Never Coming To A Theater Near You
by Kenneth Turan
In this lively book, film critic Kenneth Turan complies a selection of “smaller” films that audiences may have missed in the theaters, and presents a brief case for each of them in hopes that it will spark a trip to a nearby video store. The films are arranged in four sections: English Language, Foreign Language, Documentaries and Classics, with a fifth section being devoted to Retrospectives of lesser-known directors and genres.
Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and the director of their Book Prizes. As a writer, he is not the essayist that his colleague Roger Ebert is. His musings come off less as thoughtful ruminations and more as journalistic pieces; he tells you interesting tidbits about the history, making of, initial reception and in some cases revised judgment of each film. Much of this is at least interesting and sometimes valuable information; many of the best of these relate to the American film production system as a whole. As when Turan quotes the British director of Sexy Beast, previously best known for commercials, as saying he “purposefully chose something dialogue-intensive and character driven…I wanted to learn.” Turan goes on to observe that “American commercial directors may pay lip service to caring about the script when they turn to features, but their films show that they’re not fooling anyone.”
Or on Wag the Dog: “The only sad thing about Wag the Dog is that is suggests the kind of films we’re missing out on because of an elephantine production system that makes reasonably priced films with major talents as rare as actors seeing any money of studio profit-production deals.”
What I missed however is what Turan’s near-namesake, Kenneth Tynan, once said was criticism at the highest level: Accurate reportage of what has taken place within you because of a particular entertainment, as well as without. You get a sense that Turan quite likes these films, but hardly ever that he is impassioned about them, or that they did anything to explain to him why he is alive — another Tynanism. Although the review of Decalogue does contain the gem, “…in moments of crisis it is often too late to become someone else.”
This does not make the book less than artful in its own way, and it certainly served its desired purpose in making me compile my own list of about a dozen Films I Now Want To See. He even convinced me it would be worth my while to see a Woody Allen film — quite an accomplishment, if I may say so, as he’s never really made me laugh that much.
This book will be valuable especially to those living near a well-stocked video store (if there’s only one good thing about living in Seattle — and there is — that’s it). But it’s too lacking in wit to recommend for most personal collections.
PublicAffairs Books: www.publicaffairsbooks.com