Spring 2006

Conversations With the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood's Golden Age at the American Film Institute
(Alfred A. Knopf, 710 pages, $35)
By George Stevens, Jr.

Since 1969, the American Film Institute, through its Center for Advanced Film Studies, has educated and nurtured some of the industry's most gifted directors. (In the first class alone were Terrence Malick, Paul Schrader and David Lynch.) As part of their instruction, these fledgling filmmakers have been treated to seminars with legendary directors, producers, cinematographers and writers. George Stevens, Jr., founder of the AFI and its director until 1980, has compiled a riveting assortment of excerpts from these events. Stevens' wonderful, chatty introductions to the 32 luminaries featured here give us a succinct, insider's take on each person, enriching the no-holds-barred Q&A's which follow. The choice of subjects ranges from the comic (Harold Lloyd) to the sublime (Ingmar Bergman). Howard Hawks, John Huston, George Cukor, William Wyler, David Lean–and other greats are represented. Frank Capra talks about nearly abandoning It Happened One Night because no actors wanted to play the lead parts. Billy Wilder confesses to feeling "suicidal" after viewing the first cut of every one of his films. Hitchcock reveals he never even looks through the camera because every creative decision is worked out before shooting begins. Interviews with a few non-directors are also included, adding another dimension to the book. Cinematographer James Wong Howe explains how he created a shot simulating the POV of a beat-up Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront–he made his camera operator walk around in a circle until he was dizzy and then turned on the camera. Writer Ray Bradbury counsels filmmakers to read poetry every night of their lives, because "poetry and motion pictures are twins," both dealing in vivid, concise imagery. One part reminiscences, one part tricks of the trade, this book is a complete film school, a must-read for those serious about directing–and those who just want to continue their film education.

Review written by Gloria Norris.


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