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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Books, books, books!

Recently read items here at Casa Jaquandor:

:: How could I not read The Making of Star Wars? Written in honor of the original film's thirtieth anniversary, J.W. Rinzler's book more than lives up to its subtitle: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film. The book pretty much starts at about the earliest possible point, when young filmmaker George Lucas starts kicking around the notion of making a science fiction movie. There's just an astonishing amount of information here, and the book is actually a fairly dense read -- so much so, in fact, that I suspect that had the book not also been lavishly illustrated with photos and art from the production, it would have been a lot less enjoyable.

A lot of what's in the book is already known -- the nearly fruitless search for a studio to bankroll the film, the struggles Lucas had with writing his original script, the struggles Lucas had with his British crew who didn't take the film all that seriously, the way the film probably would never have happened had Lucas not used the conceptual art of Ralph McQuarrie in his studio pitches. The book fleshes out a lot of the narrative, though, and I found it fascinating to see just how many ideas that eventually showed up more than twenty years later in the prequel trilogy had their genesis way back in 1974 when Lucas was writing his original story treatments.

:: The Making of Comics by Scott McCloud is the third volume in what I think of as his "meta-comics trilogy", which began with Understanding Comics and continued with Re-inventing Comics. Understanding Comics is an essential read for anyone interested in the medium's history and background; Reinventing may not be quite essential reading, but it's a valuable follow-up. Making is a different animal: this is basically the comics equivalent of, say, Stephen King's On Writing. Here are the thoughts on a specific kind of creative process by a person who has spent significant amounts of time over his career thinking about that creative process and the work that goes on behind it, so there's value to reading this book even if you, as do I, have little interest in making comics.

(Actually, let me qualify that. I wouldn't mind writing comics, but my drawing skills are about as bad as a person's drawing skills can be without that person actually being dead.)

This is a "Thoughts of a master craftsman" kind of book, and I found great value in it on that basis. He won't teach you how to tell stories, but rather, how to use comics as a medium in storytelling. Great stuff.

:: I watched The English Patient years ago on TBS, and I found it generally dull, drawn-out, and for the most part, really pretty boring. But having just finished Michael Ondaatje's original novel, I'm wondering if maybe I failed to appreciate the film fairly, or if my tastes have simply changed since 1999 or whenever it was that I watched it. Hey, it happens.

The novel captivated me in a way the film didn't, with its depiction in close proximity of four people, all damaged in various ways (all emotionally, and some physically as well), whose lives intersect in a fairly mysterious way. The mystery of the story -- the identity of the unidentifiable English patient, burned almost to unrecognizability in a plane crash -- unfolds in unpredictable ways, and I greatly appreciated the way his story isn't allowed to totally dominate the entire novel. In fact, only the English patient's status as the book's title character really indicates at all that he's the most important character in the book at all. Ondaatje writes from constantly shifting viewpoints, and he switches seemlessly from present tense to past and back again, making for what I found to be a fairly hypnotic read.

I'm thinking I should watch the movie again.

:: Speaking of movies from books: I've long loved the Richard Lester-directed version of The Three Musketeers, and I've recently read the original Alexandre Dumas novel. I know this will come as absolutely no surprise, but this book is just one big swashbuckling delight from start to finish. Dumas's blend of court politics with sword-crossed derring-do is...well, the book's just a blast. After finishing it, I felt the way one should feel when finishing a classic work: I felt better for having read it. (I read Lowell Bair's translation for Bantam Books, if anyone's wondering.)

Surprisingly, the phrase that should leap to anyone's mind when hearing the words "Three Musketeers" -- "All for one and one for all" -- are, if memory serves, only uttered once in the book!

(BTW, if you need to watch a filmed version of the book, go with the afore-mentioned Richard Lester version. The one from 1994 or thereabouts, starring Keifer Sutherland and others, was a mildly entertaining flick but turns out to bear almost no relation to the book. It's got a cracking good score by Michael Kamen, though.)


Tal said...

I love Dumas, he's made melaugh right out loud, which I never expect when reading a "classic." I also really enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo.

Anonymous said...

Hi first post here.

Do not watch the english patient again under any circumstances. it is terrible. they took a beautiful 300 page novel about many things and turned it into a long boring romance that cut out roughly 1.5 characters. as you don't get annie hall, a great movie, i have never understood how anybody liked the movie. however his other novels are good although none as powerful as EP.

it may show, but i've been known to rant on the badness of the movie and greatness of the book before. we all have our cutlery to grind.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the sequels to The Three Musketeers, and I dont mean the Movies. Dumas wrote 2 sequels that carry the chracters through decades the first "Twenty Years After" and the 2nd "Vicomte de bragelonne" Make very certain when you read they are not 'abridged'
The Vicomte book ususally has its final volme published seperately as "Man behind the Iron Mask"

The Vicomte book is THREE TIMES size of Three Musketeers

BTW same with Dumas Count of Monte Cristo, Dumas wrote a sequeal. As a kid I read Three Musketeers over and over again. I remember being pole axed in University Library discovering Dumas's sequels

Best wishes David S.