THE DOWNFALL OF MOVIES
David Mamet is likely best known in the industry for being an influence on the writing style of Brian Bendis. He’s a playwright, an author, a teacher, a screenplay writer, and general bon vivant. OK, that last one might be a step too far. He’s more like a cranky old man with an attitude, but that’s part of his charm. And it’s on full display in his latest book, BAMBI VS. GODZILLA, subtitled “On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business.” The book is written from the perspective of a Hollywood veteran who’s secure enough now in his life that he doesn’t mind burning a few bridges and speaking the truth.
You know how your grandparents are likely to tell you that you look fat and why aren’t you married yet? The rest of us would never think of telling a close friend or family member that. But the wisened veteran seeing the end of the line coming up doesn’t care what you think about them. They care only for the truth. It’s both fascinating and frustrating to me. That’s what Mamet goes for a lot in this book.
Mamet breaks the book up into smaller sections, covering “The Good People Of Hollywood,” “The Repressive Mechanism,” “The Screenplay,” “Technique,” “Some Principles,” “Genre,” “Passing Judgment,” and “Crimes and Misdemeanors.” While he’s very careful to leave the names out of the more libelous stories, each section includes stories that will thoroughly depress you about the state of Hollywood, while giving you examples of how magical it could be if done right. If you’ve read his previous books, you’ll know where he’s coming from already — simpler is better, let the characters show the story, don’t meander, etc. But this book gives us all those lessons with some concrete examples, many of them older movies that you’ve likely never seen or heard of. Your Netflix queue will explode if you get into this book, I promise you.
BvsG is more than just an old crank casting invectives on an industry he sees as exploitive and self-defeating. The thing that saves the book from being a bitter rant is Mamet’s obvious love for the art form. Here’s a guy who loves what he talks about, and is only really mad at those who do not understand it and those who use it to their own ends. Mamet glows when he discusses moments in his favorite older films, usually black and white and often British.
Mamet’s main point, I think, is one that a lot of you reading this right now might think sounds familiar from your experiences reading about the comics industry: The Hollywood System exists today for the purpose of continuing the Hollywood System. Those in power want to keep that power so they maintain that system, even though it won’t help movies or the industry, in the long run. Those trying to work their way up are willing to be exploited and paid a trifle for the chance of breaking in. This way, they can rise up and exploit the next generation.
Mamet goes out of his way to point out, though, that his heroes in the industry are those who are on its periphery: the crew members. The ones who build the sets, hoist the cameras, set the lights, etc. are not the ones to be blamed for the sad state of movie making today. They don’t have the hissy fits and the entourages and the drug habits.
The biggest problem with the book is that it’s very academic. Mamet has a specific voice when he writes, and it’s one that takes some getting used to. If you thought this column used too many commas and side phrases, then you haven’t seen anything yet. He uses vocabulary that likely hasn’t been taught in regular educational circles in thirty or more years, and even then likely only in private schools taught by nuns. Here’s a brief example from page 22:
“One does not, of course, have to be Ashkenazi or, indeed, Jewish to succeed as a film director; my genetic divertimento may point out, however, one desideratum of the filmmaker (it need not be hereditary but had better find itself on the CV): experience as a ne’er-do-well.”
There’s a lot of verbiage in this book that you’ll have to chew your way through. Mamet enjoys words such as “tocsin,” “lassitude” and “malversation.” You’ve been warned.
Here’s another paragraph I wrote down to remember. I think it speaks greatly towards some comic book artists, too:
“Any artist of any worth is absolutely his or her own harshest critic, and a critic’s gracious studied ignorance of an artistic solecism is more likely to bring about its correction than would a snide reposte.”
That’s from a great chapter about critics, along with Mamet’s own confession that he can’t deal with them gracefully.
The book is about 206 pages of prose followed by a lengthy appendix of films referenced and an index. It’s a small hardcover for $22 and is available at all stores today. While it takes time to absorb Mamet’s writing aesthetic, his masked paean to Hollywood amidst an insightful (and often inciteful) dissection of its structure is a wonderful thing to behold.
Wow, I’m starting to sound like him now, too. Time to move on.
ONE QUICK REVIEW
And, yes, it’s another Marvel book.
FALLEN SON: THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA: CAPTAIN AMERICA is about the most unwieldy title I’ve reviewed in a long time. But it was so good that I can’t just put it away and ignore it.
I’ve liked the first two chapters in this mini-series, though I’ve had my reservations with them. On this one, I have no “buts” or “howevers” to modify my praise. This is just a great post-Civil War comic book, and Jeph Loeb and John Romita Jr. both shine in it. Klaus Janson should be the dedicated inker for all JR JR comics in the future, because this book is just about as good as I’ve ever seen Romita’s pencils look. Romita Jr. has the knack for drawing characters with heft and substance. When you see the characters leaping across one of his pages, you believe them to be in motion. You see the distances between them. You feel their impacts when they hit each other or just hit the ground. It’s a very visceral experience, and something too many comic artists today miss. Their work often looks good, but the characters look like they’re lightly dancing across the page. Romita Jr.’s character stomp across it, and it’s fun to see.
Loeb’s script brings Hawkeye back to the Avengers mansion though, for spoiler’s sake, I won’t tell you whether this is before or after the events of the latest NEW AVENGERS issues. There he runs into Iron Man, who makes him an offer that’s logical, well-reasoned, and potentially exciting. The rest of the issue plays out well. I don’t sense any continuity issues with the book, the way I did with the first. It didn’t feel padded the way the second book did. This issue is just a solid one-off story that isn’t forced to fit in with the “Bargaining” theme for this part of the series. It’s a natural, and well worth the three bucks.
PREVIEWS FOR JULY 2007
Jamie Tarquini and I recorded the monthly Pipeline PREVIEWS Podcast over the weekend, which will be coming out later this week. To hold you over until then, here’s a small smattering of the books we discussed:
The only DC book I wanted to highlight for July is one that’s coming out from WildStorm: ALAN MOORE: THE COMPLETE WILDC.A.T.S. is due out on August 8th, ironically enough. Weighing in at 392 pages, this behemoth of a book will only cost you $30 in trade paperback format. It will collect not just issues #21-34 of Moore’s fantastic run on the title, but also his brief return for WILDC.A.T.S. #50. The art in the book is led by Travis Charest, so there’s something for both the writing and drawing fans in the audience. (If you want more from Charest, he draws a STAR WARS cover solicited by Dark Horse this month, also.)
This is the book that first showed me that, in the hands of a “serious” author, any of those early Image books could be transformed into something better.
Rich Koslowski returns this summer with THE LIST, no doubt timed to debut in time for the San Diego Comic-Con. I was wowed by his THREE FINGERS take on the classic Disney and Warner Bros. animated stars of yesteryear. This book looks like his answer to Christmas, wherein Santa Claus’ list is considered a valuable piece of corporate loot, and everyone’s out to get him for it. The writeup likens the book to “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer meets Lord of the Rings.” Sounds like fun. It’s only $16 for a 164 page book.
One necessary warning: This is not a graphic novel. This is illustrated prose. You can read more about the book and read a sample chapter at Koslowski’s web site. Koslowski was also interviewed here on CBR in April.
THE COMICS JOURNAL #285 might have that slightly higher $12 price tag on it now, but the contents look worth it in July, as the Fantagraphics publication interviews both Darwyn Cooke and Ernie Colon.
IDW begins reprinting the TERRY AND THE PIRATES comic strip in super-slick hardcover volumes in July. The first 800 strips of Milton Caniff’s series from 1934-1936 will show up in the book, which is sized at 11 inches by 8.5 inches. 368 impressive pages for $50.
Also, note that the second volume of IDW’s COMPLETE CHESTER GOULD’S DICK TRACY is in stores now, also.
WRITE NOW! Magazine’s sixteenth issue gets a special mention for including an “in-depth interview” with Todd McFarlane. DRAW! #14 and ROUGH STUFF #5 (featuring Steve Rude, as well as Dale Keown) joins it in July.
And, as usual, I have way too much Marvel love to give this month, with another series of trades and hardcovers that would bankrupt me if I let them. At the top of the heap, no doubt, would be the premiere edition hardcover collection of Brian K. Vaughan’s THE HOOD series. I didn’t read it when it first came out, but it did receive a warm welcome from those who read it. With Vaughan’s success and the Hood’s return to the Marvel Universe, it’s a smart time to start reprinting this one. It was a MAX book, so younger buyers beware!
UNCANNY X-MEN: RISE AND FALL OF THE SHI’AR EMPIRE hardcover is an interesting beast. This collects UNCANNY X-MEN #475-486, all of which is written by Ed Brubaker. It’ll be a hefty helping of mutant fun, though it does run a whopping $35, five dollars more than comparable hardcover books with the same page count. Do they not expect it to sell so well that they need to offset that with a higher price point?
And I know a lot of people will be thrilled by the DEVIL DINOSAUR BY JACK KIRBY OMNIBUS. It’s an oversized hardcover, though calling it an “omnibus” is pushing it just a tad. The book is only 176 pages, collecting DEVIL DINOSAUR #1-9. It’ll cost you $30.
For lots more about the July PREVIEWS, please keep an eye out for the Pipeline Podcast feed later this week. Jamie and I spent an hour recording that one, so there’ll be plenty to listen to there.
Dr. Scott is back! And there was much rejoicing.
Next week: I’ll be back. We’re also only a couple of weeks away from the big tenth anniversary of Pipeline.
My blog, Various and Sundry features talk of “National Bingo Night,” the lunacy of selling picture frames to honeymooners, more “American Idol” chat, and the sad loss of both “Veronica Mars” and “Gilmore Girls” in the same week.
The Pipeline Podcast page will give you links to subscribe to the podcast in a variety of places. Don’t forget — we have two podcasts this week. One discusses this week’s new books, while the other discusses July’s.
More than 700 columns — maybe even 800 — are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically.