In Glorious Technicolor: A Century of Film and How it has Shaped Us by Francine Stock

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In Glorious Technicolor: A Century of Film and How it has Shaped Us by Francine Stock

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Category: Entertainment
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A personal view of cinema from its 1890s origins to the present day, examining different trends, changes and personal responses, and analysing selected films from each decade in turn
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 344 Date: October 2012
Publisher: Pimlico
ISBN: 9780099535645

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Many of us have been captivated from an early age by the world of movies, whether introduced to them by visits to the cinema, or watching them on TV, video and latterly DVD. Author and presenter Francine Stock’s lifelong love affair with the medium began when she was taken as a child to see ‘My Fair Lady’ on the large screen. A little later, for her the most memorable thing about the summer of 1970 was not the weather, but repeated viewings of ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’.

Writing what is to some extent a history of film decade by decade, focusing in detail on three major pictures from each which are not necessarily the best of their kind or even personal favourites, but still exert a particular power in some way, is therefore something of a labour of love for her. In her Prologue, she stresses that it is neither comprehensive history nor attempt to extend the territory of film studies, but instead an impressionistic map of the way the subject has entered our lives. Her reason for taking a trip through this century of film is to provoke argument and further exploration, something which is far more easily done in the world of DVDs, YouTube and the internet than it was up to about twenty years ago.

The story goes back to 1894, when Thomas Edison registered the first copyrighted motion picture in America, a five-second performance of his handlebar-moustachioed assistant taking a pinch of snuff and sneezing. (Not top of the must-see list, I hear you say). One year later saw the birth of special effects, devised to portray a suitably realistic execution of Mary Queen of Scots by stopping the camera long enough to insert a dummy for the fall of the axe.

Not all those which come under her spotlight are necessarily those which would make a generally-accepted most important movies list of all time. For instance ‘Gone With The Wind’, ‘Citizen Kane’, and ‘The Sound of Music’, often cited as all-time greats and monumental box-office smashes, only merit passing references. (And there is no mention of ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’, arguably one of the greatest comedies, if not the greatest, of all time. You can’t have everything). However, we are treated to an analysis of ‘The Birth of a Nation’, the highest grossing film of the silent era, the Buster Keaton classic ‘The General’, the World War II epic ‘In Which We Serve’, the ever-popular John Wayne western ‘The Searchers’, and from the 1980s ‘E.T.’ and ‘Top Gun’, to mention but a few. Before you ask, she was not among the many who found herself having to reach for the tissues while watching ‘E.T.’ She was however moved to tears five years later by ‘Au Revoir Les Enfants’, a less feted feature film based on an incident from 1942 when a Catholic boarding school gave shelter to Jewish boys during the war.

Through these pages cinema is not viewed in isolation, but as part of the wider world, and how it has been affected for better or for worse by not only television, but also video, DVD, MTV and even games. One of the later chapters, ‘How Far Can You Go?’, examines milestones in censorship and what was allowed, or what was not, before the internet broke down the barriers completely, for better or worse. There are several interesting snippets of information to be gleaned. For example, a major fall in the sale of man’s vests in the mid-1930s followed Clark Gable’s appearance in ‘It Happened One Night’, when he removed his shirt to reveal to the viewer that he was not wearing one. Three decades later, Jane Fonda’s thigh-length boots and hot pants in ‘Barbarella’ rapidly became a much-imitated fashion icon. Nearer our time, the makers of ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ rushed to get the picture out on release as they feared that in the fickle music industry, leading lady Madonna’s days as a top singer might be numbered.

What, she concludes, does the future of cinema hold? We will have to resign ourselves to losing the beam from a film projector to screen in the digital age. Nevertheless, she quotes an unnamed Hollywood producer, who suggests that the communal aspect of cinema-going remains very much a live issue. Despite the advances in home entertainment, he avers in what we might see as an analogy with theatre and live music, people will always want to get out of the house. The big picture (excuse pun) may be changing, but the medium is far from finished.

There are no illustrations in this volume, which might be considered a minor drawback in a book on film. However, best shots from movies are debatable and by their very nature notoriously difficult to choose, so it matters little. As a book to stimulate discussion as well as inform on the history of the subject, this lively account passes all the tests.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex by Mark Kermode.

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