It was my pleasure recently to get a look at two filmmaking books in new series called FilmCraft from Elsvier’s Focal Press. Large, square, and in full color with handsome layouts, you might mistake them at first for art or photography books. They wouldn’t, in fact, look out of place on a coffee table. But there is much more inside to enjoy than pretty movie stills: they are chock full of information and wisdom on their respective crafts.
Editing begins just where you would want a book on the art of film editing to start: Walter Murch. If you haven’t heard of Walter Murch, you probably haven’t studied editing. Murch has been a leading theorist and lecturer on the art of montage, as well being, you know, the guy who cut films like Apocalypse Now and The English Patient. After a brief bio, the text on Murch explains his theory in his own words, with a nicely-edited interview and breakout boxes that discuss the challenges of particular scenes in various films.
The entire book is structured in this way, and after Murch we meet more of the huge names in the world of editing, including Ann V. Coates (Lawrence of Arabia), Richard Marks (As Good As It Gets) and Lee Smith (Inception). There are also short “Legacy” articles which touch on the work of other famous editors, like the late Sally Menke (Pulp Fiction).
Depending upon how you learn, this book may prove more useful than a textbook. While it doesn’t structure the information in the linear way a textbook would, it does deliver it in a memorable way: ‘from the horse’s mouth’, via the lore of the editing bay.
Cinematography follows the same structure as Editing, with a compilation of interviews illustrated by screen shots, and sometimes scans of the d.p.’s own notes or behind-the-scenes photos. The cinematographers who are included are a great mix of established giants like Vilmos Zsigmond, Rodrigo Prieto and Vittorio Storaro and giants-in-the-making like Matthew Libatique and Dion Beebe. The “Legacy” articles include James Wong Howe, Sven Nykvist and Freddy Young.
My favorite interview is probably the one with Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love, Hero). I love reading interviews with Doyle, since he is both dismissive of methods (and filmmakers) he doesn’t like, and rhapsodically articulate about what he does like. He tells a nice anecdote about working with Wong Kar-wai, who is constantly asking him “Is that all you can do?” Doyle’s response: “It won’t happen again.”
I’m pretty much in love with this series, and am now hotly anticipating the next two books: Costume Design and Directing. If you’re someone who loves films, then I’m betting you’ll also fall for these gorgeous titles. If bookstores still exist by the time you read this, get down to one and browse these books and tell me you don’t covet them.
Disclosure: Review copies were provided by the publisher. The reviewer sometimes writes for MasteringFilm.com, a website run by Focal Press.