The American Society of Cinematographers

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December 2009
American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood Online
by Marc Eliot
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Until now, the two major biographies of actor-director-producer-composer Clint Eastwood have been Richard Schickel’s 1996 book Clint Eastwood: A Biography and Patrick McGilligan’s savage 1999 reconsideration Clint: The Life and Legend. Schickel’s tome, written with Eastwood’s full cooperation, is insightful but marred by its author’s fawning devotion to his subject. It glosses over the negative aspects of Eastwood’s life and career and presents him as a hero even more mythic than the characters he has played onscreen. The McGilligan biography, on the other hand, is anything but reverential; its revisionist deconstruction of Eastwood as an actor, director and man is valuable for its refusal to accept conventional wisdom, yet McGilligan errs too far in that direction, putting on blinders that keep him from acknowledging Eastwood’s very obvious and genuine talents. Thankfully, Marc Eliot’s American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood is blind to neither Eastwood’s strengths nor his failings; it is an even-handed, compulsively readable account of the icon’s life that provides a welcome corrective to earlier publications.   
The Foley Grail: The Art of Performing Sound for Film, Games and Animation
by Vanessa Theme Ament
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

A major void in film-production literature has been filled by the publication of Vanessa Theme Ament’s The Foley Grail: The Art of Performing Sound for Film, Games and Animation. While there are many books on film sound, Ament’s tome is the most comprehensive work dedicated solely to the technical and creative aspects of Foley. Drawing on her own experience as a Foley artist and sound editor, Ament takes the reader through each step of Foley work, from spotting and cueing to decide what effects are needed to actually creating, mixing and editing those effects. Along the way, the author incorporates the perspectives of a multitude of other technicians, including Foley artists who have worked on Predator, Speed and other sonically impressive movies. The result is a thorough introduction to one of the most important and misunderstood jobs in film.
James Bond Encyclopedia: Revised Edition Online
by John Cork and Collin Stutz
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Harry Potter and Star Wars have their fans, but for sheer longevity and durability, no franchise can match James Bond. Since Sean Connery first appeared onscreen as Bond in 1962 in Dr. No, the British agent with a “license to kill” has been played by six actors in 22 films, not including offshoots like the 1967 parody version of Casino Royale or the unofficial 1983 Thunderball remake, Never Say Never Again. The last two 007 films starring Daniel Craig are the most financially successful in the series, an indication Bond’s popularity is in no danger of waning. The Bond universe is one packed with gorgeous women, elaborate gadgets and spectacular action sequences set in exotic foreign locales, all of which are lovingly detailed in James Bond Encyclopedia by John Cork and Collin Stutz. An indispensable reference guide to all things Bond, the newly revised edition brings the authors’ work up to date to include all of the Bond films created by EON Productions, from Dr. No to Quantum of Solace.

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American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood
by Marc Eliot
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Until now, the two major biographies of actor-director-producer-composer Clint Eastwood have been Richard Schickel’s 1996 book Clint Eastwood: A Biography and Patrick McGilligan’s savage 1999 reconsideration Clint: The Life and Legend. Schickel’s tome, written with Eastwood’s full cooperation, is insightful but marred by its author’s fawning devotion to his subject. It glosses over the negative aspects of Eastwood’s life and career and presents him as a hero even more mythic than the characters he has played onscreen. The McGilligan biography, on the other hand, is anything but reverential; its revisionist deconstruction of Eastwood as an actor, director and man is valuable for its refusal to accept conventional wisdom, yet McGilligan errs too far in that direction, putting on blinders that keep him from acknowledging Eastwood’s very obvious and genuine talents. Thankfully, Marc Eliot’s American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood is blind to neither Eastwood’s strengths nor his failings; it is an even-handed, compulsively readable account of the icon’s life that provides a welcome corrective to earlier publications.   

American Rebel is at its most illuminating in its exploration of the early period of Eastwood’s career. Eliot’s research into Eastwood’s days as a Universal contract player and young television star yields a compelling story of the way a man who would become a cinematic icon more or less stumbles into his profession. The descriptions of his early performances and relationships are detailed and revealing as are Eliot’s references to reviews of Eastwood’s apprentice work. Indeed, throughout the book, Eliot provides a rich history of the critical reception of Eastwood’s films, showing the actor-director as a divisive figure right from the start. Although the passage of time has left the impression Eastwood enjoyed a slow but steady rise from the disreputability of his early films to the Oscar-anointed adulation of his later releases, Eliot shows Clint’s relationship with critics has been much more complicated and inconsistent. Quoting from a broad array of trade, mainstream and niche-oriented periodicals, Eliot gives the reader a fascinating look at the evolution of Eastwood’s image in the media.

Eliot also carefully charts Eastwood’s evolving role as a businessman at Warner Bros., his home for the bulk of his career, and intersperses this information with an undeniably entertaining account of the filmmaker’s numerous infidelities and scandals. A lot of the latter information will be old news to readers of the McGilligan biography, but Eliot presents a slightly more neutral view than McGilligan, and gives a more straightforward version of Eastwood’s tumultuous legal wrangling with actress and ex-lover Sondra Locke. While the midsection of the book covers familiar ground, American Rebel regains its momentum in the final chapters, which deal with films and events after the publication dates of McGilligan and Schickel’s books. Given that that period includes some of Eastwood’s greatest artistic and commercial successes (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino), Eliot’s book fills a major void, covering the filmmaker’s life and work right up to the spring of 2009.      
      
The downside of this hot-off-the-presses immediacy is a slapdash quality to the details and editing; throughout the book there are small but irritating errors, from incorrect plot summaries (as in the case of Sudden Impact, which improperly identifies the main villain), to minor title mistakes (at one point, Eliot’s reference to Firefox as Foxfire) and wrongly referring to the independently produced and released Invasion of the Body Snatchers as a Universal picture. A larger inconsistency occurs when Eliot states the New York Times reviewers failed to recognize Eastwood’s talent until the 2000s and then refers to a positive Vincent Canby piece from the paper on Coogan’s Bluff (1968) only a few pages later. The gaffes are small and do not seriously undermine the book’s strengths, but they do keep it from being the definitive Eastwood biography one might have expected.

American Rebel also shares the primary shortcoming of the Schickel and McGilligan books, a failure to address Eastwood’s visual style with any degree of seriousness. Although Eliot compares Eastwood to Hitchcock as a major auteur whose directorial imprint is indelible and influential, he rarely attempts to explicate that imprint. Aside from a few brief remarks about the low-key lighting and wide-angle lenses of director of photography Bruce Surtees, ASC, in Dirty Harry and High Plains Drifter, Eliot offers little discussion of the ways the imagery in Eastwood’s films express his themes of isolation and vengeance. Given the director’s innovative use of Steadicam-oriented long takes and command of the anamorphic frame, as well as his long, productive relationships with cinematographers Jack Green, ASC, and Tom Stern, ASC, AFC, neither of whom gets more than a passing mention in the book, the lack of visual analysis is disappointing.     

Nevertheless, taken on its own terms as an unpretentious narrative of Eastwood’s life, American Rebel is an involving and rewarding read. Even die-hard Eastwood fanatics are likely to learn new things about the making of his films, and Eastwood’s own single-minded nature gives the story real dramatic force — once Eastwood commits to his chosen profession, his focus becomes incredibly intense. As Eliot presents him, Eastwood is a man who is drawn to complicated relationships and situations, yet he is able to ignore them completely rather than let them become distractions from his work. He is one of the most driven, productive filmmakers of the last 50 years, yet his persona exudes casualness, a quality most of his collaborators insist characterizes his directing style. In other words, he is a man of confusing yet intriguing contradictions, much like the characters he plays and whose stories he tells. American Rebel acknowledges and embraces these contradictions, and the result is a more nuanced portrait of its subject than has previously been painted.        

Harmony Books
$25.99 hardcover

 
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The Foley Grail: The Art of Performing Sound for Film, Games and Animation
by Vanessa Theme Ament
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

A major void in film-production literature has been filled by the publication of Vanessa Theme Ament’s The Foley Grail: The Art of Performing Sound for Film, Games and Animation. While there are many books on film sound, Ament’s tome is the most comprehensive work dedicated solely to the technical and creative aspects of Foley. Drawing on her own experience as a Foley artist and sound editor, Ament takes the reader through each step of Foley work, from spotting and cueing to decide what effects are needed to actually creating, mixing and editing those effects. Along the way, the author incorporates the perspectives of a multitude of other technicians, including Foley artists who have worked on Predator, Speed and other sonically impressive movies. The result is a thorough introduction to one of the most important and misunderstood jobs in film.

Ament begins with a brief history of Foley before going on to explain the roles of various crew members, from the supervising sound editor (SSE) on down. She then discusses the preparatory work of a Foley artist, with a particularly useful and well illustrated section on actually building a Foley stage. The bulk of the book is devoted to the art and craft of Foley, with chapters on performing footsteps, using props, meeting demands for unusual effects and keeping things in sync. The greatest value of the book is Ament’s attention to the creative aspects of Foley work; although she discusses every pertinent technical component of the job, she continually reminds the reader Foley is an intuitive, emotional art and an overreliance on technique can lead to sterile, dramatically uninvolving sound. Dozens of valuable lessons are culled from Ament’s experiences as well as those of her colleagues, with the most important being to trust one’s ear and not one’s eye — it is positively fascinating to read about the many effective props Foley artists use that often have little or no physical connection to the onscreen action they are aurally representing.  

In addition to performance issues, Ament devotes a great deal of time to the disciplines of recording, mixing and editing Foley. Again, her own professional experience is crucial here as she has an impressive knowledge of every component of sound and the ways the various jobs intersect and complement each other. She clearly describes the specific duties of each technician but also notes situations in which the lines between various roles can start to blur. She is also quite articulate on the subject of changing technologies and provides a thoughtful analysis of the ways digital applications like Pro Tools have altered the job, not always for the better. After this discussion, unfortunately, Ament wraps things up with a relatively weak chapter, “The Ivory Tower,” which serves no real purpose other than for the author to rant against film schools. While her main point — film-school curricula seriously undervalue sound as a discipline — has merit, wasting several pages on the failings of university programs seems rather pointless.  

The slightly snide quality of Ament’s writing in this section is occasionally present elsewhere in the book as when she describes her clashes with director Barbet Schroder on Barfly; when the author resorts to this tone, the book comes across as a means for her to settle scores rather than educate, even when her arguments are valid. Thankfully, this is only an intermittent issue in an undeniably informative volume, and she follows the film-school chapter with a more positive collection of quotes from various sound professionals, quotes that sum up the professionals’ approaches to Foley. The book also contains an appendix with an exhaustive glossary and a brief tribute to John Post, who Ament considers to be the father of modern Foley. Finally, there is an excellent hour-long DVD that shows Foley artists at work on a short film. This disc does an effective job of illustrating many of the concepts discussed in the book; for maximum value, the disc should be watched once before reading Ament’s text and again afterward.

Focal Press
$44.95 paperback


James Bond Encyclopedia: Revised Edition
by John Cork and Collin Stutz
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Harry Potter and Star Wars have their fans, but for sheer longevity and durability, no franchise can match James Bond. Since Sean Connery first appeared onscreen as Bond in 1962 in Dr. No, the British agent with a “license to kill” has been played by six actors in 22 films, not including offshoots like the 1967 parody version of Casino Royale or the unofficial 1983 Thunderball remake, Never Say Never Again. The last two 007 films starring Daniel Craig are the most financially successful in the series, an indication Bond’s popularity is in no danger of waning. The Bond universe is one packed with gorgeous women, elaborate gadgets and spectacular action sequences set in exotic foreign locales, all of which are lovingly detailed in James Bond Encyclopedia by John Cork and Collin Stutz. An indispensable reference guide to all things Bond, the newly revised edition brings the authors’ work up to date to include all of the Bond films created by EON Productions, from Dr. No to Quantum of Solace.

The book begins with a biographical sketch of Ian Fleming, the novelist who first created agent 007 in 1953, before going on to an overview of Bond’s skills, background, wardrobe and lifestyle. The authors then provide profiles of the actors who have played Bond (Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Craig), telling the stories of how each performer got involved with the series. These kinds of behind-the-scenes tales are somewhat anomalous since, overall, Cork and Stutz avoid production history in favor of the world within the Bond films themselves. Theirs is a guide to what happens in the movies rather than what went into their making, and on this level, the book is astonishingly detailed and beautifully illustrated. After the preliminary sections, the James Bond Encyclopedia delves into the Bond universe with a lengthy chapter on the franchise’s villains in which each antagonist is given an entry that lists the film(s) in which he/she appears, key characteristics and skills and the name(s) of the performer(s) for the character(s). There are beautiful stills presenting each of the bad males (and females) in action and status updates to inform the reader of which villains survived their encounters with Bond.

This section sets the template for chapters to follow; after the villains, Cork and Stutz move on to equally dense and well illustrated tributes to Bond women and supporting players. Of course, no Bond guide would be complete without close attention to 007’s vehicles and gadgets, and the James Bond Encyclopedia provides excellent chapters on each that reveal who used which tools and in what films. The authors wrap things up with a chapter that returns to the world behind the camera; they go through each Bond film in chronological order to tell stories of each film’s development, production and release. In addition to narratives of the making of the movies, Cork and Stutz present sidebars for each film that contain biographies of key production personnel: producers such as Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, directors like Terence Young and Peter Hunt and writers Richard Maibaum, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are all profiled. Yet the authors, thankfully, move beyond the obvious to include additional sidebars on special-effects artists, composers, title designers and the great Bond cinematographer Ted Moore, BSC.

The result is a concise but broad overview of the surprisingly consistent production team that brought Bond to life over the years. While the James Bond Encyclopedia is an extremely entertaining tome, its readability is matched by its comprehensiveness — it  is hard to imagine any question one would have about the Bond films that would go unanswered by this book, which combines a scholar’s rigor with a fan’s enthusiasm. The authors provide detailed credits for each of the films, and the thousands of color stills are simply stunning; taken in conjunction with the writers’ erudite but passionate descriptions, they evoke an undeniable sense of nostalgia and affection in any 007 fan. The enduring popularity of the Bond franchise has inspired many shelves of books on the topic, but none are more complete, entertaining or aesthetically pleasing than Cork and Stutz’s volume.   
                     
DK Publishing
$40.00 hardcover

 
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