Book Review: Making Movies, 1996, Sidney Lumet (Vintage Books)

A book review? In a movie blog?

Movies represent one of my biggest passions and favorite pastimes, but you may be surprised to learn that, as an English major, I read a lot, too. And oftentimes those two endeavors collide. Case in point, I try to make time to read about film, from filmmaking 101 stuff to critical theory to director memoirs and biographies. Sidney Lumet‘s truly excellent book, Making Movies, falls into the third category. Lumet, a veteran director with a long list of truly excellent films to his credit, has provided for readers a wealth of information drawn out of a life spent making movies. With Making Movies, Lumet seems to be less concerned with supplying personal anecdotes from his directorial career and much more interested in granting insight into the meat of the movie-making process; when he does relate a story to us, it’s only to serve the lessons he wants us to walk away from his book with. And if we walk away with one thing from Making Movies, it may be a newfound respect for the amount of collaboration and hard work that goes into creating a movie– from the groundwork phases of writing the script, hiring the actors, and choosing the location, to the technical process of shooting, and yes, even to post-production touch-ups and arguments with the studio.

Lumet is a film buff’s kind of director– aside from his incredibly distinguished resume (which includes, but is not limited to, Prince of the City, Dog Day Afternoon, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Murder On the Orient Express, Network, The Hill, and more recently Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead), he’s also the sort of person to take any opportunity to emphasize the importance of the contributions of others in making movies. Sidney’s not the star of the book. He’s really just the narrator. And sometimes, sure, he’s the center of attention, but just as often the spotlight is placed on an actor or actress, an editor or a cinematographer. Andrzej Bartkowiak and Boris Kaufman are spoken of with the utmost respect and admiration for their talents and abilities as artists, and our author writes frequently about the ways in which his interactions with his actors influenced his movie, from Sean Connery to Ingrid Bergman. Lumet’s tour through the filmmaking process introduces readers to every player involved with the production process– right down to the underpaid and overworked P.A.’s. Making Movies seems primarily concerned with illustrating how many people actually have appreciable roles in creating movies, and at the end of it all– studio interferences aside– you start to marvel that people manage to make movies at all.

What’s warming about Lumet’s name-dropping is that it serves to give credit to the people who often go unnoticed by most movie-goers. Ask your average audience member who their favorite cinematographer is, and they’ll probably stare blankly at you. Maybe those people don’t need to know the names of the editors or cameramen, but Lumet wants to make sure that his audience does. That speaks a great deal to his character as both a director and a human being.

With 70 films under his belt, Lumet also seems like the perfect person to take the uninitiated through the step-by-step sequence of events that unfold in the construction of a motion picture. Choosing the script, getting the movie funded, casting the actors, reading the script, figuring out locations and costumes and props, putting together schedules for shooting, actually shooting the damn movie, rushes, test screenings, editing, confronting the studio, advertising…and that’s not nearly everything required. Much less is it accurate in detail. (Or even order.) In a way, Making Movies serves as something of a wake-up call to reality for young, hopeful, would-be filmmakers, as though Lumet himself is reaching out to them to say, “This isn’t all fun and games.” In other words, if you want to make movies, great– but brace yourself. It’s gonna get rough.

At the core of all of Lumet’s writing, there’s heart. Lumet’s an undeniable gentleman, and the kind of person you’d be thankful to have as your boss– firm, demanding, but fair, never out for himself but rather for the film that he’s aiding in creating. In short, he’s passionate about his work. In reading about his disagreements with studio suits (a term that’s not necessarily meant harshly, by the way), his belief in the films he creates never fails to shine through; he stands by his art, something that I’d like to think most filmmakers do today, even though I’m quite certain that more often than not this isn’t the case.

Most of all, Lumet’s entertaining. Writing succinctly, with precise and direct language woven with charm and a disarming sense of humor, his guide through the innumerable stages of stitching together a motion picture moves briskly while unfailingly holding your rapt attention. Even people with a minute interest in film can find something here worth absorbing. Though the book is somewhat dated in today’s cinematic atmosphere, Lumet’s words no doubt prove his authority and mastery of his craft, an indispensable resource, and one of the most important directors of his– and our– time.

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One thought on “Book Review: Making Movies, 1996, Sidney Lumet (Vintage Books)

  1. Pingback: The best piece of art of Sidney Lumet | Brighter with Brain

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