Bambi Vs. Godzilla: On The Nature, Purposes, And Practice Of The Movie Business, by David Mamet
I got this book from the library and I have to say that it was a funny book to read. Just its title alone–a knowing reference to one of the more famous short films of the late 1960’s–gives an idea of the sort of humorous writing that this book will contain. And, truth be told, this book is clearly written to an insider audience. Anyone who reads this book will care a lot about the movie business and will likely be a writer, as it seems that writers are those who read books for the most part . At any rate, this book has all the hallmarks of a book written for insiders, with inside jokes as well as a sort of openness that comes when a writer expects to write for a sympathetic audience. To be sure, this is not a book written with critics in mind, who the author seems not to like, but rather is written for those who could consider themselves fans or at least people who are somewhat idealistic if also a bit cynical about how the movie industry works.
In terms of its contents and structure, the book has a laid back and somewhat rambling but also deeply entertaining feel to it. The book begins with a discussion about the good people of Hollywood, which in the minds of the author mostly means the writers and crew members who toil to create art that is not particularly appreciated by those who make the most money. The author also talks candidly about Jews and show business and discusses his ideas on population genetics and the like. After this comes a few chapters on the repressive mechanism that tends to encourage bad films and an improper response to film on the part of many producers and their sycophants. A few entertaining and practical chapters on screenwriting follow, including the way that screenwriters tend to be, in the author’s rather provocative language, raped and accused of theft by many producers, as well as three important questions for any screenwriter to ask about his or her script: Who wants what from whom? What happens if they don’t get it? Why now? Some chapters on learning technique in filming by experience follow, as well as some basic principles about dramatic distance and setting up the enjoyment of delayed gratification and the compact between filmmakers and the audience. After this come some rather humorous discussion on genre, including the cop movie, film noir, religious films, and the author’s thoughts on sequels. At this point the author gets into the swing of passing judgment on critics and actors, some of it positive and some of it negative, before closing on his views of the crimes and misdemeanors of the film industry, particularly as it relates to manners and the purpose of the Oscars, with some lovely closing material including an annotated list of films referenced in the book.
At a bit more than 200 pages this is certainly an enjoyable book to read. As someone who is both a prolific critic of books as well as a prolific writer of original material (including quite a few plays), I am not sure the extent to which I am considered as a member of one category of reader or another. I did not agree with everything the author said, and certainly we have very different political and moral worldviews to be sure, but at the same time I felt this author to be someone who defended the artist and thought it important that those who make films maintain a level of respect for the audience and what the audience wants from a film. The author also points out the stress and difficulties faced by people who want to make art in a world that values the bottom line and tends to want to make fewer and fewer films as time goes on in order to take fewer risks on films with small budgets and niche audiences that might actually have the chance to be worth remembering decades from now.
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