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review 2017-08-07 00:22
And Furthermore (Dench)
And Furthermore - Judi Dench

"Do not consider this an autobiography. I have neither the time nor the skill to write one," warns Dame Judi right at the beginning of her introductory remarks. She points to the 1998 biography by John Miller, and it is that same John Miller who has the "as told to" credit on this book. That said, "And Furthermore" is chatty and not obviously ghost-written in tone, and the assistance to its celebrated author seems to have been chiefly rendered in keeping names, dates and projects straight. Unlike a later-in-life memoir with a similar title, Lauren Bacall's "And Then Some," this book does not confine itself just to the years since the last biographical outing, but instead covers off, in an orderly and comprehensive, if fairly superficial way, all of Judi Dench's long life. There is a solid emphasis on her performing rather than her personal or emotional life, though of course she talks a bit about major events like the passing of her much-loved husband, Michael Williams. The narrative is mostly anecdotal, sometimes funny but not exclusively so, and very generous to her co-workers in theatre, film and television. She also reveals a somewhat surprising penchant for misbehaving on stage or set - practical jokes and the like.

Dench, if she is generally apt to suppress criticism of other people, makes no secret of her dislike for certain material. She loathes "The Merchant of Venice," for instance. And even at the distance of more than 40 years, she has no hesitation in pronouncing a minor play from French, "Content to Whisper," "the most terrible play known to man."

The names are not so much dropped as just wonderfully, gloriously omnipresent. Judi Dench has worked with everyone from Gielgud onwards. She can say of two productions of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "What was so uncanny for me was hearing Rachael Stirling as Helena, the part her mother Diana Rigg had played with the RSC when we did it before." She knows and has worked with all the British classical actors who have crossed over to Hollywood celebrity - Ian McKellen, Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Irons, Kenneth Branagh, Daniel Craig, you name 'em. A little to my surprise, she also has a solid resume in musicals; she was only prevented by a rehearsal injury from being in the original London cast of "Cats" and she played big houses in "Cabaret" and "A Little Night Music."

Judi's right though, in a way. This is an autobiographical work, but it's not "the autobiography" or "the biography." Like many actors, she shies away from analyzing or even watching her own work. And, likeably enough, she doesn't indulge in a lot of introspection, at least not for public consumption. I shall probably end up trying Miller's 1998 biography in hopes for more insights to add on top of this entirely amiable work.

Oh yes, there's a decent collection of photos from her collection too, including some in colour. Definitely a keeper.

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review 2017-01-30 12:23
Behind the scenes of B-movie's silver age
It Came from the 80s! Interviews with 124 Cult Filmmakers - Francesco Borseti

If the 1950s and 1960s were the golden era of the exploitationist "B-movie," the 1980s was its silver age. Thanks to the growth of both cable television and home VHS players, low-budget productions had new outlets for their films, and producers leaped at the opportunities that they provided. While many of these movies were forgettable, some have attracted followings by those who enjoy their charms or for whom the films are a nostalgic artifact of their lives back then.

 

It is this audience to whom Francesco Borseti's book is directed. It is a collection of interviews with the men and women involved in making 28 English-language films from the decade. The interviewees are a range of people from writers and directors to actors and technical personnel. The main criteria for their inclusion seems to be a willingness to speak with Borseti about their memories of working on the film, which offers a unique glimpse into the process of creating a B-movie back then. While the eclectic nature of interviewees and their responses (some of which tend more towards self-promotion than recollection) doesn't provide a systematic account of their production, fans of these films will find this an entertaining glimpse behind the scenes of the movies they enjoy.

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review 2017-01-21 06:02
The struggle for hearts and minds
Cinematic Cold War: The American and Soviet Struggle for Hearts and Minds - Tony Shaw,Denise J. Younglood

In most histories of the era the Cold War is portrayed as a struggle of superpowers using spies and proxy wars to check the advance of their foe. Yet as Tony Shaw and Denise Youngblood point out in this book, the United States and Soviet Union also waged though the cultural medium of movies. Through a selection of key films from throughout the period they demonstrate the evolution of the conflict, from the villainization of the other side during in its early years to the softer effort to champion values during the 1960s and 1970s, to the harsh tone of the revived Cold War in the 1980s and the effective concession of the argument by the Soviets at the end of the decade. The authors do a good job of analyzing the movies and situating them within the respective film industries of the two countries, and the films they select to make their arguments contain some surprising choices (such as Roman Holiday and Bananas for "Cold War films") that make for sometimes provocative interpretations, though it is interesting to speculate how their conclusions might have been different had they focused on other flicks. Nevertheless, this is a fascinating comparative study that demonstrates the manifold ways in which the Americans and Soviets clashed for dominance.

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review 2016-09-01 22:09
The Godspell Experience (de Giere)
The Godspell Experience: Inside a Transformative Musical - de Giere, Carol,Stephen Schwartz

I first became aware of this book through the author's decidedly fannish website, and did a bit of googling to discover that it is essentially self-published (the same imprint has put out the same author's biography of Godspell composer Stephen Schwartz, and there are a number of associated websites). However, there are bad fannish authors and good fannish authors, and Carol de Giere appears to be one of the better ones. Her volume is nicely produced, clearly written and well copy-edited. It also appears to be based on a respectable amount of original research in the form of personal interviews with creators and performers at all stages of the development of the work. If I had a complaint, and it's a fairly minor one, the structure's a bit bumpy - lots of tiny chapters clearly derived from a highly comprehensive outline in bullet points! However, that same structure allows the author to present, I am guessing, pretty much every piece of information she has gleaned about "Godspell" in its various incarnations rather than having to shape some sort of through line or thesis, and that's welcome. Nor is the tone breathless or mendacious - the less-than-favourable critical reception of the 2011 Broadway revival is not glossed over, and the comments of Schwartz and some original cast members are interesting in that regard.

 

I could have wished there were more on the subject of the Toronto production which launched the careers of so many Canadian notables (Victor Garber, Martin Short, Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Paul Shaffer), but that may be just my local bias showing. At least de Giere pointed out in her Bibliography - yes, there are notes and bibliography! Big points from me! - the existence of a book by Paul Shaffer which may well be more illuminating.

 

Having the close cooperation of composer Steven Schwartz meant that there were some very interesting tidbits on details of the music and the lyrics (why they sing "we hung up our lives" instead of "lyres" in "On the Willows", for instance).

 

A good addition to my showbiz shelves. It can sit right next to the Jesus Christ Superstar book!

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review 2016-06-28 03:21
By Myself and Then Some (Lauren Bacall)
By Myself and Then Some - Lauren Bacall

This is a late '70s autobiography, with another quarter of a century ("and then some") tacked on in 2005.  Though the memoir covers pretty much all her projects in movies, theatre and tv, the lasting memory of this book will be of Bacall's recollections of her personal relationships with both husbands, a couple of high-profile boyfriends, and numerous friends. Given that, the title seems a little odd, but there can be little doubt that after her first husband Bogart, died in the 50s, and even before her second marriage to Jason Robards collapsed in the late 60s due to his alcoholism, she does seem to have felt that she was a solitary agent. The wry title to the second part reflects very accurately the rather depressing sequence of death after death amongst her dearest friends, a great many of whom she outlived in the early part of the 21st century.

The style of the two parts is somewhat different; I have a feeling that Bacall's exclamatory style was considerably more edited in the first work. However, there's every evidence throughout that we're getting her words, not those of any sort of ghost-writer; she was clearly an articulate and reasonably well-read woman.

The part of the memoir that I found most compelling, and not just because it involves a relationship that's mythic in Hollywood history, was her romance, marriage and eventual loss of Bogart. The detailed clarity of her recollections of the most important stages in that relationship - their wedding day, the babyhood of their son, and, most affectingly, Bogart's death -shows that this was likely the part of her story she still found most compelling herself. But we also get interesting cameos of people like Frank Sinatra (they dated after Bogie's death; he dumped her rather unceremoniously), or Kate Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (by her account, entirely joined at the hip). Bacall has very little bitterness to vent, though she does seem to feel that her career was sub-optimal after the Bogie years, even though she had an amazing renaissance on the New York stage, for which she received masses of praise and two Tonies, and a strong presence in Britain as well. I strongly suspect there were plenty of ill-feelings, and plenty of secrets, which didn't make it past her own personal filters. She was, after all, of a more gracious generation - and we must also remember that even the first part of this memoir wasn't written until she was well into her 50s.

Recommended for anyone interested in golden age of Hollywood, or the Broadway scene in the 70s, especially when read in tandem with other memoirs/biographies of her contemporaries.

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