Friday, November 5, 2010

Bambi Versus Godzilla by David Mamet

First of all, props to the book cover designer on this one. I don't think I'd have grabbed it from the shelf if it had not been for that absolutely eye-catching cover. Definitely a solid job on a book that probably could use a little help getting attention, since the subject is a bit off to the side in terms of popularity.

The book itself is a series of essays by Mamet ranging mostly on the movie business but also into other areas, primarily politics. When he stays on task, these are brilliant (if bitter) insights by a man who makes his money in an industry he despises for its business practices. When he's rambling on in an ultra-leftist bias, which sadly happens most often at the beginning of the book, it's a boring diatribe. Whether or not you agree with Mamet's politics, his sour grapes on the state of the political world just don't make for good reading.

The good outweighs the bad, though, and Mamet's style is very crisp, which is what he argues for in screen writing--don't keep anything that's not essential. Because of this, Mamet gets right to the point--there are too many producers, there's little respect for writers because everyone wants to be a writer so they're practically disposable, and the number of movies actually made today is small and keeps getting smaller. That's something I don't think we really look at these days, because with all the advertising, it feels like we have a never-ending supply of films to dislike or enjoy. On the other hand, a lot of the movies made when they were churned out by studio houses were complete crap, so I'm not sure the current system is actually worse.

Mamet also talks about what, to him, makes for a perfect movie--Galaxy Quest is one of them, believe it or not--and how so many fall short. In almost every case, Mamet has a movie example, all of which are given brief summaries in the appendix and allow you to explore his themes further. That was a nice touch, I thought.

I simply must mention his rants about auditions and preview audiences. Mamet believes that some people get parts because they can audition well, not because they can act. I'd never really considered that before. In the latter case, Mamet argues that instead of being natural, people in a test audience try too hard to think of what "they represent" and thus give a biased picture of what really works and what doesn't.

For me, the best part of this book came from reading his thoughts on writing, even though I do a different kind. It's not intended to be a how-to book, but those interested in writing fiction of any kind can learn something.

Overall, however, I worry, as did Steve Martin for the blurb, if after all this is now in the public records, that Mamet will ever work again. If not, maybe he can write more books like this one. I'd certainly read it, and you should, too.

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