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.