The biggest story to break since last month’s roundup on new and noteworthy books is the announcement that the memoir that Paul Newman began working on decades ago will finally be coming out next fall. As Elizabeth A. Harris reports in the New York Times, screenwriter Stewart Stern, a close friend of Newman’s, conducted interviews with just about everyone Newman knew and worked with before convincing the actor to record his own recollections and reflections.
Peter Gethers, an editor-at-large at Knopf who is shaping thousands of pages of transcripts into a manageable volume, tells Variety’s Claudia Eller that Newman’s “storytelling ability is extraordinary.” He had “a brutal childhood” and a rough first marriage but pulled his life together when he met Joanne Woodward in 1953. He passed away in 2008, just months after their fiftieth wedding anniversary. The star of The Hustler (1961), Hud (1963), Cool Hand Luke (1967), The Verdict (1982), and The Color of Money (1986) “was quite fearless in his roles, playing tough, mean, complicated characters,” Gethers tells Eller. “And that translates into how he writes the book.”
Anticipated as this memoir may be, it probably won’t be launched with as much fanfare as Will. Copies of Will Smith’s memoir were presented to everyone who bought a ticket for an event last week cohosted by Spike Lee. The evening began with an extended trailer for Reinaldo Marcus Green’s King Richard, in which Smith plays the father of tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams. Smith then rapped and read and chatted with Lee about growing up in West Philadelphia, landing the lead role in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and becoming one of the world’s most bankable movie stars.
Cowritten with self-help guru Mark Manson, Will tells the story of “a fierce drive for success rooted in powerful feelings of inadequacy,” writes Charles Arrowsmith in the Washington Post. “Unfortunately, what feels like real anguish—and the seed of a worthwhile read—is repeatedly obscured by braggadocio and pat moralizing.” But Arrowsmith ends up liking Smith “despite the evident calculation at play: His foundational insecurity is part of his appeal; even while consciously selling his own vulnerability, he inadvertently reveals its true depths.”
Last week, we took a quick look at early reviews of another memoir, Solid Ivory. Literary Hub is running an excerpt in which James Ivory looks back on his and Ismail Merchant’s efforts to convince Vanessa Redgrave to take on the role of Olive Chancellor in their 1984 adaptation of Henry James’s The Bostonians. She resisted at first, and the role almost went to Glenn Close, but after consultations with screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Redgrave eventually came around.
“When she arrived on set, all corseted, her petticoats rustling, murmuring to the throng, the feather on her hat high above other people’s heads as she passed through, she was a queen by natural rights and in everything she did or said,” writes Ivory. But they had their run-ins, one of them leading to Ivory walking off his set: “Thinking of herself for so long as a People’s Revolutionary, in her playing she had effaced some of her natural noblesse oblige.” In the end, though, “we parted as friends and collaborators.”
In his 2008 memoir In Spite of Myself, the late Christopher Plummer wrote of an encounter with Boris Karloff: “It came to me like a ray of truth that there are only the rarest few born into this world who are truly good humans and, I realized, with a sharp little pang of sadness and envy, I could never be one of them.” The quote comes from Hadley Hall Meares, who writes in her column for Vanity Fair that Plummer “perhaps unwittingly paints a long-winded portrait of a flawed, talented man—who was not nearly as heartless a cad as he wants us to believe.”
Gus Van Sant: The Art of Making Movies is not a memoir, but rather, a survey of the work of the artist, photographer, writer, and filmmaker by Katya Tylevich. In AnOther Magazine, Van Sant tells Barry Pierce that he allowed Tylevich to “go wherever she wanted to go. I wasn’t trying to guide her in the creation.” The conversation then touches on Van Sant’s work with William S. Burroughs, shooting without a screenplay, and the recently revived enthusiasm for his 1995 feature To Die For, starring Nicole Kidman and a very young Joaquin Phoenix. “You’re always worrying about your film disappearing into the past, but if there’s a new audience, it’s fantastic,” says Van Sant. “It’s a very cool thing that’s happening.”
Listening to Writers
Melissa Anderson has been talking to Nicolas Rapold and Screen Show host Jason Di Rosso about Inland Empire, her new book on David Lynch’s 2006 film starring Laura Dern. It’s the third book in the Fireflies Press series of Decadent Editions—ten books on ten films made in the 2000s. “Wisely,” writes Harrison Blackman in the Brooklyn Rail, “Anderson doesn’t try to directly explain Inland Empire, a fraught prospect given the film’s ambiguous, freewheeling nature, but rather contextualizes the movie as a simulacrum of the themes both Lynch and Dern have taken on throughout their careers.”
The film series Wild at Heart: The Films of Laura Dern wraps in Melbourne tomorrow but then opens in Canberra on Friday before moving on to Sydney in January. On November 30, Anderson will deliver an illustrated lecture, Laura Dern Onscreen: 1974–2006, hosted by Light Industry in Brooklyn. In an excerpt from Inland Empire in the Notebook, Anderson writes that “in the case of Dern, there is power and pleasure in performing instability, disintegration, abjection—and power and pleasure in witnessing how she paradoxically exerts such control while falling apart.”
On his Writers on Film podcast, John Bleasdale talks with Jason Bailey about his fifth book, Fun City Cinema: New York City and the Movies That Made It. Literary Hub has posted an excerpt in which Bailey talks with Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig about their 2013 film Frances Ha. “It was a chance to shoot the city in the most beautiful way possible, while shooting a character who’s dealing with the economic realities of living in New York right now, which are not romantic,” says Baumbach. “You can’t live a bohemian life there anymore without money.”
Film Desk Books
Throughout this year’s transcontinental celebration of the Amos Vogel centenary, we’ve been reading quite a bit about the newly revised edition of the influential programmer’s 1974 book Film as a Subversive Art. Out now from Film Desk Books, it “serves as a treatise on the revolutionary potential of cinema: its ability to change consciousness, reflect the human condition, and subvert the status quo,” writes Anny Oberlink at Screen Slate. “At the time of his writing, film was already a weapon of capital, used to insulate ‘the masses’ from the subversive message. The plight of our film culture makes the resurfacing of Vogel’s book especially timely.”
Film Desk has also made available limited copies of Bill Gunn’s Rhinestone Sharecropping, the out-of-print 1981 novel based on Gunn’s experiences as a Black actor, screenwriter, and director in Hollywood. Writing for AnOther Magazine,Janicza Bravo calls the book “a tragicomedy, both humorous and incredibly distressing.” As a Black filmmaker herself—her most recent feature is Zola—Bravo regrets not having discovered Gunn “until my late thirties. I can’t help but think, if I had had access to him when I was younger, what doors in my mind would have opened up? What places would I have travelled to in my head?”
For Film International,Thomas Puhr reviews Hayao Miyazaki, the “beautifully illustrated” book put together for the inaugural exhibition at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. Curator Jessica Niebel’s centerpiece essay is accompanied by texts from Pixar’s Pete Docter and critic Daniel Kothenschulte and a foreword by producer Toshio Suzuki, who cofounded Studio Ghibli in 1985 with Miyazaki and director Isao Takahata. The studio “sounds like a pleasantly low-key environment, the offices ‘quietly nestled between private homes and a flower shop, with no sign to announce them,’” writes Puhr, “but the contributors seem determined to avoid saying anything even remotely critical about it.”
Miyazaki is currently working on an adaptation of Genzaburo Yoshino’s 1937 novel How Do You Live?, and Talkhouse has an excerpt from Neil Gaiman’s introduction to Bruno Navasky’s “gentle and winning translation.” Gaiman recalls working on the English-language version of Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke (1997) and realizing that “everything in the film was about consequences of acts and actions: seemingly unrelated events are actually the consequences of other events or actions, and everyone in the film is acting according to what they believe to be their best interests without realizing that what they do affects everyone else.”
Asked by the editors at the Notebook for a few words on five inspirations that informed his animated feature Cryptozoo,Dash Shaw has decided to stick with five books. His selections, each accompanied by an illustration, range from Jorge Luis Borges to China Miéville.
In an excerpt at RogerEbert.com from Hollywood Victory: The Movies, Stars, and Stories of World War II,Christian Blauvelt tells the story of how Orson Welles lost control of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). Having made a rough cut, Welles left the film in the hands of Robert Wise so that he could go down to Brazil to make the never-completed It’s All True in the hopes of strengthening South American ties with the U.S. “Welles’s Hollywood fortunes would never be the same,” writes Blauvelt. “But in his own way, he’d helped his country win the war.”