Writers on Film

6/8/2022

Dana Stevens on Buster Keaton

Season 1, Ep. 59
Buy the book here. In this genre-defying work of cultural history, the chief film critic ofSlateplaces comedy legend and acclaimed filmmaker Buster Keaton’s unique creative genius in the context of his time.Born the same year as the film industry in 1895, Buster Keaton began his career as the child star of a family slapstick act reputed to be the most violent in vaudeville. Beginning in his early twenties, he enjoyed a decade-long stretch as the director, star, stuntman, editor, and all-around mastermind of some of the greatest silent comedies ever made, includingSherlock Jr.,The General, andThe Cameraman.Even through his dark middle years as a severely depressed alcoholic finding work on the margins of show business, Keaton’s life had a way of reflecting the changes going on in the world around him. He found success in three different mediums at their creative peak: first vaudeville, then silent film, and finally the experimental early years of television. Over the course of his action-packed seventy years on earth, his life trajectory intersected with those of such influential figures as the escape artist Harry Houdini, the pioneering Black stage comedian Bert Williams, the television legend Lucille Ball, and literary innovators like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Samuel Beckett.InCamera Man, film critic Dana Stevens pulls the lens out from Keaton’s life and work to look at concurrent developments in entertainment, journalism, law, technology, the political and social status of women, and the popular understanding of addiction. With erudition and sparkling humor, Stevens hopscotches among disciplines to bring us up to the present day, when Keaton’s breathtaking (and sometimes life-threatening) stunts remain more popular than ever as they circulate on the internet in the form of viral gifs. Far more than a biography or a work of film history,Camera Manis a wide-ranging meditation on modernity that paints a complex portrait of a one-of-a-kind artist.
5/25/2022

Kyle Buchanan on Blood Sweat and Chrome

Season 1, Ep. 57
A full-speed-ahead oral history of the nearly two-decade making of the cultural phenomenonMad Max: Fury Road—with more than 130 new interviews with key members of the cast and crew, including Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, and director George Miller, from the pop culture reporter forThe New York Times, Kyle Buchanan.It won six Oscars and has been hailed as the greatest action film ever, but it is a miracleMad Max: Fury Roadever made it to the screen… or that anybody survived the production. The story of this modern classic spanned nearly two decades of wild obstacles as visionary director George Miller tried to mount one of the most difficult shoots in Hollywood history.Production stalled several times, stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron clashed repeatedly in the brutal Namib Desert, and Miller’s crew engineered death-defying action scenes that were among the most dangerous ever committed to film. Even accomplished Hollywood figures are flummoxed by the accomplishment: As the director Steven Soderbergh has said, “I don’t understand how they’re not still shooting that film, and I don’t understand how hundreds of people aren’t dead.”Kyle Buchanan takes readers through every step of that moviemaking experience in vivid detail, fromFury Road’s unexpected origins through its outlandish casting process to the big-studio battles that nearly mutilated a masterpiece. But he takes the deepest dive in reporting the astonishing facts behind a shoot so unconventional that the film’s fantasy world began to bleed into the real lives of its cast and crew. As they fought and endured in a wasteland of their own, the only way forward was to have faith in their director’s mad vision. But how could Miller persevere when almost everything seemed to be stacked against him?With hundreds of exclusive interviews and details about the making ofFury Road, readers will be left with one undeniable conclusion: There has never been a movie so drenched in sweat, so forged by fire, and so epic in scope.
5/18/2022

George Stevens Jr finds his Place in the Sun

Season 1, Ep. 56
The son of a celebrated Hollywood director emerges from his father's shadow to claim his own place as a visionary force in American culture. George Stevens, Jr. tells an intimate and moving tale of his relationship with his Oscar-winning father and his own distinguished career in Hollywood and Washington. Fascinating people, priceless stories and a behind-the-scenes view of some of America's major cultural and political events grace this riveting memoir.George Stevens, Jr. grew up in Hollywood and worked on film classics with his father and writes vividly of his experience on the sets ofA Place in the Sun(1951),Shane(1953),Giant(1956) andThe Diary of Anne Frank(1959). He explores how the magnitude of his father's talent and achievements left him questioning his own creative path. The younger Stevens began to forge his unique career when legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow recruited him to elevate the Motion Picture Service at the United States Information Agency in John F. Kennedy's Washington. Stevens' trailblazing efforts initiated what has been called the "golden era" of USIA filmmaking and a call to respect motion pictures as art. His appointment as founding director of the American Film Institute in 1967 placed him at the forefront of culture and politics, safeguarding thousands of endangered films and training a new generation of filmmakers. Stevens' commitment to America's cultural heritage led to envisioning the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors and propelled a creative life of award-winning films and television programs that heightened attention to social justice, artistic achievement, and the American experience.Stevens provides a rare look at a pioneering American family spanning five generations in entertainment: from the San Francisco stage in the 19th century to silent screen comedies, Academy Award-winning films, Emmy Award-winning television programs and a Broadway play in the 21st century. He reveals the private side of the dazzling array of American presidents, first ladies, media moguls, and luminaries who cross his path, including Elizabeth Taylor, Sidney Poitier, the Kennedys, Yo-Yo Ma, Cary Grant, James Dean, Bruce Springsteen, Barack and Michelle Obama, and many more.InMy Place in the Sun, George Stevens, Jr. shares his lifelong passion for advancing the art of American film, enlightening audiences, and shining a spotlight on notable figures who inspire us. He provides an insightful look at Hollywood's Golden Age and an insider's account of Washington spanning six decades, bringing to life a sparkling era of American history and culture.
5/11/2022

Keith Phipps celebrates the Age of Cage

Season 1, Ep. 55
Age of Cagemight be the closest we will get to understanding the singular beauty of each of Nic Cage’s always electric performances. You are holding the Rosetta Stone for Cage. Enjoy it.”—Paul Scheer, actor, writer and host of theHow Did This Get Made?andUnspooledpodcastsIcon. Celebrity. Artist. Madman. Genius.Nicolas Cage is many things, but love him, or laugh at him, there's no denying two things: you’ve seen one of his many films, and you certainly know his name. But who is he, really, and why has his career endured for over forty years, with more than a hundred films, and birthed a million memes?Age of Cageis a smart, beguiling book about the films of Nicolas Cage and the actor himself, as well as a sharp-eyed examination of the changes that have taken place in Hollywood over the course of his career. Critic and journalist Keith Phipps draws a portrait of the enigmatic icon by looking at—what else?—Cage’s expansive filmography.As Phipps delights in charting Cage’s films,Age of Cagealso chronicles the transformation of film, as Cage’s journey takes him through the world of 1980s comedies (Valley Girl,Peggy Sue Got Married, Moonstruck), to the indie films and blockbuster juggernauts of the 1990s (Wild at Heart,Leaving Las Vegas,Face/Off,Con Air), through the wild and unpredictable video-on-demand world of today.Sweeping in scope and intimate in its profile of a fiercely passionate artist,Age of Cageis, like the man himself, surprising, insightful, funny, and one of a kind. So, snap out of it, and enjoy this appreciation of Nicolas Cage, national treasure.