Thursday, 25 June 2015

American Neo-Noir

American Neo-Noir
American Neo-Noir: The Movie Never Ends, by Alain Silver and James Ursini, is a survey of the neo-noir sub-genre, from the 1960s onwards. The term 'neo-noir' was first coined by Todd Erickson; he is credited in the acknowledgements, though there are no footnotes or bibliography. Interestingly, although Silver and Ursini classify film noir as a style, they regard neo-noir as a genre: "film noir was never a genre but an American film movement that was defined by style as much as content... neo-noir is more genre than movement, a mimicking of the style and content of the classic period".

More than 500 films are discussed (listed in a comprehensive filmography), though the analysis of each film (even classics such as Chinatown) is limited to one or two paragraphs. Some very recent films are included (even some of this year's releases), and this immediacy may account for some of the typos and errors in the text. Co-writer Alain Silver also designed the book's layout, though he's a much better writer than a designer.

Silver and Ursini's Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference To The American Style included an extensive essay on neo-noir, and a truncated version appears in Film Noir: The Encyclopedia. Silver and Ursini have also co-authored Film Noir (edited by Paul Duncan), the Film Noir Reader series, and The Noir Style. They contributed to Film Noir: 100 All-Time Favorites, and recorded DVD commentaries for Call Northside 777, Boomerang!, and Panic In The Streets.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Studies in the Horror Film
Stanley Kubrick's The Shining

Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, edited by Danel Olson, is the latest book in the Studies in the Horror Film series. Some chapters are reprints of previous articles (Kubrick interviewed by Michel Ciment, a 2009 Jack Nicholson interview from Empire magazine, and an extract from John Baxter's Kubrick biography), though there are also new interviews with members of the cast and crew.

The interviews were conducted by Olson, Justin Bozung, and Catriona McAvoy. The most revealing interviewees are those such as Joe Turkel and Emilio D'Alessandro, who have the longest associations with Kubrick. (In contrast, there are some superfluous interviews with extras.) McAvoy (who wrote an essay on The Shining in Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives) interviewed screenwriter Diane Johnson, and the chapter is illustrated with material from Johnson's archive.

The book includes several previously unpublished production photographs, supplied by Leon Vitali and Greg MacGillivray. Toy Story II co-director Lee Unkrich, one of The Shining's biggest fans, wrote the introduction. At 700 pages, it's certainly an extensive anthology of material on the making of the film. In fact, it's arguably a bit too long: a section reproducing fan-made posters is absolutely un-necessary, and should have been replaced with the alternative posters sketched by Saul Bass. There is no index.

Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives

Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives
Stanley Kubrick: New Perspectives is an anthology of essays on Kubrick's films, edited by Peter Kramer (author of books on Dr Strangelove and 2001: A Space Odyssey), Tatjana Ljujic, and Richard Daniels. Unlike previous Kubrick anthologies, such as Depth Of Field and Stanley Kubrick: Essays On His Films & Legacy, New Perspectives is illustrated with items from the Stanley Kubrick Archive.

There are individual chapters on all of Kubrick's films from Paths Of Glory to Eyes Wide Shut. Previous books (the Kubrick exhibition catalogue, The Stanley Kubrick Archives, Napoleon, The Making Of Stanley Kubrick's 2001, We'll Meet Again) have also included documents from the Kubrick Archive, though fortunately there is no duplication of this material in New Perspectives.

The book begins with essays on Kubrick's career as a photographer and director in New York. Philippe Mather (author of Stanley Kubrick At Look Magazine) discusses the stylistic influence of Kubrick's photography on his early films. Peter Kramer examines Kubrick's independent films and the Harris-Kubrick production partnership; his essay title quotes from Kubrick's 1964 contract stipulation: "I must have complete total final annihilating artistic control". An essay by Nathan Abrams on Kubrick's Jewish identity is less revealing, and it excludes Kubrick's proposed Holocaust film Aryan Papers.

The most successful chapters utilise script drafts and notes to construct production histories of the films in question. Fiona Radford shows that Kubrick's proposed revisions to Spartacus were not always to the film's advantage: "Although some might believe that Spartacus would have been a better film if Kubrick had been in charge, this is not necessarily the case." Karyn Stuckey reveals that Martin Russ contributed to the Lolita script, and that the film's prologue was written by Kubrick alone: "the entire sequence is written in Kubrick's hand". Catriona McAvoy's essay on The Shining benefits from her interviews with several of Kubrick's collaborators. Lucy Scholes and Richard Martin compare various drafts of the Eyes Wide Shut script.

There are also fascinating accounts of changes that Kubrick made after production was completed. Daniel Biltereyst analyses the censorship of Lolita, based on correspondence between Kubrick and John Trevelyan from the BBFC archive. Mick Broderick uses daily continuity reports from Dr Strangelove "to reconstitute filmed sequences that failed to make the final cut", providing a detailed guide to shots and dialogue from the cutting-room floor. (Broderick was one of the few researchers - the others being Jon Ronson and Bernd Eichhorn - to examine Kubrick's archives in situ at Childwickbury.)

Richard Daniels, who runs the Kubrick Archive, writes about the publicity campaign for Paths Of Glory, revealing that Kubrick was less involved than expected. He demonstrates that marketing decisions were made by James Harris rather than Kubrick, and that press releases did not highlight Kubrick's role in the film's production (in contrast to Kubrick's earlier films, which were largely self-promoted, as Peter Kramer notes in his first chapter).

Pratap Rughani discusses the ethics of war reportage with reference to Full Metal Jacket, noting Kubrick's concern that a Vietnamese perspective (however tokenistic) was missing from the film: "There should be a Vietnamese character to summarize the V. position. We totally lack a V. point of view." Karen A Ritzenhoff writes about the film's pre-production, reproducing a letter from Kubrick about Beckton Gas Works; Kubrick's annotations show his obsession with detail: "Indent 8 spaces... also the spaces between each line at present are not equal."

In other chapters, Robert Poole writes about the evolution of the 'Dawn of Man' sequence in 2001 (covered in more depth in Moonwatcher's Memoir by Dan Richter), Regina Peldszus discusses Kubrick's collaboration with NASA on 2001 (including his letter to Roger Caras), and Tatjana Ljujic examines the paintings that influenced Barry Lyndon. Peter Kramer writes a chapter on A Clockwork Orange (the subject of one of his previous books). Maria Pramaggiore's chapter on Barry Lyndon was adapted from her book Making Time In Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, though this is not indicated.

There are a couple of minor mistakes. A caption on page 115 refers to "Stanly Kubrick" [sic], and a line is missing from page 118. A letter is described on page 330 as "hand-written in ink", though it was clearly typed, as demonstrated by the illustration on the preceding page.