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79 of 95 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "It's a good thing the people in Hollywood have no souls...", August 19, 2003
By 
This review is from: On Directing Film (Paperback)
"...so they don't have to suffer through the lives they lead."
Mamet is always Mamet. Even when talking about directing-- after having directed only two films, HOUSE OF GAMES and THINGS CHANGE. Never heard of 'em, you say? Yes, this book is taken from a series of lectures he gave at Columbia film school in 1990. Since then, Mamet has directed Steve Martin not to be funny (THE SPANISH PRISONER) and Gene Hackman not to be cool (HEIST) as well as other actors not to "inflect."
Most people, like me, love Mamet's writing but find his directing stilted and wooden. This book explains why. Written half as rant and half as Socratic dialogue, Mamet lays out his film theory with second-rate Sergei Eisenstein (I think he means Kuleshov) and third-rate Bruno Bettelheim (who wrote about fairy tales, not film). The result is a mixed bag, not too informative about directing, but always entertaining.
If you want to know why telling a story on film is like telling a dirty joke, this is your book. If you'd like to read how to construct a movie about a farmer who has to sell a pig, or a student who wants to "get a retraction," this is your book. If you want to know why "[t]he less the hero is described to us, the better off we are," this is your book. It's slim, it reads fast, and it's easier to understand than THE THREE USES FOR A KNIFE. If you want a book about directing by a real director, I recommend Sidney Lumet's MAKING MOVIES.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 12, 2013 8:31:00 PM PDT
K. Fields says:
Your review enticed me to buy the book. It was exactly as you promised: entertaining but not that informative. In addition to Eisenstein and Bettelheim he brought up Hitchcock a lot, which is no surprise. Both Mamet and Hitchcock kept their actors on short leases, preferring to tell the story through the cuts they made.

Thanks for the good review. I'll check out Making Movies next.

Posted on Sep 26, 2013 2:47:11 AM PDT
You're right about the lack of affectation in Mametian direction and acting. It's what most immediately impresses you when watching his movies, and the most difficult to get used to. But you do get used to it.

He got better, in my opinion. Though I wouldn't watch "House of Games" or "The Spanish Prisoner" again on purpose, "Redbelt" and "Spartan" are good, albeit unbelievable.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 26, 2013 6:31:31 AM PDT
J. Ott says:
I've actually grown to love Mamet's directing style since writing this review. It's an acquired taste to be sure, but very rewarding for both the actors and the viewers when the scripts will support it. You should watch HOUSE OF GAMES again, there are some subtle things going on symbolically behind the surface story. SPANISH PRISONER I'm not so sure. That seems like a one trick pony. In REDBELT and SPARTAN, I'm with you. Those are two of my favorites, and I've seen them all now. The new HBO movie he did, PHIL SPECTOR, was also terrific and not at all wooden.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 25, 2015 1:31:23 PM PDT
rnh17 says:
Someone who changes his mind and admits it. Thanks for posting, J. Ott.
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J. Ott
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Location: Los Angeles, CA USA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 11,489