Spring 2012

Conversations at the American Film Institute with the Great Moviemakers: The Next Generation, from the 1950s to Hollywood Today
(Knopf, 768 pages, $39.95)
Edited by George Stevens, Jr.

Great Moviemakers Book This is a pressure cooker for a filmmaker, to be in front of the next generation,” said Steven Spielberg to an audience of AFI Fellows in May 1978, “because I guess that’s what some of you will become—the fourth wave.” He uttered these words not long after becoming a leader of the third wave, and one of the great pleasures of this magnificent, brick-like tombstone of a book lies in catching now long-established filmmakers as they shared their newly acquired cinematic know-how with AFI’s rapt students, often quite early in their careers.

Despite the title, the filmmakers included in this volume largely achieved prominence during the fabled 1970s, or just after, and we are offered a heady mix of the film school-educated such as George Lucas, Paul Schrader, Spielberg, even AFI Fellow David Lynch; live TV veterans like Arthur Penn, Sydney Pollack, and William Friedkin; and renegades like Robert Altman and Roger Corman. None of them disappoints, as these long-unseen transcripts prove.

Great talkers abound: Friedkin, interviewed before the release of Sorcerer, has the swagger of a man at the top of his game, and his anecdotes fairly fizz off the page. His contemporary Peter Bogdanovich is dry and witty. By the time Robert Altman was interviewed in 2001, he had long since achieved “Grand Poobah” status, but one still envisages a cloud of pot-smoke swirling around him as he charms listeners with his relaxed “what the hell” attitude toward filmmaking and his not so relaxed “go to hell” attitude toward the moneymen. “Films are like my children,” he says at one point, “some of them you wish were a little taller, but I love them all anyway.”

The collective mix of the old and the new conveys a wonderful sense of the continuity of an industry and an institution. It’s a great opportunity to hear new advice from directors no longer with us, and relative youngsters, AFI alumni like Darren Aronofsky and James Mangold. Overall, this is a collection that is compendious, illuminating, and utterly indispensable.

Review written by John Patterson.


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