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on 20 September 2013
One of the most readable and intelligent film books of the 1990s, this is a critical study and informal biography of Alexander Mackendrick, who directed nine films between 1949 and 1967 and then quit the movie business altogether, although he was only in his fifties and didn't die until 1993. Philip Kemp interviewed Mackendrick repeatedly for the book and it's clear on every page that he's a writer who loves his subject. He makes Mackendrick's films come alive in his analyses, and he's a shrewd, perceptive, elegant critic. Mackendrick comes across as a tough Scot only too willing to be hard on himself, and rather more dismissive of his movies than Kemp is, or most of us would be - although Kemp doesn't seem to notice that Mackendrick is, at the same time, much given to subtle self-aggrandisement (like most film directors) and occasionally denigrates others to make himself look better. Although Kemp has watched Mackendrick's films many times, he clearly hasn't seen his one television effort (an episode of "The Defenders") and goes along with Mackendrick's dismissal of it as a "dumb thing", not knowing that the series was generally thought one of American TV's best and most adult drama shows of the 60s. Interviewees all say what a great chap Mackendrick was, sometimes very eloquently, but one wonders now and then if they simply didn't want to give Kemp a hard time; it was Orson Welles who said that a good interviewee is one who works out what it is that his interviewer wants him to say and then says it. Certain people with whom Mackendrick did not get along are not interviewed - it might have been interesting to hear what Anthony Quinn had to say about him, for instance. However, one also suspects that Kemp is over-anxious to guard against gushing and is here and there too hard on certain aspects of Mackendrick's work - he is over-critical about "Whisky Galore!" (whilst missing that the film's biggest flaw is Mackendrick's fault) and "The Maggie", even if you agree that it's the least successful of Mackendrick's Ealing movies, is rather more interesting than he makes it seem (it is Mackendrick who puts his finger on exactly what's wrong with the film). The defence of "A High Wind In Jamaica" is admirable, and one may share Kemp's deep regret that several Mackendrick projects, tantalisingly described herein, never materialised. A well-written, often illuminating book, "Lethal Innocence" makes it all too clear, yet again, that anyone with real talent is going to have a hard time making films, especially in Britain.
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on 13 January 2017
Good book
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