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Anthony Mann (Wesleyan Film) Paperback – November 11, 2007
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"Basinger's study of Mann was a major force in bringing serious critical attention to his films, and it is a pleasure to welcome its return. Her close readings, together with her intelligent and often witty comments, represent (as all her work does) film scholarship at its very rare best - clear thinking, clean writing, canny observation." - Richard Schickel, author and film critic, Time"
“Thank the film gods that the only serious book in English about Mann is a brilliant one. I am grateful to Basinger’s clear-eyed analysis for helping me go ever deeper into the work of one of my absolute favorite directors.” (Alexander Payne, co-writer/director, Sideways)
“Basinger's study of Mann was a major force in bringing serious critical attention to his films, and it is a pleasure to welcome its return. Her close readings, together with her intelligent and often witty comments, represent (as all her work does) film scholarship at its very rare best―clear thinking, clean writing, canny observation.” (Richard Schickel, author and film critic, Time)
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But the best was yet to come, because the '50's ushered in a 10-film collaboration with Jimmy Stewart, the heart of which are a cycle of 5 hugely influential westerns, perhaps the first modern psychological westerns, foreshadowing the work of Peckinpah and Eastwood. In Winchester '73, The Naked Spur, Bend of the River,The Far Country,and The Man From Larmamie, Mann and Stewart took the Western hero and subjected him to such pressure and tension and stress that he was never the same again. Stewart consistently plays his lone gunman as someone poised between heroic action and possessed by a barely contained violence, usually pitted against a villain who is his double and bloodbrother, and thus the westerner-as-antihero was born. Mann traded his claustrophobic noir mise-en-scene for stunning color location photography, wherein the American wilderness becomes a savage mirror of the primitive impulses lurking beneath the folksy veneer of the Stewart protagonist. In addition, he showed an ability to stage action set-pieces unrivaled by anyone else in '50's Hollywood.
The Westerns culminated in the widescreen Man Of The West, Gary Cooper standing in for Stewart, as a prim schoolteacher whose stagecoach is highjacked by bandits that were once his surrogate family; their journey away from civilization strips away his hard-won sanity, and reveals him to be a vicious killer. Sound familiar? Eastwood has repeatedly said Mann's films are the hidden source of Unforgiven.
In Mann's final period, the early-to-mid '60's, he made a pair of giant post-Ben Hur epics of unusual intelligence, El Cid and Fall of the Roman Empire (which fascinatingly tells the tale of the evil Commodus later depicted in Ridley Scott's Gladiator -- the degree of pessimism Mann evinces is much more convincing than the peculiar and ahistorical rebirth of the Roman Republic at the end of the newer film.)In addition, he was fired off the other brainy epic of the era, Spartacus, due to disagreements with star/producer Kirk Douglas and replaced by the more docile Stanley Kubrick. (Who ended his docility by refusing to set foot in the US ever again after the Spartacus experience...)
Film scholar and educator Jeanine Basinger wrote the first (and I believe only) full length study of Mann's work back in the '70's; much material was cut for publication that has been restored and updated here. The book is marvelous, placing Mann within the context of Hollywood history, industry practices, generic evolution,and his own fascinating and enimatic tempermant. Along the way she makes a convincing argument that as a director of noirs, Westerns and epics (and I haven't even gotten to the bleak Korean War combat film Men In War...)he was the peer of Fritz Lang and John Ford; his handling of violence, psychological realism, and complex mise-en-scene were key steps on the road to the maturation of Hollywood cinema, and the idea that genre films needn't be childish. Basinger writes in a clean, witty and jargon-free style, so rare in film academia today, that the book is a pleasure to read, and should send you running out to seek the films of this simultaneously influential and unknown classical Hollywood giant.