Book Reviews By Rich Osmond, Mike White, Chris Cummins & Skizz Cyzyk. Inside The Yellow Submarine: The Making Of The Beatles’ Animated Classic by Dr...
Inside The Yellow Submarine: The Making Of The Beatles’ Animated Classic by Dr. Robert Hieronimus
Yellow Submarine is the 1968 animated Beatles film that broke new ground in animation and art-design, greatly influencing the world of commercial art, and turning on a whole new generation of kids to the music of The Beatles. The story behind the film has been shrouded in myth or mystery, with many misconceptions surrounding the film since it’s release. With this book, Dr. Robert Hieronimus (AKA Dr. Bob) clears up those misconceptions, gives credit where credit is due, and tells a most remarkable story about a most remarkable film.
True or False?: Peter Max is responsible for the look of Yellow Submarine; the film’s creators were greatly influenced by drug use; the script is full of hidden meaning. Answer: false, false, and false. The truth is that designer Heinz Edelmann designed Yellow SubmarinePeter Max had nothing to do with it. The film’s creators did not have time to use drugs during the making of the film, as they had less than a year to complete it on a small budget and with a small staff. As far as the script is concerned, the final script never existed until after the film was completed. Drafts were still being written while the animation was already being shot. A storyline was quickly constructed to tie together pieces of finished animation.
After reading this book and learning about all the problems that plagued the production, I am amazed the film was ever completed and that it turned out as well as it did. Problems like the lack of interest or involvement from the Beatles themselves are just the tip of the iceberg. Did you know that the group didn’t even do their own voices in the film? And, the Beatles songs (“Hey Bulldog,” “All Together Now,” Only A Northern Song,” “It’s All Too Much”) used to sell the film were throwaways from the Fab Four? The Beatles never took the production seriously until they saw a rough-cut.
Besides scads of behind-the-scenes info and trivia, some of the most interesting inclusions for fans of the film, are Edelmann’s model sheets pointing out specific details for various characters in the film. For instance, who knew that under the Chief Blue Meanie’s skullcap he has only one hair? Or that Ringo has no teeth? The book is loaded with model sheets, photos, stills, posters, and various visual material.
Dr. Bob structures the book like a good documentary film, letting his interview subjects tell their stories in their own words. For the most part, it works, but it also tends to bring out many contradictions, unnecessary comments, and repeated information throughout the book. Inside the Yellow Submarine does not pretend to be the definitive story of the making of Yellow Submarine; instead, Dr. Bob gives each version of the story and lets the reader decide which one to believe. The tale unfolds as artists battle a corporate studio to make something significant instead of a throwaway piece of entertainment.
Although he had nothing to do with Yellow Submarine upon it’s original release, Dr. Bob became a part of the film’s history while researching this book. He became essential in the orchestration of Yellow Submarine conventions and anniversary parties, as well as the 1999 re-release of the film to theaters and DVD.
Inside the Yellow Submarine may seem like one fans’ biased account, telling you more than you ever needed to know about the Yellow Submarine but, after reading this book, you’ll never think of the film the same way again. This book provides a whole new appreciation for Yellow Submarine as a work of art and a triumph of perseverance. (ISBN: 0873493605) Skizz Cyzyk
Eros in Hell: Sex, Blood and Madness in Japanese Cinema by Jack Hunter
This is a highly distressing book. For as much information as the reader discovers, the sense of lacking mounts, creating more questions than this book has means, or intent, to answer. It is best to think of Eros in Hell as a primer for the reader interested in getting a taste of extremism in Japanese cinema. The high points of the book include the chapter on Koji Wakamatsu and the “underground” films of Shinya Tsukamoto, Shojin Fukui, et. al. Meanwhile, the rest of the book founders under the weight of excessive footnotes¹, goofy interviews of Japanese filmmakers by Parisian photographer Romain Slocombe² and a pedantic chapter covering the minutia of Nagisa Oshima’s Ai No Corrida (In the Realm of the Senses).
For readers with more than a passing interest in the Japanese New Wave Cinema, I recommend picking up David Desser’s Eros plus Massacre (named after Yoshishige Yoshida’s film). Hampered by its aggressively wide scope and passive acceptance of misogyny, Eros in Hell does a terrific job of stressing the need for a comprehensive look at the radical reaches of Japanese Cinema. (ISBN: 1871592933)Mike White
¹ All of the footnotes in Eros in Hell would work much better if integrated into the text.
² Slocombe is best known for his photographs of Asian girls in bandages and, apparently, he feels a need to bring up his fetish with everyone to whom he speaks.
Asian Pop Cinema: Bombay to Tokyo by Lee Server
For readers who like their books cursory, if Eros in Hell has whetted the appetite for more Far East films, then Lee Server’s book is for you. A well-written and dazzlingly laid-out book, Asian Pop Cinema is chocked full of information to someone with little or no knowledge of Asian film. For those who’ve seen a smattering of Woo, Yimou, or Kurosawa, this book offers little information that isn’t common knowledge among fans of Eastern cinema. Like the films of Tsui Hark, Asian Pop Cinema looks nice but doesn’t offer much entertainment.
TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion by Patrick Macias
Feeling like a collection of incredible Japan-centered zines, TokyoScope hosts reviews, interviews, and assorted oddities together for one whiz-bang collection of Japanese film. Omitting overexposed genres such as anime and chambara, Macias instead focuses on under-appreciated genres like yakuza-eiga and roman porno and stars such as Sonny Chiba and Bunta Sugawara. Additionally, TokyoScope contains interviews with directors Kinji Fukasaku and Takashi Miike.
Boasting scads of reviews for dozens of films I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing, TokyoScope is a terrific step in the right direction for folks who want to associate themselves with the multifaceted cinema from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex by Katharine Gates
Think you’re odd? Do you like to do “strange” things in bed? Have you ever found yourself fantasizing about something that you know is bizarre? Welcome to the real world, honey, where “deviant” sex is the norm. You may think that your penchant for panties or wish to squish is something no sane person would contemplate but you’d be wrong.
In Deviant Desires, author Katharine Gates goes for the jugular. Leaving the relatively “normal” realms of BDSM (Bondage & Discipline/SadoMasochism), transgenderism, and shrimping behind, the topics explored in Deviant Desires are completely “off the map” in comparison. Ranging from in-depth chapters on Pony Play to Balloon Fetishes with stops along the way about Giantesses, Crushing, and Fat fans, Gates raises the bar with each chapter. Even our old pal Romain Slocombe (see above) makes an appearance with his Broken Dolls photography near the end of the book.
My favorite chapter has to be the “catch all” finale to the book that addresses (among other things) attraction to androids (My Living Doll anyone?) and erotic fan fiction. The drawings of popular science fiction characters in compromising positions aren’t easy to forget.
Gates is highly respectful of her subjects, neither exploiting them nor psychoanalyzing them. The fun the people have with their fetishes is apparent and rather “normalizing”! While the idea of people enjoying themselves while not indulging in “vanilla sex” may be offensive to some, this book is for the silent, (a)moral majority! (ISBN: 1890451037)Mike White
The Official Spinal Tap Companion edited by Karl French
“It’s The Book That Goes To 11!” If I were a less imaginative critic, I would use that blurb to describe this book, as whenever folks seem to discuss This Is Spinal Tap, invariably someone quotes the above phrase from the scene in which Nigel Tufnel shows his amp to pseudo-director Marti Dibergi. It’s the “You Talkin’ To Me?” syndrome in which one scene of a movie becomes such a cultural touchstone that the phrase becomes larger than the film itself. Some may argue that Nigel and his amp may be the high point of the film, (I personally feel it’s the hotel argument scene between receptionist Paul Benedict and manager Ian Faith). However, in a film as comically rich as This Is Spinal Tap, this type of argument can rage on forever and this companion will certainly keep the debate going. Even the most novice Tapheads may want to check it out as it features more information about Spinal Tap than is imaginable.
A “prepilogue” by Michael McKean gives some fascinating insight into the film and is also a rare opportunity to hear him discussing the film out of his David St. Hubbins persona. A complete transcript of the film (including a good deal of cut scenes) takes up the majority of the book. Also featured is an interesting Spinal Tap timeline. The remainder of the volume is an A-Z full of trivia about Britain’s loudest band, (one strange omissionthere is no mention of the Pez People band from Christopher Guest’s The Big Picture who sound suspiciously like the boys from Squatney). Packed with trivia and useless information, this book gives extensive insight into a contemporary comedy classic, and, oh yeah, it also goes to 11. (ISBN: 1582341257)Chris Cummins
If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor by Bruce Campbell
As I stood in line, I wondered if Bruce got this kind of turnout in other states. Did this Michigan native attract more attention from folks who feel that he’s “one of us?” The longer I waited in queue, the more I felt convinced that Bruce Campbell would merit this type of attention wherever he went. It didn’t matter to these folks that Bruce had grown up less than an hour away; they were much more concerned with getting their Ash or Autolycus action figures autographed by The Man.
These poor folks had their hopes dashed, however, when we were informed of “the rules” to Bruce’s signing. He’d sign copies of his book only. We were given small post-it notes on which we were to write what we wanted signed in the book. With a few hundred people filling the aisles at a Borders on a Saturday before noon, I could easily see the logic in this decision.
There’s a great deal of humor in Bruce Campbell’s book wherein he recalls his early days as a troublemaker and aspiring actor. Campbell proceeds to discuss his early ventures in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films. However, fans of these films won’t glean many facts about the behind-the-scenes goings on that aren’t already present in the commentary tracks for the films or in Bill Warren’s The Evil Dead Companion (reviewed in CdC #12). Meanwhile, the rest of Campbell’s films get short shrift. Instead of dishing dirt about Walter Koenig’s inflated ego on the set of Moon Trap, Campbell takes the high road choosing to say nothing rather than to say something bad.
As always, Campbell is a class act; he handles his memoir with the same down-to-earth manner in which he handles his fans. More than just a must-have to Campbell’s legions of fans, If Chins Could Kill is essential to anyone interested in what it means to survive as a “B-Movie Actor.” (ISBN: 0312242646)Mike White
Iron Chef: The Official Book
Watakushi no kioku ga tashika naraba, I’ve not written about my love of The Iron Chef in the pages of Cashiers du Cinemart before. I’m not a big television fan but I’m an absolute nut for The Food Network’s Japanese import. Without fail, I watch this captivating culinary contest week in and week out.
The “Official Book” of The Iron Chef attempts to explain the attraction of fans to the show. However, while properly capturing the thrill of the cooking battle, the authors omit the amusing cross-cultural aspects of the program. Apart from the occasional Godzilla film, I’m not a fan of dubbed dialogue but the corny English commentary of The Iron Chef adds the proper amount of distance from the original material while highlighting the oddity of such an ornate competition.
This tome feels like it was written around the time of Iron Chef Morimoto’s initial battle with whiny baby Bobby Flay whose kitchen antics sully the culinary arts. There is little looking forward (most due to the tenuous existence of The Iron Chef as both a viable show as well as its foothold in the zeitgeist) and even the retrospective chapters feel rather thin.
It’s a pleasure to read the reminiscences of Iron Chef’s past such as Koumei Nakamura and Yutaka Ishinabe. Yet, there needs to be more of all of the Iron Chef as well as frequent judges and guests of the show. The fact that the editors can’t decide to treat Chairman Kaga as a genuine character or as Takeshi Kaga, the actor who plays him, helps to undermine the overall tone.
A must for every “Iron Chef” fan, the Official Book gives a Gordon Elliot eye’s view to this show that must be seen and not necessarily read about. (ISBN: 0425180883)Mike White
Forming: The Early Days of L.A. Punk
A collection of essays, photos, album covers, and assorted flotsam; Forming doesn’t know what it wants to be. For every insightful look at the state of performance art at the dawn of the Punk Rock scene in Los Angeles, there’s a glamour shot of Exene Cervenska. The apparent Queen of Punk Rock, Cervenska dominates the book in content. When other writers aren’t tossing about her name, pictures of her dominate the page. Meanwhile, she and John Doe basically interview themselves for the fifth and final essay of the book.
For those who are unimpressed with X and all things Cervenska, there are still a few fun facts to know and tell provided in this book. However, Forming is not the documentation of this crucial musical/cultural “scene” that it pretends to be. (ISBN: 1889195448)Mike White
The Coen Brothers: The Story of Two American Filmmakers by Josh Levine
Like the title says, Joel and Ethan Coen are American. They’re also Jewish. The Coen’s Jewish-ness appears to be the crux of author Josh Levine’s book about the enigmatic Midwestern filmmakers who’ve created some of the most interesting American films in the last twenty years (including two of my favorites, Raising Arizona and The Hudsucker Proxy). However, for such interesting films and filmmakers, Levine’s book is short on substance. Rather than taking the Coen Brothers’ films as an oeuvre to be explored in full, Levine goes film by film, chapter by chapter, giving the reader too many quotes from other critics’ reviews instead of forming his own opinions. When Levine speaks in his own voice, it’s to analyze the Coen films in terms of their possible Jewish characters. By that token, Levine doesn’t have much to say until he examines Barton Fink and Miller’s Crossing. While Levine’s approach to these films may be novel, I have the feeling that he’s not writing anything that hasn’t been discussed before. While well intentioned, Josh Levine’s The Coen Brothers is as dull as The Big Lebowski. (ISBN: 1550224247)Mike White
Something to Do with Death by Christopher Frayling
There aren’t too many directors who could inspire me to read a 576-page tome about their career. In fact, apart from a handful of auteurs to whom I’m still trying to speak and the dozen or so who have opened their hearts to Cashiers du Cinemart, there aren’t too many directors I’d even like to read about. Yet, of all directors-past and present-it’s only Sergio Leone’s name that I’ve been scanning for when I troll the “directors biographies” section at Borders Bookstore. Sure, sure, maybe it’d be fun to read a nicely done work on Fritz Lang or Kenji Misumi but it’s Leone who presents me with the biggest challenges.
This Italian mastermind helmed a handful of films, nearly all of which would rank among my favorites. More than creating some damn fine work, Leone’s style influenced untold filmmakers. His films were operas powered by the music of Ennio Morricone. His dialogue’s sparseness made it all the more powerful. Leone didn’t shy away from embracing the language of cinema and creating his own dialect.
Remarkably, though Leone’s filmography can be tallied on both hands, the breadth of rumours and conflicting stories are enough to easily fill Frayling’s tome. Luckily, Fraying isn’t above questioning the veracity of his subject. While never denying Leone respect, Frayling doesn’t shirk his journalistic duty to present as many facets of the fiery, passive-aggressive auteur as possible.
Something to Do with Death takes its sweet time to get moving (I had to skip the second chapter and skim a few others before getting to the real “meat” of the book) but, once it gets going, there’s little that can deter the reader from delving into the life of a truly enigmatic talent. (ISBN: 0571164382)Mike White
The Boy with the Betty Grable Legs by Skip E. Lowe
Okay, I’ll admit it. I bought Skip E. Lowe’s memoir with the idea that it would be a horrendous hack-job full of celebrity ass-kissing and rampant name-dropping. Needless to say, I was floored when The Boy with the Betty Grable Legs turned out to be a compelling autobiography written with panache and a good deal of humility.
Lowe’s book is difficult to put down. Lowe does well to balance his personal tragedies (Lowe seemed to attract molestation the way flowers attract bees) with his career as an entertainer. While his brief mention of his part in Black Shampoo is akin to Orson Welles skipping over Citizen Kane, Lowe’s book manages to stand tall on its own shapely legs. (ISBN: 0964963582)Mike White
Bad Blood: An Illustrated Guide to Psycho Cinema by Christian Fuchs
When Bad Blood made its way to my desk I thought that I’d leave it there for a while and then quietly put it on my bookshelf. Luckily, my morbid curiosity took over and I began flipping through it. Before I knew it, I had read the entire book backwards to front. Divided into two major sections-“Case Histories” and “Screen Psychos”-the former gives biographical information of serial killers and infamous murderers before providing abbreviated reviews of films that relate, directly or tenuously, to each of them. These “Case Histories” stand as the stronger section of Fuchs’s book. To have this information collected in such a convenient method is invaluable.
Bad Blood sports some odd typos resultant of translation from German to English but they’re easy to overlook. The accomplished writing and research elevate the book from what could have been a slapdash recap of movie murderers to an articulate study of an undeniably important facet of cinema. (ISBN: 1840680253)Mike White
Dirty Poole: The Autobiography of a Gay Porn Pioneer by Wakefield Poole
Wakefield Poole might be a good filmmaker. Certainly, by the descriptions of his films, I’d like to see a few of his movies (especially In The Beginning, a porn parody of The Bible). Maybe Mr. Poole can direct a good movie but he certainly can’t write an interesting autobiography. Dirty Poole is a bothersome self-congratulatory experiment in name-dropping. The book doesn’t begin to move (albeit at a snail’s pace) until it’s 144 pages in. Until that point, it’s a recollection of Poole’s days in the theater where he gushes over the celebrities that he bumps into along the way. Definitely one to miss. (ISBN: 1555835619)Mike White
The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: The Gangster Film edited by Phil Hardy
At once, this book is amazing in its scope but horribly frustrating in its approach. Unlike a conventional encyclopedia, this voluminous tome orders the films within by year rather than alphabetically. This system makes the book virtually useless when trying to find a particular film at a glance. Sure, there’s always the index but that fails miserably when a reader has interest in a film with a foreign title. Translated titles are available in the index, but too many foreign films have multiple titles. To make things worse the index is bereft of directors, stars, or any other means of cross-referencing a movie with which the reader might not be fully familiar. This is a flawed and ultimately ineffective work. (ISBN: 0879518812)Mike White
The Hong Kong Filmography, 1977-1997 by John Charles
Despite boasting one of the worst covers I’ve seen in quite a while, Charles’s book is an essential reference guide for anyone with the slightest interest in the rich cinema of Hong Kong. While I may not always agree with the author’s assessments of these films, to have all of these films carefully reviewed along with their cast and crew information is invaluable. Boasting an unbearable cover price and no pretty pictures to distract the less literate (like me), The Hong Kong Filmography isn’t perfect but it’s darned close. (ISBN: 0786408421)Mike White
Trash: The Graphic Genius of Xploitation Movie Posters by Jacques Boyreau
If you can get past compiler Jacques Boyreau’s insufferable and headache-inducing chapter introductions, filled with lines like “shared voyeurism, after all, is the current between aesthetics and audiences,” you may enjoy this seemingly random sampling of “xploitation” posters (apparently it’s cooler to leave the “e” off exploitation) from the ’50s through the ’80s. Besides such masterpieces of drive-in graphic design as the one-sheets for Hustler Squad and Scum of the Earth, you also get a taste of the lost art of the tagline. Witness Six Pack Annie: “She’s the pop top princess with the recyclable can” or Black Cobra: “How much snake can one take...” Then there’s Jim Brown in Slaughter: “It’s not only his name it’s his business and sometimes... his pleasure!”
Most of the posters are presented in a large, full-page format, with all the folds and stains included. As Boyreau explains, “The holes and punctures, the fissures like Big Sur, are realness crawling over fantasy, proof these movies have been shown. Appreciate this.” I think it just means that Boyreau is too cheap to buy mint condition posters. I don’t have a problem with that; it’s Boyreau’s condescending attitude that brings this book down. He drones on about these movies’ “silly charms and cheap passageways” and “outsider tradition” like a community college professor who has just been exposed to his first Corman movie. And his constant use of the word “trash” to describe these movies from the era of “pre-irony,” no matter how ironic he may think he’s being in using it shows where his heart really is: mired in the old guilty pleasure/so-bad-it’s-good mentality.
There are enough decent posters in Trash to make it a worthy pick-up for those with plenty of disposable income. Everyone else can probably get all it has to give through a quick perusal at the bookstore, and wait for a more comprehensive and less obnoxious book on the subject to come along, as this is a pretty half-assed attempt... news no doubt to Jacques Boyreau, who acts like he’s the first person to write or even think about exploitation movies.Rich Osmond
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