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January 2008
Federico Fellini: Interviews Online
by Bert Cardullo (editor)
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

The University Press of Mississippi’s indispensable Interviews collections have included conversations with such noted directors as Woody Allen, Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese, to name just a few. Yet in many ways, Bert Cardullo’s new compilation of interviews with Federico Fellini may be the most intriguing book in the series, thanks to the director’s widespread reputation as a bugiardo — a big liar.
Frames of Evil: The Holocaust as Horror in American Film Online
by Caroline Joan (Kay) S. Picart and David A. Frank
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Discussions of Holocaust films rarely deal in depth with technical or aesthetic issues, given the sensitive nature of the subject — the content in movies like Schindler’s List or The Pianist is often so affecting and horrifying that to approach these movies from a detached critical perspective seems somehow in poor taste.
Silent Traces: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Charlie Chaplin Online
by John Bengtson
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Just as silent-movie pioneers Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin forged a new kind of cinematic language in their early comedies, historian John Bengtson has created a unique form of film scholarship with his highly original studies of their work.
The Winston Effect: The Art & History of Stan Winston Studio Online
by Jody Duncan
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Reading Jody Duncan’s The Winston Effect, a lavishly illustrated study of the work of legendary special-effects wizard Stan Winston, one is struck by the number of seminal films to which Winston has lent his talents.

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Federico Fellini: Interviews
by Bert Cardullo (editor)
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

The University Press of Mississippi’s indispensable Interviews collections have included conversations with such noted directors as Woody Allen, Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese, to name just a few. Yet in many ways, Bert Cardullo’s new compilation of interviews with Federico Fellini may be the most intriguing book in the series, thanks to the director’s widespread reputation as a bugiardo — a big liar. At several points in this volume, Fellini even tells interviewers that his own responses are not to be trusted, and a running theme throughout the book, which contains interviews covering 35 years of Fellini’s life, is the director’s ambivalent attitude toward both the truth and the press.

Like the other entries in the Interviews series, this compilation provides a comprehensive overview of its subject’s career via carefully selected interviews and articles from a variety of sources. Cardullo has chosen pieces from serious film journals (Film Comment, Sight and Sound, etc.) along with selections from more mainstream publications such as Playboy, and his taste is impeccable — there isn’t a dull interview in the book. Cardullo also contributes a thoughtful introduction and an extremely useful chronology and filmography.

Fellini is one of the most unique figures in world cinema, a director whose films alternate between neorealism and surrealistic dream imagery. In films like 8½ and Amarcord, Fellini presents material that is deeply autobiographical yet cloaked in myth and imagination — few directors have ever been so self-disclosing while simultaneously avoiding the literal truth. This approach to filmmaking, which refuses to acknowledge that there is a difference between the imaginary and the real, is echoed in Fellini’s approach to publicity. As the interviews collected in this book show, he often tells multiple versions of the same story and changes the details of his background according to what serves his purposes at any given moment. He fully acknowledges his own slipperiness in a 1966 interview with Playboy, in which he claims that real events are often vivid enough to justify many different tellings, and that it is the prerogative of the storyteller to shape facts for dramatic purposes.

Fellini explicitly addresses the issue of realism in many of the interviews here, asserting that there is no such thing as objective reality since all of the details in so-called “realistic” films are carefully constructed for manipulative intentions. The director claims that his most fanciful movies, which express a sort of inner truth that stems from his feelings and beliefs, are just as intrinsically sincere — if not more so — than films accepted as “honest” by the establishment. Yet getting at that inner truth in both Fellini’s movies and his conversations takes a bit of detective work, given how playfully inconsistent he can be. At times Fellini even contradicts himself within the same interview, as when he tells Film Quarterly writer Enzo Peri that films must come from life — just before he claims that La Dolce Vita is a “pure fruit of imagination” that has nothing to do with reality.

Despite all his obfuscations, Fellini is an extremely clear and concise commentator on the filmmaking process. He claims that an artist is the least qualified person to comment on his own work, but this doesn’t seem to have stopped Fellini from giving countless hours of interviews, most of which are packed with insights. The conversations in this volume contain a number of enlightening comments on issues, such as the Italian neorealist movement and Fellini’s place in it, the moral implications of happy endings, and the irrelevance of the artist’s intentions. Although Fellini insists that filmmaking is an intuitive process and that he doesn’t search for motifs or metaphors while shooting, he is a self-conscious and thoughtful critic of his own work. When pressed, he maintains that his main theme is the problem of communication in modern life. In fact, Fellini has such specific ideas about his own work that he often gets a little cranky with professional critics, whom he believes nearly always have political agendas.

Fellini is open and eloquent about his process, and many of the interviews take the reader through that process from initial inspiration to editing and release. The book is a treasure trove of film theory, and while one can take or leave Fellini’s many strong opinions (like the fact that a movie should have defects, which is why he never called for reshoots on his pictures), they add up to a distinctive filmmaking method that was used to create several undisputed classics.

Whether or not all of the statements in these interviews are factual, they fulfill Fellini’s requirement of internal truth. The book’s insights are enlightening and provocative, and will inspire any filmmaker or student with an interest in the director’s approach.

University Press of Mississippi
$50.00 cloth, $20.00 paper

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Frames of Evil: The Holocaust as Horror in American Film
by Caroline Joan (Kay) S. Picart and David A. Frank
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Discussions of Holocaust films rarely deal in depth with technical or aesthetic issues, given the sensitive nature of the subject — the content in movies like Schindler’s List or The Pianist is often so affecting and horrifying that to approach these movies from a detached critical perspective seems somehow in poor taste. Yet the very significance of the topic demands that thoughtful viewers carefully consider the cinematic language filmmakers employ to shape our views; to be sure, the ways in which filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Roman Polanski choose to frame and edit Holocaust images have an enormous impact on cultural assumptions about the actual historical event.

Professors Caroline Picart and David Frank provide an original and potentially controversial analysis of Holocaust films in their new book Frames of Evil, which explores the relationship between the Holocaust and the horror genre in American films. The authors convincingly assert that the horror film has influenced how American directors represent the Holocaust onscreen, and that the Holocaust has given horror directors imagery to represent evil. This thesis leads to some fascinating discussions about the depictions of power and gender in both genres, and the authors’ conclusions are often quite surprising.

The book’s scholarly language indicates that its target market is universities, yet Picart and Frank’s sophisticated visual and aural analyses make Frames of Evil a valuable text for filmmakers as well. They break several key sequences down shot by shot to examine how composition, lighting and cutting convey attitudes about violence in general and the Holocaust in particular. For example, in the lengthy chapter on Schindler’s List, the authors dissect the visual strategies Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski, ASC employ in the film’s frightening shower sequence, comparing and contrasting that setpiece with the shower scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho. Interestingly, Picart and Frank find that Spielberg utilizes many of Hitchcock’s techniques to different ends — in fact, they argue that Psycho is the more challenging of the two films in terms of the viewer’s relationship to the violence onscreen.

This is a running theme throughout the book, as Picart and Frank claim that many horror films offer more complex and progressive moral attitudes than the Holocaust films they’ve influenced. The writers differentiate between two types of horror: a classical mode, in which clear distinctions are made between heroes and monsters, and the more modern, “conflicted” perspectives of films like Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs, which blur the line between good and evil and force the viewer to question his or her responses to onscreen violence. Frames of Evil argues that Schindler’s List falls squarely into the classical tradition, in that Spielberg uses his formidable gifts as a craftsman to separate the audience from the genocide his film depicts; unlike Psycho, Schindler allows the audience to avoid questioning its own potential for evil by painting the movie’s villain, Amon Goeth (played by Ralph Fiennes) as a one-dimensional monster.

Condemning a Nazi may not seem like a problematic moral position to most readers, but Picart and Frank argue that Spielberg has it both ways in the relationship between Amon Goeth and Helen, the Jewish maid to whom he is sexually attracted. Through detailed visual analysis, the authors show how Spielberg eroticizes Goeth’s treatment of Helen and invites the audience to vicariously participate in his behavior — while allowing the movie’s simplistic ethical divisions to let viewers off the hook in a way that Psycho’s more complicated characterizations never do. In the authors’ view, Schindler’s List frames the mass murder of the Jews as a horror film, but lacks the moral dimension of the best works in that genre.

Given the undeniable strengths of Schindler’s List, some of the authors’ criticisms may seem harsh, but the concerns they raise are valid given the picture’s overwhelming influence — for millions of viewers, the images in Schindler’s List don’t merely represent the Holocaust, they define it. The film has more or less been sanctioned as history, yet Frames of Evil convincingly questions whether or not this is appropriate, given the enormous liberties the movie takes with the facts — liberties that, like the relationship between Goeth and Helen, often pander to the audience instead of enlightening them.

While the authors see Schindler’s List as a Holocaust film influenced by horror techniques, they also explore how this relationship between the Holocaust and the horror genre is reciprocal. Just as Holocaust pictures like Schindler’s and Apt Pupil are informed by horror movies, genre movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence of the Lambs have appropriated the iconography of the Holocaust. Picart and Frank’s analysis of Silence of the Lambs skillfully describes how that film’s subjective camerawork addresses the issue of voyeurism and how Psycho, Schindler, and Apt Pupil use similar methods to different ends. As an adaptation of a Stephen King novella dealing explicitly with the legacy of WWII, Apt Pupil is especially interesting within this context — it can be defined as both a horror flick and a Holocaust film, and Picart and Frank devote an entire chapter to the implications of this cross-pollination.

The authors also touch on aesthetic issues, such as the pervasive use of black-and-white in films about the Holocaust — a practice established for economic reasons during WWII, when military documentarians could not afford to use color. These stark black-and-white images became the established cinematic language for Nazi death camps, resulting in an unusually high number of contemporary films about Nazis shot either wholly or partially in black-and-white. This group includes Schindler’s List, American History X, and the underrated The Addiction, a particularly interesting work that explicitly links the horror genre to the Holocaust. (A vampire movie that sees vampirism as a metaphor for man’s insatiable thirst for evil, the film presents this theme by interspersing images of the Holocaust throughout the narrative.)

Picart and Frank’s arguments are all skillfully defended, though they occasionally overreach in their attempt to establish connections between the Holocaust and horror cinema. In a passing comment on Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah project, a massive archive of videotaped testimonies, they unconvincingly assert that the filmmaker utilizes a classical horror movie structure. Equally dubious is their claim that the shower scene in Schindler’s List carries an erotic charge that undermines its effectiveness.

Ultimately, this book should be viewed less as a comprehensive study than a cogent analysis of a few specific films. Many key Holocaust movies, such The Pianist, are missing from the discussion, and a brief section on Nazis in Asian films and videogames is intriguing enough to make the reader wish the authors had developed the subject further. Nevertheless, as a detailed appraisal of several key movies from the Holocaust and horror genres, this is a compelling and provocative piece of work.

Southern Illinois University Press
$65.00 cloth, $30.00 paper

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Silent Traces: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Charlie Chaplin
by John Bengtson
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Just as silent-movie pioneers Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin forged a new kind of cinematic language in their early comedies, historian John Bengtson has created a unique form of film scholarship with his highly original studies of their work. His latest book, Silent Traces, is a continuation of the project that began with the 1999 publication of Silent Echoes, in which Bengtson illuminated both early Hollywood and the films of Buster Keaton by exploring the locations used in Keaton’s movies. Silent Traces follows a similar format, but applies Bengtson’s methods to Charlie Chaplin’s filmography — a project that yields fascinating discoveries about the Los Angeles in which Chaplin crafted his greatest pictures.

The book serves as a convenient reference guide for those seeking concise overviews of Chaplin’s films. For each release up to and including The Great Dictator (1940), Bengtson provides a release date, synopsis, and the names of key players. However, Bengtson’s simple and straightforward approach underplays the exhaustive research and rigorous detective work undoubtedly required to compile the rest of his information. On a film-by-film basis, the author unearths the locations on which Chaplin’s pictures were shot, and the result is a fascinating look at a Hollywood that no longer exists. Combining stills from the films, archival images of Los Angeles, and contemporary photographs, Bengtson uses Chaplin’s movies as a portal through which the reader can simultaneously travel to the past and explore the present.

The organization of material is extremely effective, with the images laid out in a manner that gives the reader a clear sense of how Chaplin and cameraman Rollie Totheroh, ASC — the director’s collaborator for more than 30 years — used architecture and landscape to tell their stories. The author also shows how their locations have changed in the decades since. On some pages, Bengtson employs a collage effect in which he pieces together images from multiple films and sources to present panoramic views of entire city blocks; he also makes notes about camera placement and blocking to indicate how the filmmakers utilized these locales. Chaplin’s tendency toward location filming, combined with the incredible productivity of his early years (he slowed down as he gained the commercial clout to do so) led to him to shoot in a large number of historically significant areas that are lovingly preserved in these pages. The irony is that while many of these places still exist, most of them have changed so much that by the end of the book, one is left with a palpable sense of loss. This is partly due to Bengtson’s uncanny ability to make the people and places he’s describing come to life; he makes it easy for the reader to visualize these filmmakers working and playing in the streets of a Hollywood as they unwittingly revolutionize a young art form.

The breadth of Bengtson’s research makes his book far more than an exercise in nostalgia, however. He provides detailed but accessible context for each locale — a chapter on Caught in a Cabaret (1914) describes the history of L.A.’s Chinatown; the section on Modern Times (1936) discusses the city’s conversion from manufactured to natural gas; and other chapters explore everything from labor relations to the leisure activities of Los Angeles natives. There are also detours to the other cities in which Chaplin worked, including San Francisco and Chicago, and fascinating passages on Chaplin’s recreation of the London streets of his childhood on L.A. locations. Bengtson adopts a freewheeling approach in which every element of his investigation leads to a new piece of information. For example, when he refers to a street with an odd name, he’ll go into detail about the name’s source and history.

While the book’s scope is considerable, Bengtson is never vague or imprecise in his descriptions, and the specificity of his language is complemented by illustrations that make everything he’s describing crystal clear. This approach yields some real treasures for movie buffs, particularly in a chapter about the studio Chaplin built in late 1917. The dozens of photos in this section provide a tantalizing look at the studio where Chaplin created some of his most famous movies, and we get to see how the facility (now owned by the Jim Henson Company) looks today. Particularly interesting is one still that shows how Chaplin routed traffic around his stages in continuous loops to create a steady flow of cars for a shot in City Lights (1931).

Silent Traces offers many other delights, including stills that show how Chaplin and Totheroh’s equipment evolved throughout their collaboration. Lavishly illustrated and meticulously written, this book is a must for silent-film enthusiasts or anyone interested in early Hollywood.

Santa Monica Press
$24.95 paperback

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The Winston Effect: The Art & History of Stan Winston Studio
by Jody Duncan
Reviewed by Jim Hemphill

Reading Jody Duncan’s The Winston Effect, a lavishly illustrated study of the work of legendary special-effects wizard Stan Winston, one is struck by the number of seminal films to which Winston has lent his talents. He has created characters for genre classics like The Terminator and Aliens, box-office smashes like Jurassic Park and Batman Returns, and cult favorites like Edward Scissorhands and John Carpenter’s The Thing — and these titles only scratch the surface of his output. Winston’s filmography includes dozens of horror, science fiction, and fantasy landmarks, but his studio is equally adept at comedy, as its work on Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me proves.

In fact, Winston and his team have worked on so many influential films that The Winston Effect serves not only as a history of Winston and his studio, but also as an overview of the evolution of special effects from the 1970s to the present day. In following Winston’s career, Duncan addresses innovations in puppetry, latex and silicone makeup, and digital technology. Early chapters refer to other effects artists like Dick Smith, Rick Baker, and Rob Bottin, giving the reader a concise introduction to the masters in the field, while later chapters examine the ways in which practical makeup and puppets are married to computer-generated effects.

Duncan explores these topics by focusing on Winston’s work one film at a time, expanding upon her articles in Cinefex magazine and her earlier books on Winston films like Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park. While some productions get more attention than others, the author is extremely thorough in her coverage of key works like Aliens, A.I. and Predator. Hundreds of photos and sketches accompany exhaustive interviews with Winston and his collaborators, giving the reader an extremely thorough understanding of Winston’s achievements. The illustrations are pure gold for effects enthusiasts and give a dense yet easily understood look at how special-effects artists create their magic.

The section on the groundbreaking Terminator 2: Judgment Day is particularly detailed and serves as a fascinating account of the marriage of digital and practical effects that were employed on that film. This idea is taken further in an equally compelling chapter on Jurassic Park, which describes how computer animation replaced stop-motion work for good in the early 1990s. Duncan also gives deserved attention to underrated movies like Joe Dante’s Small Soldiers, and her access to the Winston archives allows her to present artwork for projects that never came to fruition (such as Tim Burton’s 2001 Planet of the Apes remake, which was ultimately crewed by Rick Baker’s shop rather than Winston’s).

As one might expect, the book is occasionally a bit too reverent toward its subject. Winston’s achievements are impressive enough to stand on their own, so the inclusion of fawning quotes from his friends and colleagues comes across as repetitive overkill. The book is also surprisingly skimpy on details regarding Winston’s directorial and producing efforts. For example, Pumpkinhead, a horror film Winston helmed that is beloved by fans and which has recently spawned multiple sequels, is given only superficial attention.

These are minor complaints, however, given the crash course in modern effects work that The Winston Effect provides. In addition to her meticulous studies of Winston’s films, Duncan provides chapters about his work on artificial intelligence (a project on which Winston partnered with MIT), the Winston Studio’s commercial assignments, and its toy and comic-book lines. The author documents all of this ingenuity in clear language that renders complex technical concepts accessible and even entertaining, making The Winston Effect a worthy addition to any effects aficionado’s library.

Titan Books
$49.95 Hardback

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