling source accounts from the time. And while 1999 doesn't seem like that long ago, it is a full generation at this point so there is some distance between us today and the year in question.
I wanted to start with this book because, as I look back on the year 1999, it was a formative year in my own film experience. Up to that point, my main focus had been on things in the science fiction realm. I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new Star Wars film, the first time I was going to be able to see one of those in it's initial run in a movie theater. There was the science fiction/action film The Matrix which captured my imagination and blew my mind as to what was possible in films when it came to special effects.
But beyond these, I was starting to broaden my horizons and able to finally get into R rated films without parental approval. Films like Being John Malkovich, Fight Club, and American Beauty were within my grasp and while I didn't necessarily see all these at the theater, many of them I did check out between 1999 and late 2000 when I arrived at college for the first time.
Raftery writes in the book's prologue about the night of New Year's Eve 1999, the night when the world held its collective breath in hopes that the Y2K rumors wouldn't come true and that life would continue on as usual. He implicates the concern over Y2K as one of the main culprits of the boom in the film industry in 1999 as the world led up to its impending doom. Looking back now, of course there was little to worry about, but at the time, I remember the concern being real. It seems a trivial thing to worry about today with things going on in our world, so reading about that "simpler time" feels good and brings me back to a good place in my own life.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?