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Posts Tagged ‘Books on Films’

I recently opened an old box which had been packed years back with books. It is wonderful when we pack a box and leave it to gather dust and then open it after many years. We are surprised by some of the treasures that we find inside. Sometimes we don’t know how a particular treasure got into the box and why it has been lurking there for many years. That is exactly what happened when I opened this box. I was surprised by some of the treasures I found and I was very excited. One of these was Sidney Lumet’s ‘Making Movies’. I vaguely remember the time around which I had bought this book – I remember buying a few books on movies. But I also clearly remember that I hadn’t seen a single Sidney Lumet movie at that time. So either I had heard his name and picked the book, or I picked the book after reading the blurb and browsing inside. I am glad I picked it up. It has taken me years to read it, but I am glad that I did – I am glad I packed it in a box all those years ago, I am glad the book was in good condition and I am glad I opened the box at the right time when my movie taste was reasonably sophisticated and picked it up and read it.

Making Movies By Sidney Lumet

In ‘Making Movies’, Sidney Lumet shares his thoughts on movie making and the movie business based on his own experiences. Lumet started making movies in the ‘50s, when Sidney was a boy’s name and continued making movies well into the 2000s, when Sidney had firmly became a girl’s name. His first movie featured Henry Fonda and his last one had Philip Seymour Hoffmann and Ethan Hawke and Marisa Tomei. In between there were a galaxy of stars who worked with him (Sean Connery seems to have worked with him in a lot of movies) and Lumet writes about them all in his book. My favourite parts of the book were those in which he describes his interactions with Katharine Hepburn, Marlon Brando, Faye Dunaway and some of his wonderfully talented cinematographers and an absolutely fascinating lady called Margaret Booth who worked as the Chief Editor for MGM. While sharing his thoughts on movie making and on the fascinating personalities he worked with, Lumet also takes us on a guided tour on movie making. Each chapter discusses a different aspect of movie making and Lumet takes us from the time the movie is a concept till the time it is released. There are some parts of movie making that he loves and there are other parts which he is frustrated with. Lumet talks about them all – both the good parts and the not-so-good ones. This book was published in the middle of the ‘90s and so some of the things that Lumet says might probably feel a little dated now – for example, how the limitations of photographic film influenced many decisions in film making. Since the book was published the world has gone digital and many of the limitations of photographic film no longer apply to today’s world. (Scott Adams said in his introduction to ‘The Dilbert Principle’, all those years back, that today any idiot with a laptop can write a book. We can modify that slightly now and say that today any idiot with a smartphone can make a movie J) But even with that caveat, Lumet’s book is a wonderful education in filmmaking. Reading it was like sitting in the class of our favourite teacher and listening to him sharing his wisdom on the practice of his art.

Reading the book inspired me to watch more of Lumet’s movies. Lumet started with a bang with ’12 Angry Men’ (a movie which has been imitated an infinite number of times but has never been equalled), and after an indifferent decade during the ‘90s, ended with a bang with ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’. I have watched ’12 Angry Men’ and five of his other movies – ‘Network’, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ – and three of his ‘90s movies – ‘A Stranger Among Us’, ‘Guilty as Sin’ and ‘Gloria’. These last three were all panned by the critics, but I still liked them (who cares about the critics anyway?), especially ‘A Stranger Among Us’, which I really loved. (I adored Melanie Griffith those days and she was wonderful in this movie.) I also think I have seen half of ‘Serpico’. There are countless other great Lumet movies out there which I have not seen. I want to watch them all. And then read this book again while watching them.

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There is one more thing I want to mention before ending this review. It is a shameful thing that the Academy never gave Sidney Lumet an Academy award for Best Director. He is one of the greatest directors of the 20th century and though his movies were nominated a countless number of times for the Best Director award, it is sad that the Academy ignored him, though they grudgingly gave him a Honorary award in the end. (Another great Martin Scorsese was ignored by the academy for many years before they grudgingly gave him the award for ‘The Departed’). It sticks out like a sore thing in an otherwise brilliant film making career in which Lumet brought delightful pleasure to generations of moviegoers.

Here are some of my favourite passages from the book.

“…the truth is that nobody knows what this magic combination is that produces a first-rate of work. I’m not being modest. There’s a reason some directors can make first-rate movies and others never will. But all we can do is prepare the groundwork that allows for the “lucky accidents” that make a first-rate movie happen. Whether or not it will happen is something we never know. There are too many intangibles…”

Commercial success has no relationship to a good or bad picture. Good pictures become hits. Good pictures become flops. Bad pictures make money, bad pictures lose money. The fact is that no one really knows. If anyone did know, he’d be able to write his own ticket. And there have been two who have. Through some incredible talent, Walt Disney knew. Today Steven Spielberg seems to.

I’ve also been accused of being all over the place, of lacking an overwhelming theme that applies to all my work. I don’t know if that’s true or not. The reason I don’t know is that when I open to the first page of a script, I’m a willing captive. I have no preconceived notion that I want the body of my work to be about one particular idea. No script has to fit into an overall theme of my life. I don’t have one. Sometimes I’ll look back on the work over some years and say to myself, “Oh, that’s what I was interested in then.”

I don’t know how to choose work that illuminates what my life is about. I don’t know what my life is about and don’t examine it. My life will define itself as I live it. The movies will define themselves as I make them. As long as the them is something I care about at that moment, it’s enough for me to start work. Maybe work itself is what my life is about.

When I first meet with the scriptwriter, I never tell him anything, even if I feel there’s a lot to be done. Instead I ask him the same questions I’ve asked myself. What is the story about? What did you see? What was your intention? Ideally, if we do this well, what do you hope the audience will feel, think, sense? In what mood do you want them to leave the theater?

We are two different people trying to combine our talents, so it’s critical that we agree on the intention of the screenplay. Under the best of circumstances, what will emerge is a third intention, which neither of us saw at the beginning.

Making a movie has always been about telling a story. Some movies tell a story and leave you with a feeling. Some tell a story and leave you with a feeling and give you an idea. Some tell a story, leave you with a feeling, give you and idea, and reveal something about yourself and others. And surely the way you tell that story should relate somehow to what that story is.

Someone once asked me what making a movie was like. I said it was like a making a mosaic. Each setup is like a tiny tile. You color it, shape it, polish it as best you can. You’ll do six or seven hundred of these, maybe a thousand. Then you literally paste them together and hope it’s what you set out to do. But if you expect the final mosaic to look like anything, you’d better know what you’re going for as you work on each tiny tile.

If the cliché about pictures being made in the cutting room is false, that other cliché, ‘It’ll play better when we add the music,” is true. Almost every picture is improved by a good musical score.

Life has a cruel way of balancing pleasure and pain. To make for the joy of seeing Sophia Loren every morning, God punishes the director with the mix.

I know that all over the world there are young people borrowing from relatives and saving their allowances to buy their first cameras and put together their first student movies, some of them dreaming of becoming famous and making a fortune. But a few are dreaming of finding out what matters to them, of saying to themselves and to anyone who will listen, “I care.” A few of them want to make good movies.

Have you read Sidney Lumet’s ‘Making Movies’? Have you seen movies directed by Sidney Lumet? Which one is your favourite?

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I discovered ‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’ by Mia March through Kelly’s (from Kelly Vision) review of it. I love books with a movie theme – I loved ‘The Film Club’ by David Gilmour. So, when I read Kelly’s review, I couldn’t resist getting the book. I rarely get a book as soon as it comes out – I am normally the last guy to know about a new book release – and so it was one of the rare occasions when I got a book as soon as it came out. The book came out in June, I got it in June and I read it in June. I haven’t done something like this since the Harry Potter series came out. Here is what I think about the book.

 

 

‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’ is about two sisters Isabel and June, their cousin Kat and their aunt Lolly, Kat’s mother. Isabel and June have lost their parents in an accident which takes away Lolly’s husband too. Lolly brings up the two sisters and her own daughter. Lolly runs an inn in Boothbay harbour, Maine and the three young girls grow up there. They don’t see eye-to-eye with each other.

 

When her parents die, Isabel is comforted by Edward, who lives nearby. Isabel and Edward fall in love, get married and move out of Boothbay. Initially, Isabel and Edward have a beautiful, fairytale marriage. They have a pact from the start – to have no children. But after ten years of marriage, Isabel starts yearning for a baby. She talks about it with Edward but he tells her about the pact and drops the topic. This brings a distance between them. Isabel tries to make up, but Edward becomes more and more distant. One day Isabel discovers that Edward is having an affair with a married woman who has a baby of her own. Isabel is so shocked that she walks out of her home.

 

June goes to Columbia university to study journalism. One day Isabel meets a young man with a most universal name, John Smith. John Smith has a most common name, but as a human being he is not so common at all. June falls in love with him and John makes her feel special. John tells her that he is a student, who has taken a break from work to travel around and explore his country. They spend two days together. They make plans for the third day, but John doesn’t turn up. June searches for him, but to no avail. June then discovers that she is pregnant. She is devastated. She is not able to continue her studies at university and goes back to Boothbay. She stays with her aunt and works in a local bookstore. Henry, who owns the local bookstore, helps her out during this difficult time and is like a rock. June has a beautiful son called Charlie, who looks very much like John. At one point, June moves out of Boothbay to Portland, where Henry has another branch of his bookstore.

 

Kat stays with her mother, and helps her out at the inn. She also learns baking and starts her own business from the inn, baking beautiful birthday cakes for her clients who order them frequently. She hopes to start her own bakery in the town some day soon. Kat’s best friend in Boothbay is Oliver. Both of them know each other since they were five years old. As they grow older, Oliver falls in love with Kat. Kat is not sure about her feelings for him. She thinks in her heart that she loves him, but does not seem to have any romantic feelings towards him.

 

This is the point at which the main part of the book starts. Lolly invites her two nieces to the inn, telling them that she has an important announcement to make. She also tells Kat about this. The three women are puzzled at what Lolly was going to tell them. They arrive at the inn during the week. After dinner, Lolly makes an announcement. It is devastating for all the three of them. They were already coping with challenges in their lives and now they get news which knocks them over. While they are struggling to cope with the news, Lolly tells them that it is Meryl Streep Month and invites them to come and watch ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ the first night. They are joined by Lolly’s friend Pearl and some of the guests staying at the inn. The weeks run by, as the four women stay together in the inn, learn new things about each other, learn to become friends with each other, watch Meryl Streep movies together and talk about them, discover surprising ways in which Meryl Streep movies reflect their own lives. During the time they discover themselves, get to know secrets from their past, meet new people, fall in love. There is a sad event in the end for the reader, but there are some happy endings as well.

 

I enjoyed reading ‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’. It was a nice, comfortable, fast-paced summer read. Watching movies together, discussing about them and using that to resolve life’s problems is an interesting idea. I couldn’t help comparing this book to Karen Joy Fowler’s ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’. I felt that the prose in ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’ was better – it had so many quotable quotes. In contrast, Mia March’s style is more conversational – she sprinkles words like gorgeous, awesome and handsome liberally throughout the book. She also mentions types of cakes and the icings they have, quite often, while creating the atmosphere of the film night. Sometimes it does get a bit repetitive. But the thing I liked about ‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’ was that it felt like one was part of a conversation with real people. One became a part of the book. There was no attempt by the author to makes the sentences in the book look more beautiful and deep – it was all so natural. Normally when one is part of a beautiful conversation with one’s friends or with one’s near and dear ones, there are not many quotable quotes that one remembers later. But the whole experience is pleasant and there is a warm, fuzzy feeling at the end of the conversation. That is what I felt when I finished ‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’. That is one of the strengths of the book, I think. My favourite part of the book was the story of June – how she is disappointed when John doesn’t turn up, how her life is thrown out of gear because of her pregnancy, how she ends up working in a bookstore and how she falls in love with it, how she loves her son, how after years she decides to search for John’s family so that her son could get to know his father and the surprising things that happen.

 

Now, something on Meryl Streep. I was a late comer to Meryl Streep. The first movie of hers that I watched was ‘Death Becomes Her’. (For some reason, this movie is virtually unknown today.  It won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects). It didn’t make me love Meryl Streep. I saw more movies of hers, but I didn’t like her till I saw ‘Kramer Vs Kramer’. Then I saw a few more of her movies, and I liked some of them. My favourite Meryl Streep movies, as of today, are ‘Kramer Vs Kramer’ (though I didn’t really love her character in the movie), ‘Doubt’ (though I hated her character in that movie, I loved her performance – it was amazing acting. She should have won an Oscar for that) and ‘Mamma Mia’ (probably my most favourite Meryl Streep movie – loved her character, loved Meryl Streep, loved her singing). I liked ‘The Iron Lady’ too. I need to watch ‘Out of Africa’, ‘Sophie’s Choice’, ‘The Deer Hunter’, ‘Postcards from the Edge’ and ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ before deciding whether to include more movies on this list. Meryl Streep is not my most favourite actress from her generation. Susan Sarandon is. I don’t know a Susan Sarandon movie that I haven’t liked. I have loved every movie of hers that I have watched. Meryl Streep’s movies didn’t work like that for me. (Meryl’s fans are going to kill me, I know!) But Meryl Streep’s filmography is awesome. Most actresses and actors fade away after their prime. They end up acting in comedies or in TV series. (There is nothing wrong in acting in comedies or TV series. I love comedies and TV series. But one gets the feeling that the actor / actress is cruising on autopilot mode.) But not Meryl Streep. Her three best actress Oscar nominations (with one win) in the last four years is really something. It shows her passion for her art.

 

The movies that are discussed in ‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’ are mostly movies which are related to the central themes of the book – love and affairs. The movies discussed in the book are ‘The Bridges of Madison County’, ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, ‘Mamma Mia!’, ‘Heartburn’, ‘Defending Your Life’, ‘Kramer vs Kramer’, ‘Postcards from the Edge’, ‘It’s Complicated’, ‘Out of Africa’ and ‘Julie & Julia’. Out of these, I have seen ‘Mamma Mia!’, ‘Kramer vs Kramer’ and ‘Julie & Julia’. I have also seen bits-and-pieces of ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and ‘Out of Africa’. While reading the book I also discovered that I have watched ‘It’s Complicated’, though I couldn’t remember that till I read about it. Other Meryl Streep movies are mentioned in the book in passing – like ‘Sophie’s Choice’ and ‘The Iron Lady’ – but they are really not part of the book. I was disappointed that ‘The Hours’ wasn’t mentioned. And neither was ‘Doubt’ nor ‘The Deer Hunter’. Probably because they don’t fit the theme of the book. Four of the movies discussed in the book are also from recent years – I don’t know whether this was done to appeal to a modern audience.

 

‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’ is a light, fast-paced, summer read. It is a good book to read while sitting in your garden, munching a cupcake and sipping your afternoon tea. I am glad I read it. I think it will make a good movie too.

 

I will leave you with a couple of my favourite passages from the book.

 

      “Reading her journals won’t tell you who you used to be. It’ll tell you who your mother was, what she thought. Really thought. Not what you think she thought. Not who you think you were through her eyes. There’s a lot you didn’t know about your mother.”

 

      When Charlie came into the kitchen in his Spider-Man pajamas and rumpled hair, flinging himself into June’s lap for a hug, Marley’s expression changed.

      “Oh my God,” Marley said, her eyes full of something like shining wonder.

      “Yeah,” June whispered. “No matter what, this is what you get.”

 

Have you read ‘The Meryl Streep Movie Club’? Do you like Meryl Streep’s movies? Which movie of hers is your favourite?

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