Thursday, April 05, 2007

David Mamet Takes on the Movie Business – Mini-Review of “Bambi vs. Godzilla”

David Mamet knows how to write – for the stage, for the screen and for reading audiences. His grasp of how to construct dialogue is second to none. “Glengarry Glen Ross,” won the Pulitzer Prize – and deservedly so. It is brilliant! I can’t remember how many times I have seen “The Spanish Prisoner,” and been astonished with each viewing at the way in which Mamet constructed the story. His play, “The Boston Marriage,” contains two hours of delicious verbal ripostes and counter-thrusts. I happened to catch an evening performance of the play at the Hasty Pudding Theater in Cambridge on a night when Mamet himself was in the audience.

Mamet’s latest literary project is his commentary on the current state of the movie industry: “Bambi vs. Godzilla – On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business.”

Steve Martin’s blurb on the dust jacket of the book, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, sums up beautifully the impact that this book will have among Hollywood insiders: “David Mamet is supremely talented. He is a gifted writer and observer of society and its characters. I’m sure he will be able to find work somewhere, somehow, just no longer in the movie business.”

Mamet takes the reader behind the scenes of how a movie gets written, shot, edited, marketed and distributed. He gives his unvarnished personal opinion about actors, directors, producers and films he has appreciated – and those he disdains. The book contains a wonderful Appendix that is a compendium of thumbnail descriptions of each of the movies he mentions in the body of the book.

In the course of commenting about the status of the movie industry as business and as art, he offers some illuminating insights into the state of our society:

“The absence of a historical and universally acknowledged authority to which one may pledge fealty and against which one may rebel creates factionalism: the right moves toward fascism, the left toward chaos. Democracy – in extremis – seems capable of devolving to either tyranny or civil war, and America, maddened by unimaginable prosperity and safety, incomprehensibly powerful, and bereft of threats, splits down the middle on the issue of definition.

Is the good person one who will not tolerate a president’s lies about sex or one who will not tolerate a president’s lies about war? (Pages 33-34)

Touché! Mamet does not pull his punches, and both ends of the political spectrum are fair game for his analysis. The same goes for his deconstruction of the movie business. I walked away from reading this book with a deeper appreciation for the best films and film makers – and a better understanding of what makes/made them so good. The fact that Mamet is – to employ a technical sociological term - a participant/observer in moviedom, adds weight, texture, immediacy and intrigue to his commentary about the industry that both feeds him and frustrates him.

We are blessed to have Mamet - still in his prime - and still shining the light of his observation and analysis upon dark corners of our world that need to be brought out of the shadows.



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