The American Society of Cinematographers

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December 2008
Ken Adam Designs the Movies: James Bond and Beyond Online
by Ken Adam and Christopher Frayling
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Production designer Ken Adam is simultaneously one of the most diverse visual stylists in the history of film and one of the medium’s most distinctive talents. Although his work appears in a wide range of genres, his sets are intensely personal creations characterized by immediately recognizable motifs. 
Screening Sex Online
by Linda Williams
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

In 1989, Linda Williams published Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the Frenzy of the Visible, a book that assessed pornography as a legitimate screen genre with a history, conventions and a complex relationship to its audience. The book quickly became required reading in many film-studies programs, and the same is sure to happen with Williams’ latest publication, Screening Sex.  
What I Really Want To Do on Set in Hollywood Online
by Brian Dzyak
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Bookstores are crammed with manuals on how to break into Hollywood, but few of them give a practical sense of what one can expect from working on a film set. Brian Dzyak’s What I Really Want To Do on Set in Hollywood  is an exception, a detailed and realistic primer on dozens of crew positions and what it takes to find and keep jobs.  

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Ken Adam Designs the Movies: James Bond and Beyond
by Ken Adam and Christopher Frayling
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Production designer Ken Adam is simultaneously one of the most diverse visual stylists in the history of film and one of the medium’s most distinctive talents. Although his work appears in a wide range of genres, his sets are intensely personal creations characterized by immediately recognizable motifs. Films as sundry as Dr. Strangelove, Sleuth and The Madness of King George are all marked by a balance between realism and artifice, a sense that the characters are defined and shaped by their environments, and a juxtaposition of historical and contemporary influences that aims for emotional impact and psychological reality. 

In a 60-year career, Adam has designed sets and vehicles for films, operas, video games and museums — all the while maintaining both the consistency of vision and the range of technique that define what it means to be a great artist. The totality of his vision is on glorious display in Ken Adam Designs the Movies: James Bond and Beyond, which intersperses Adam’s recollections and film scholar Christopher Frayling’s commentary with 265 illustrations taken from Adam’s personal archive. These images consist primarily of sketches and stills of the completed sets that allow the reader to trace the progression of Adam’s concepts in a variety of films and see how similarities and contrasts across his body of work define his career. 

Adam and Frayling begin with a chapter devoted to Adam’s early work as an art director and apprentice before moving on to two of his most acclaimed films, Dr. Strangelove and Barry Lyndon. Though the two films share director Stanley Kubrick’s precise eye for detail, Adam reveals they could not have been more different in terms of the nature of the work; whereas Strangelove required the massive war room be built from scratch, Barry Lyndon was shot entirely on existing locations, and Adam saw his work there as decorative more than design-oriented. (He won one of his two Academy Awards for the film.)

Adam’s varied interests and talents are probably best represented by his work on seven of the James Bond movies, films that allowed the designer to fully express his love for both the classical and the modern. Adam designed the first Bond picture, Dr. No, in 1962, and established the sleek, expansive visual style that would characterize not only his subsequent work on the series, but also that of other filmmakers following his template.  Dr. No was a relatively low-budget affair, but the increasing popularity of the franchise ultimately gave Adam the resources to create some of the most elaborate and unique sets of all time, such as the volcano hiding a missile base in You Only Live Twice and the cathedral of gold in Goldfinger

The conception and execution of these and other sets is beautifully explored in “Designing James Bond,” the most detailed chapter of this book and a delight for Bond fans. The section takes the reader through the films one by one and offers a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of the series via Adam’s sketches and comments. In addition to the many astonishing sets, the chapter also explores the vehicles Adam designed for the series, including Bond’s iconic Aston Martin and the underwater Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me. Taken collectively, the Bond artwork and commentary provide a concise, vivid lesson in conveying character and theme through images; one realizes the sexy sensibility of the series was generated as much by Adam’s designs as by Sean Connery and Ian Fleming. The chapter includes an overview of Adam’s work on a non-Bond spy film, The Ipcress File, and, even more interestingly, a section on his designs for the 2004 video game Goldeneye: Rogue Agent. This passage on production designing for the digital age — and for a format with multiple-player points-of-view — is fascinating and gives the reader more insight into and admiration for Adam’s wide-ranging abilities.

The remainder of the book classifies Adam’s movies in rather liberally defined groupings; a chapter titled “The Theatre of History,” for example, somehow manages to include genuine period pieces like King David and Pennies From Heaven alongside the contemporary comedy The Freshman. There are chapters on futuristic films and operas, as well as a section on Adam’s recent work in Berlin that includes the text of a lecture he gave at that city’s Renaissance Theatre. 

Each chapter features concise historical context by Frayling, witty remembrances by Adam and, most significantly, the archival drawings and stills that provide the real justification for the book’s existence. The organization is occasionally frustrating because the groupings of films make a chronological study of Adam’s growth difficult and omit several movies (including the classic murder mystery The Last of Sheila). Nevertheless, it is hard to complain given the wealth of material. Even some unrealized projects are represented, including aborted Star Trek and Peter Pan films, and the archival materials relating to these and other incomplete productions more than make up for the book’s omissions.

Thames & Hudson, $65 (Hardcover)

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Screening Sex
by Linda Williams
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

In 1989, Linda Williams published Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the Frenzy of the Visible, a book that assessed pornography as a legitimate screen genre with a history, conventions and a complex relationship to its audience. The book quickly became required reading in many film-studies programs, and the same is sure to happen with Williams’ latest publication, Screening Sex.

In her new book, Williams provides a critical history of onscreen sex in a wide range of forms: Hollywood studio pictures, experimental works by Andy Warhol, contemporary art-house movies, and even porn on the Internet. It’s an ambitious project, but Williams is up to the task; Screening Sex might be the most thorough and convincingly argued book yet written on this topic. The title has two meanings: the book is about how we screen sex on movie, TV or computer screens, and it’s also about how we “screen” — as in block or obfuscate — sex in the media. The latter meaning is most prevalent in the author’s opening chapter, in which she offers a history of the screen kiss from the silent era to Warhol. Williams examines how the kiss was used to both represent sex and to elide it in films like Casablanca and It’s a Wonderful Life, and her study of the Production Code’s somewhat ambivalent attitudes toward sexual innocence is fascinating. Aside from thematic analysis, Williams addresses the cinematic techniques used to convey innocence, such as lighting the women with a kind of halo when they kissed in order to emphasize their purity and, equally pointedly, their whiteness.

Indeed, throughout the book, Williams is extremely insightful about the connection between sex and race in American film, a connection made by the very strictures of the Production Code. One of the most thought-provoking passages in the book comes in Williams' examination of Melvin Van Peebles's Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, a seminal movie in independent film, onscreen sexuality and African-American cinema. Williams brilliantly dissects the multiple meanings behind the film's presentations of sex acts in scenes that are simultaneously explicit and strangely detached; understanding that Van Peebles (as both actor and director) was treacherously attempting to avoid decades of contradictory but mutually destructive stereotypes about black-male sexuality, the author gives a more nuanced reading of his film than either its detractors or its defenders have in prior writings. She also addresses the role of Blaxploitation movies like Superfly and Shaft in the evolution of onscreen sexuality.

A great strength of Williams’ book is her way of building upon the work of those who have come before her and either developing or repudiating their ideas. This is particularly true of a terrific chapter on Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris and the hardcore porn film Deep Throat, two landmark 1972 releases. Williams extensively quotes from reviews by The New Yorker's Pauline Kael and Screw's Al Goldstein, pointing out how the essays are emblematic of a larger cultural shift away from shame and repression and toward acceptance of sex as a legitimate subject upon which to base entire films. 

Williams goes beyond scholarly dissection in her analyses, supplementing her intellectual arguments with personal reminiscences of her experiences viewing sex on screen. The book's scope is expanded, not limited, by this autobiographical viewpoint, which in any case is abandoned whenever Williams needs to address a type of sexuality or filmmaking outside her area of first-person experience (as when she writes about Boys in the Sand, a 1971 gay-porn classic).

At its best, Screening Sex integrates the personal, the political and the aesthetic seamlessly. Williams' analysis of Coming Home is especially enlightening as she uses Jane Fonda's portrayal of a woman achieving sexual satisfaction for the first time as a starting point from which to explore the evolution of the female orgasm in American movies, the connection between the sexual revolution and the Vietnam War, and the relationship of music and silence to onscreen sex. This section, like all the others, is supplemented with stills that explicitly clarify the author’s points.

After devoting the majority of her text to the critical period of the 1960s and 1970s, with a particular focus on American cinema, Williams broadens her scope to provide in-depth analyses of key films from around the globe: Nagisa Oshima’s In The Realm of the Senses, the first movie to integrate hardcore sex into an art film;  Blue Velvet and Brokeback Mountain, two releases Williams claims had a profound impact on the American mainstream; and a new wave of recent European productions such as 9 Songs and the films of Catherine Breillat. 

Williams concludes with a consideration of new digital technologies and the Internet, offering some provocative theories about the relationships between imagery, society and the individual consumer. The result is a book that will renew discussion and debate about sex on screen while also pointing filmmakers in new directions. (Williams convincingly asserts that the promise of Oshima’s groundbreaking masterpiece still remains largely unrealized.)

Duke University Press
$24.95 paperback/$89.95 hardcover

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What I Really Want To Do on Set in Hollywood
by Brian Dzyak
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Bookstores are crammed with manuals on how to break into Hollywood, but few of them give a practical sense of what one can expect from working on a film set. Brian Dzyak’s What I Really Want To Do on Set in Hollywood  is an exception, a detailed and realistic primer on dozens of crew positions and what it takes to find and keep jobs.  
Dzyak’s background as a freelance cameraman has clearly given him a thorough understanding of how a set operates, and his book is a comprehensive introduction to individual positions and a guide to how those positions interact within departments. The book also takes a larger view, examining the ways the various departments complement each other to facilitate a smooth production. The thoroughness of Dzyak’s approach makes his book required reading not only for aspiring grips, script supervisors and sound mixers, but also for anyone who wants to direct or produce.

Dzyak begins with a straightforward summary of the entertainment industry and lists all the types of jobs and productions that comprise film, TV and commercial work. His stated purpose is to give the reader a sense of what his or her life might be like working in the business, and to this end, the book is an incontrovertible success: he is clear about the hours and commitment required for a career on set, and as the chapters progress, he delves into more and more detail about hours, pay, and the physical and mental skills required for any job.

Dzyak works his way through 40 crew positions, department by department. He begins by describing the position and then explains how much money one can expect to make, what qualifications one needs and how to get them, and where and how to find work. The best part of each chapter is a timeline in which Dzyak takes the reader through a typical day on set, from call time to wrap. Anyone who uses the book to find work could continue to rely on it as a reference guide during production, using the timelines as checklists to make sure nothing has been overlooked.
Dzyak finishes each chapter with suggestions on moving up to the next professional level and offers further guidance in appendices that list international contact information and provide definitions of all the technical terms used throughout the book. The author offers a wealth of genuinely useful information about how to break into positions when one has neither connections nor experience. He avoids generalizations and gets right down to specifics regarding unions, guilds, who one needs to contact in order to inquire about work on a set, and how one moves up from one position to the next or from one type of production to another.

As one might expect, the sections on the camera department are particularly detailed, but Dzyak does not slough off other areas — there is as much space devoted to talent-support jobs like hair, make-up and costume as there is to camera operation, and the descriptions are every bit as precise. 

The organization of the book makes it easy to zero in on information about any given position, but reading it cover to cover is an extremely valuable endeavor for anyone wanting to work in any capacity on a set because, throughout the tome, Dzyak makes connections between jobs and departments that add up to an intricate view of how a large-scale production operates. The only way in which the author limits his approach is to focus exclusively on the production phase of filmmaking; readers searching for information on jobs in writing, development or post will have to look elsewhere. Everyone else, however, will find this book an indispensable guide to climbing the Hollywood ladder.    

Lone Eagle Publishing Company
$19.95 paperback

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