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Interesting though not perfect
on 28 July 2010
One of the reviewers here criticises Caine (not his real name!) for name-dropping. This seems unreasonable - what else would he write about but filmstars? The engaging quality of this book is the way Caine describes his learning experiences - acting tricks, script problems, issues with friends, starry-eyed awe of famous people, Hollywood studios. One of his acting tricks was not to enter a room which was supposed to be new to the character, to give the authentic appearance of groping for light switches and watching for trip hazards. His writing style seems to reproduce something of the same feeling.
Fascinating to see how limited is the part played (pun intended) by actors. Most films start with a script - but the locations, ambience, general feeling, final form of the plot and practically everything else are jointly assembled to such an extent it's quite surprising the process works at all. And maybe it doesn't - this book was written as Hollywood was starting to decline, if I've understood the figures. Quite a few directors are (of course) discussed, and their quirks. Producers less so, and contractual details and such things as dubbing and foreign rights and videos and repeat fees and the general life-cycle of films hardly at all.
Caine's early films, and the 1960s of which there's a very colour supplementy description, made the most impression on him. In retrospect they're a bit small-scale compared with Sean Connery, for example. 'The Ipcress File' is a rather small-scale spy thing, 'Get Carter' (with the the multistorey car park, still talked off in Newcastle until its demolition). 'Alfie' had an abortion sub-plot - his early films all had the element of violence which I think was helped by technological improvements - cameras were smaller and film faster, so places like rail stations and hotel foyers and views through car windows were easier to film. However judging by this book Caine had little interest in such things, confining his comments to the angles of shots and smog. There's stuff on such topics as dried camel dung in Sahara windstorms, Filipino poverty with sad young women used as prostitutes, Almeira and spaghetti westerns, Hollywood as the actual place-name with its seediness. He says quite a bit about the quirks of directors which felt to me a bit overdone - it's largely a technical job and screaming and shouting seem inconsistent with worrying over the details of continuity and lighting and emotion.
He seems to have had little idea of which films would be successful, and doesn't seem to have cared, since in the short term he was paid about the same amount. However he's a bit scathing about 'The Magus', and about his killer bees film (which incidentally must be one of the earlies uses of blue screens) - the one that wrecked his name in the USA. In the days before digital editing, film cutting was literally that; it must have taken forever.
The later parts of the book deal with Labour and high taxation - many people of 'talent' emigrated. And his Windsor house and departure to Los Angeles. And with his identifying his wife, a Kashmiri who appeared in a coffee TV advert and whom he tracked down - his write-up makes this sound quite an adventure, which, surely, can't have been the case, as he must have known how to locate actresses. Incidentally she is (or was) a Muslim and this may be related to Camoron's adoption of Caine for political purposes. And his connection with Langan's Brasserie. There's an account of 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' as the theme for 2001, the music borrowed by Stanley Kubrick from Elstree library, perhaps with 'The Blue Danube'. It occurs to me that some of the footage for the moon landings must have been Kubrick's work. Caine mentions nuclear weapons, the Vietnam War and other public events.
I have to be honest and say I didn't finish the book, as I regard many films as propagandist and/or silly and catchpenny, aimed at the proles. However it does appear to be authentic; there are a few minor errors suggesting a light editorial hand.