Four recent books shed new light on film and television productions. So let's start with the book that's arguably the most fun of the bunch: John Kenneth Muir's new Rock & Roll Film Encyclopedia gives a genre of movies that have long been something of a black sheep amongst film critics their due.
The expected biggies are here, including the Beatles' movies, the Rolling Stones' Gimme Shelter, Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains The Same, the Who's The Kids Are Alright, and Prince's Purple Rain. But for a book with "Encyclopedia" in its title, it's frustrating that there are a number of lesser known rock movies that just don't appear.
I would have loved to have seen a listing for Jayne Mansfield's The Girl Can't Help It from 1956, with appearances by Little Richard, Fats Domino, the Platters, and Eddie Cochrane, a film the Beatles were tremendous fans of. And speaking of which, why not 1962's It's Trad, Dad!, which launched Richard Lester's career as a movie director and was a sort of dry run for A Hard Day's Night? Or 1974's Stardust, which featured rocker David Essex, along with Ringo Star in a supporting role, who nearly stole the film right out from under him. With another legendary drummer, the Who's Keith Moon, also in a minor role, the film, which pops up on cable movie channels from time to time, is well worth checking out.
Also missing is Michelangelo Antonioni's legendary 1966 film Blowup, which helped first define Britain's mod era and then three decades later Austin Powers, and featured a knockout performance by the Yardbirds during the brief period the group had both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page on dueling lead guitars.
Still, what's in the book is quite good, and for fans of this genre (and who isn't?), it's well worth a read. Just don't confuse The Rock & Roll Film Encyclopedia with one of Leonard Maltin's much more thorough movie encyclopedias.
When The Shooting Stops
Beginning with Richard Lester's A Hard Day's Night, which took its lead from the French New Wave movies of the day, one area where rock movies dramatically changed Hollywood was in their use of increasingly rapid-fire editing. That's the subject of Ken Dancyger's The Techniques Of Film And Video Editing, a scholarly but highly readable look at how editing has evolved over a century of moviemaking. As audiences have gotten more sophisticated, movie directors and editors have gotten much more comfortable increasing the pace of editing. And television, particularly beginning with the launch of MTV in the early 1980s, has only quickened the editing pace tenfold.
The Techniques Of Film And Video Editing is a great book for both those who are fans of the movies in general, and those who wish to learn the basics to improve the editing of their college film projects, commercial video productions, or the quality of their YouTube clips.
From The Earth To the Coffee Table
In a way, the same can be said of Richard Rickitt's Special Effects: The History And Technique, which in contrast to the handy portable paperback size of The Techniques Of Film And Video Editing, is a hefty hardcover coffee table edition. It's profusely illustrated with plenty of color movie stills, with a foreword from special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen. Rickitt's book covers the history of special effects from their earliest days in movies such as George Melie's A Trip to the Moon to mid-'50s Hollywood blockbusters like War of the Worlds and Forbidden Planet. And then the double-barreled technological revolution of and Star Wars, and beyond.
An Army of Roddenberries
As hinted by its cover sleeve, which features Gollum from Peter Jackson's recent Lord of the Rings trilogy, Rickitt's Special Effects: The History And Technique explores the movie industry's effects techniques up to mid-'naughts', and thus covers the ongoing digital era in special effects which began about twenty years ago.
The same computer technology that empowered digital effects in Hollywood can now empower do it yourself productions. I'd call it an "Army of Davids," but I think that title may have already been taken. Or as Jason Apuzzo of the Libertas film blog wrote a few months ago, "We live in an era in which there may be better – and cheaper – film equipment available at your local Apple Store or Fry's Electronics than is available at your film school (or at your Hollywood studio, frankly)."
That's where books such as Trish & Chris Meyers' After Effects In Production come into play. While their book has been on the marketplace for a few years, it demonstrating how Adobe's After Effects program can create professional-quality video graphics — because it has created professional-quality graphics for the Meyers' big name clients — making it an inspiration for anyone who wants to add a network TV polish to projects shot on a Diet Coke budget.
England's 18 Doughty Street Website is producing something like 20 or 30 hours of live television a week – for the Internet. There are fan-produced Star Trek and Star Wars homages shot on shoestring budgets (at least in contrast to what Hollywood spends on catering alone) on YouTube with effects that would have made Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas weep only a few decades ago.
As more and more amateur video makers and bloggers roll their own videos for sites such as YouTube and Google video, all of the above books serve two purposes. They're well worth reading to study the craftsmanship that's been built up over decades of experimentation in film, then television, and now digital video. They illustrate how high those craftsmen have raised the bar.
High, but it's not insurmountable; hopefully these books will inspire a whole new group of artists. Their efforts are more likely to show up on the Internet than in movie theaters, but at least they'll be out there. And who knows? Maybe in a decade or two, we'll be studying the pioneering craftsmen at the dawn of the YouTube era.