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The Vatican to Vegas: A History of Special Effects Hardcover – March 25, 2004

3.6 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This vast and lavish study by Klein, a professor at the California Institute of the Arts, more than fulfills the promise of its title, but it is less a straightforwardly technical "history of special effects" Hollywood style than an account of history as special effect, as mediated spectacle and controlled illusion. There is almost no end to the ingenuity, Klein argues, with which the powerful have used every technical and aesthetic means at their disposal to stage-manage reality, from the court masques of Jacobean England to the Magic Kingdoms of Orange County. Klein (The History of Forgetting; Bleeding Through) offers the reader a panorama of deception and sleight-of-hand as richly detailed as one of the rococo wonderments he describes. In detailing the complex history of what he describes as "one's fondest desires and worst nightmares joined at the same instant," Klein eruditely decodes, with fluency and ease, everything from the hierarchies of mannerist architecture to the "entertainment baroque" of Las Vegas. The book's four sections (including 50 b&w and 20 color illustrations) weave such disparate matter as Poe's fictions, Piranesi's labyrinths, the geography of Oz and the absurd logic of "cartoon physics" into a narrative that, if not seamless, reveals our culture's "engines of erasure" in daring and frequently surprising ways. Much of the book's energy is frankly polemical: the presidential election of 2000 acts as the summation of Klein's story, the place where the manipulation of "false memories" reaches an apex of cynicism and effectiveness. Whether or not one agrees with this thesis, it gives the book an undeniable urgency. And it makes the occasionally rushed and overtelegraphed prose feel more like passionate intensity than carelessness.
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Norman Klein is full of ideas, brilliantly and beautifully expressed. -- Journal of American History

One of the most astounding, exciting, infuriating, murder-making books I have ever read. -- Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: New Press, The; First Printing edition (March 25, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565848039
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565848030
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,459,675 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Not only students and scholars of the history of art, architecture, film, animation, western culture can rejoice at the publication of Norman Klein's epic and illuminating history of special effects illusionism, from the 17th century to the present. This book also promises delight to the common reader interested and engaged with the peculiar culture our times. As spectacle morphs to ever stranger forms, Klein offers an invaluable set of tools for analyzing, understanding, critiquing and surviving its massive leveling wash.
Klein's thesis, that large-scale special effects consistently function within a dialectic of political power and powerlessness, not only newly opens important influential fields for his spectacular research and interdisciplinary penetrations, but delights, in a rich and novelistic narrative,sparkling with brilliant characters (Ben Jonson, Mary Shelley, Edgar A. Poe, Charles Babbage, Jules Verne, George W. Bush) and bubbling over with cascading, interconnected information. The writer also lays bare his own private history, how special effects intervened in his Coney Island Youth and his Los Angeles adulthood, as a useful, literary casestudy. Special Effects emerges not simply as a hegemonic tool of repression but as a perplexing and evolving field of invention, influence and ambitious expression still as liable to charm as depress.
In particular, Klein's research on the history of technology was of particular use and interest to me. But the book serves happily, with its brilliantly organized index and "search engine" as a hand-book of effects history and theory in all disciplines.
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Format: Hardcover
Belles Lettres as they too rarely come. Vatican to Vegas is like a key to the secret history of our times. Klein is proving himself one of our finest, most demanding, readable and original writers.

As a historian and cultural critic, Klein stands alone in his ability and will to cross academic categorizations. While his first two books constitute masterpieces within relatively close-focussed historical genres, Vatican to Vegas, in fact, categorizes itself as something larger, a book -- a ?Renaissance computer", able to link the odd, inter-disciplinary traces of its elusive but all-pervasive subject into the histories of technology, of the carnival, of art, of literature, of Western culture itself. It opens up the color and intensity of marginal histories, turning the 19th century novel of Zola and Balzac into the sort of book it never quite managed to form in the 20th.

We encounter socialist industrial history, Freudian self-consciousness, pop culture, anecdotal reminiscence. We achieve rich and total immersion in what remains Klein's constant theme -- the relation of illusion to the real, and the power this dialectic generates in the real, political world.

One of the best, most important books of the year.
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Format: Hardcover
I am shocked at the ignorance of the last reviewer. Norman Klein is one of the finest literary stylists in the English-speaking world. He is a novelist as well as a critic. I have followed his work carefully for many years. Probably no one but he could have delivered this level of scholarship in the spirit of a novel, with ironic essays woven even into the footnotes, with a structure that says the book itself is a Renaissance computer.

He is also famous for his lectures in Europe and the US, in a spirit that definitely does not make him simply a professor in the dull sense, not at all. He is a man of letters, and a public intellectual of the first order. This is a major book that already has been studied carefully in Europe, already has a complex, respectful literary answer published in Spain (in English, by working architects, not professors). Klein's work also has been used by animators at Disney, at The Simpsons. He helped train various animators with shows on Nikolodeon. There have been conferences based on his theories that drew visitors and speakers from across the arts. To repeat, he teaches and trains people in the arts and architecture.

It is truly shocking that people simply do not read enough, or carefully enough, to realize what is not traditional scholarship. This is utterly fresh,indeed a new direction in literature itself, by a man who writes across borders and forms.
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Format: Hardcover
Norman Klein is a professor and he writes like one! Meaning he doesn't seem to want to express his ideas simply because that would not be learned. This is ironic when he bemoans the powerful using "speacial effects" to deceive the huddled masses, that he couldn't write more clearly.
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Format: Hardcover
After reading a review in Variety that made it sound like interesting history, I paid full price for this disappointing mess of a book. It is neither interesting, nor useful, nor the least bit engaging -- no structure, no flow and seriously lacking any evidence of an editor.
It has the slogging pace of a randomly jumbled collection of lecture notes and the author repeats himself endlessly. There is no sense of narrative development, no coherent thesis and, basically, no real point. I thoroughly advise you not to waste your money. For an engrossing account of similar subject matter, get "Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality" by Neil Gabler.
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