- Paperback: 424 pages
- Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions; Underlining edition (1 Sept. 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1932907173
- ISBN-13: 978-1932907179
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.3 x 21.5 cm
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 555,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Power of Film Paperback – 1 Sep 2006
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Howard Suber's understanding of film storytelling fills the pages of this wise, liberating book. A remarkable work -- Francis Ford Coppola
Top Customer Reviews
The same is true of memorable film teaching, if you're lucky enough to be taught by Howard Suber. For decades, that privilege was only granted to UCLA graduate students, but now we can all share his wit and wisdom, distilled into one handy A to Z guide. This is more than a book, it's a Rosetta stone to unlock the secrets of memorable film writing already etched deep within the confines of your movie-watching brain.
Whether a writer, director, producer, or executive, as you read the topics, you'll understand exactly what Howard Suber is talking about---and realize you've known many of the principles all along---but now you can actually access and use that knowledge to create and recognize stories with the greatest popular potential. And if you're simply a lover of film, The Power of Film gives you many more reasons to love the films we all love most---not to mention insight into why we love them and what that love tells us about who we are as individuals and a society.
Many film books are "how-to" guides that need to be referred to at a very specific stage in the writing process and walk you through a very anal formula for a very predictable, and usually disappointing, outcome. The Power of Film is not remotely about screenplay formulas---from the moment Howard Suber challenges the idea of "acts," you know you're off the reservation. But where you are is far more exciting. You're in the world of the "essential," the fundamental principles that all popular films share---and if you get this part of the story right, everything else falls into place.Read more ›
`The Power of Film' changes the way we look at film. The true strength of Howard Suber is that he discusses the overwhelmingly complex elements of storytelling, but communicates this knowledge in an easily understandable and cohesive manner. The fact that the topics in this book is alphabetically structured with an extensive cross-reference makes it a very powerful tool for laymen, scholars and filmmakers alike - everyone will understand Suber's unique points on film.
But the true function of this book lies with Howard Suber's elegant proof, that what we all take for granted about film often is a misconception!
For example, Suber illustrates this by pointing out, that most memorable films do NOT have happy endings. Yeah right... right? But Suber IS right. Take `Casablanca', where Rick loses the love of his life and is forced on the run from the Nazis; Rick has probably experienced happier times in his life. Or `Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid', where our heroes die in a blaze of glory. Well, who's glory???
I have studied and worked in Europe and America, and `The Power of Film' not only applies to a wide spectrum of very different films. It is also touches on the basic foundation of most forms of storytelling. So, dive into the vast sea of knowledge, everything from Accidents - Acting - Action TO Work and Love - Wounds - [and NOT!] Writing What You Know.
Howard Suber's book is the closest we will ever get to understand the secret power of film. So buy, read and reread it over and over again; the elementary understanding of film starts here.
In my career as a director and producer in the US and Europe I have read many other books that have tried to give rules and explanations but found them often limited in scope and ultimately of little use: The Power of Film leaves them all in the dust. In very clear and simple terms Dr. Suber explains why movies work the way they do. He makes his knowledge accessible to everyone with such ease that it seems too good to be true.
What Suber does is revolutionary! Howard Suber lifts the veil from a world that, even to many professionals, seemed to be full secrets of inexplicable coincidences; The Power of Film makes it seem so easy and logical. The alphabetical order of the topics makes the book a valuable easily accessible, inspirational reference work that I will consult often and that will stay with me for as long as I make movies. Hopefully some studio executives will read this book before `trying' their luck on the next Hollywood blockbuster. With all the creativity in the world it helps to have such a strong foundation and powerful tools. It is an empowering tool that cannot be missed in any filmmaker's collection. It is THE ONE must-have book for anyone interested in film!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Suber's book, "The Power of Film", uses this same Socratic Method but the technique is necessarily different. Instead of asking questions, a writer can only pose riddles, and to this end Suber employees wit and irony to provoke careful and thoughtful reading of his concise dictionary like definitions.
The films Suber examines are American films. Without being jingoistic, he says that over the decades American films have been the most popular not only in the U.S. but all over the world. The American films he focuses on are those that have maintained their appeal ten years after they were released those, in other words, which have stood the test of time and remain perennial favorites.
The question he asks is: "What makes these films classics?"
Some of the answers are surprising. The notion, for example, that Hollywood films, to be popular, have to have a happy ending, Suber demonstrates is not true. Think of the Godfather films, Lawrence of Arabia, Chinatown. Even "It's a Wonderful Life" journeys through some very dark regions before emerging with a comic ending.
So why do people go to see these films? Suber suggests that going to the movies is akin to going to church, that what people need and want is to experience time honored rituals that put us in touch with our humanity.
As a practicing filmmaker, I have spent many hours over the years thinking about how to use the power of film to move an audience and I am always looking for help. Of the many available, I have culled a few "essential" books on film theory and aesthetics. Eisenstein's "Film Sense" and "Film Form" are two, Pudovkin's 'Film Technique and Film Acting", Mascelli's "Five C's of Cinematography" and a few others. Suber's "The Power of Film" has already taken its place with these.
Why? Because first of all, the book is packed with information and insight covering every subject about American film, literally from A to Z. Second, the insights are uncannily precise. A brief example: I don't like using flashbacks because I feel they are too easy but I find I must at times because they are sometimes necessary and I haven't been able to think of anything better. This is in Suber's definition of "Flasbacks":
"The reason flashbacks came back is that they are not merely
stylistic flourishes, like iris shots; they are necessary tools
that, so far, cannot be replaced by others."
The authority of this statement is reassuring, but notice the two words: "so far"; this tiny insertion leaves open the possibility and, indeed, ecourages the search for other ways.
How to transition to a flashback?
"The camera moves to a tight close up of a character's eyes, they
glaze over and we hear an echo chamber voice..."
I fear that every time I use this device that someone in the audience is going to yell out: "Visual cliche!". It never happens and I continue to use it because, as Professor Suber says: "no one has come up with anything substantially better.".
This is a sampling of some of what can be considered Suber's practical advise; but this book is very rich and has a broad range and covers everything from the technical to the philosophical.
The entry for "Tragedy" is three pages long but delivers a store of wisdom. One paragraph in this concise definition is about "impulsivity", and the final line reads:
"Impulsivity we see over and over again leads to tragedy."
The philosopher Martin Buber in his book "Good and Evil" devotes pages of discussion to the tendancy to impulsivity and how it is an aspect of evil. Suber's book is obviously a distillation of years of thinking and study not only about film but also about human nature.
The entries that make up this book are cross referenced. This cross referencing, like the use of wit and irony, is not only an practical aid, but also an encouragement to explore the connection of ideas.
Suber has carefully culled the essential ideas of what makes a film "great" and this selection reveals that the subject in Suber's mind has a unity, that it constitutes an aesthetic, an interlocking system of ideas. It is an indication of Howard Suber's wisdom as a teacher that he does not expound this system but only indicates it; and because this system must be discovered and recreated by every reader, it will always be new.
Certainly as Bill Cosby used to say, "Be careful or you just might learn something". Film students and pros, no doubt already know about(and swear by)this book, this review is for the rest of us, those who just like films. The Power of Film would make a terrific gift for lovers of films of all ages and is certainly a must read for anyone with film career aspirations.
Don't read this book on the subway, in a coffee shop, or when you're pretending to work at your desk. The giveaway will be your yelped aha's piercing the ambient din.
Suber has sculpted a monumental body of knowledge into an accessible, quickly referenced work that--if it were a film--would haunt you with those epic images and classic dialog that make memorable films part of us all.
Suber knows Film. That means the making, the money, the heartache, but most of all that Film with a capital F is an overarching phenomenon, not merely merchandise. It affects our lives. We live through it; we use it as a touchstone. It is this psychological aspect--the slippery intangibles of our interactions with film--that Suber wrestles with, and wins.
As a psychologist before I was a screenwriter, I was trained to study behavior as a complexity to be approached with respect, the scientific method, an armload of tests to be interpreted and, oh yes, billed for. Tests like the Rorschach are called "projective" for a reason: we supposedly hurl our subconscious fears, desires and emotions onto an ambiguous stimulus--an inkblot that can be a car crash, or mom. Suber applies this to how we fling ourselves onto film. He uses Kuleshov's famous experiment where the actor Mozukhin who stares blankly at the camera was perceived as having specific, strong emotions depending on what images he was intercut with, like a coffin or a bowl of soup or an older woman assumed, baselessly, to be mom. It swiftly makes Suber's case that the audience is an "an active collaborator" in interpreting what is on the screen.
Audiences come to film looking for themselves. Filmmakers and other artists make themselves crazy worrying that the audience is thinking about them. No, the audience is thinking about themselves: their relationships with their families, their lovers, their friends and enemies, all to the extent that the work touches them. So what Suber nudges us to discover is really the bottom line. What makes a film memorable and popular is based on "principles that deal not so much with style and technique as with the psychology of storytelling, which is ultimately the psychology of human beings."
THE POWER OF FILM speaks volumes. It references hunderds of films. It is a book you can dip into and come away awash in aha's. Evocative and provocative, it impels you to think about film in new ways. THE POWER OF FILM is lean, accessible, vivid--like those scenes you carry with you from your favorite films...memorable.
The Power of Film is not a how-to book or theoretical treatise, however. Rather, it is a lexicon of movie storytelling concepts. The topics range from Accidents to Writing What You Know, and cover such things as the most important word in storytelling (it's `but'), the `real' American religion (individualism), the characteristics of the Hero (someone outside of society who sacrifices personal happiness and contentment for the greater good or goal) and whether happy endings are really mandatory. Suber also talks about genres (the essential characteristics of each), dramatic structure (some), and specific narrative tools such as the Macguffin. Throughout the book the emphasis is squarely on the mainstream American film, so you will be able to find many exceptions to the `rules' Suber mentions here, though `rules' isn't the right word. Rather, they are `insights' or concepts which work and have done so for ages, but which are just some of the possible narrative solutions to the problems cinematic storytelling poses.
This is a book to dip into, and which is intended to spark the imagination of the reader. Not all of the topics are equally enlightening, and I disagreed with the definition of the Crisis Point, but as an encyclopaedia of Hollywood storytelling it is currently without equal.