A long way from Hollywood

27th October 1995 at 00:00
Letters Inventing the Cinema. By Auguste and Louis Lumiere. Edited by Jacques Rittaud-hutinet translated by Pierre Hodgson Faber #163;20. - 0 571 17545 7. The Secret Language of Film. By Jean-Claude Carriere Faber #163;14.99. - 0 571 17429 9.

How to make a Successful British Movie. By Barry M Sheppard. Birmingham Publishing Company (PO Box 4444, Birmingham B28 9PQ) #163;19.95. - 1 85616 6163.

Our new device, the 'Cinematograph'Iproduces negative strips of animated subject matter, turns them into positive prints and then projects them, " Auguste Lumiere wrote on December 31, 1895, three days after the first public demonstration of the "device" at the Grand Cafe in Paris. His concise description shows why that event is officially accepted as the moment when cinema was born, despite the rival claims of some other inventors. The Lumi res' correspondence, well-edited ( with a preface by Maurice Trairieux-Lumiere), entertainment.

Jean-Claude Carriere is France's leading scriptwriter, the author of the screenplays for Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour, Louis Malle's Milou en Mai and Jean-Paul Rappeneau's Cyrano de Bergerac. It does not necessarily follow that he will have anything interesting to say about the medium: some of the great names in cinema have a purely instinctive grasp of what they are doing, which defies analysis, and others are pretentious or utterly boring when they talk or write about their work. Carriere, fortunately, is both entertaining and perceptive.

On a personal level, he gives an insight into the personalities of two figures who played a decisive role in his career, Jacques Tati and Bu$uel. Oddly, it was Tati, the maker of virtually wordless films, who was responsible for bringing Carriere into the cinema, after he won a competition to write a chapter of a book inspired by Monsieur Hulot's Holiday. Tati insisted that he must find out just how films come into existence and sent him for 10 days into the cutting room and on the studio floor. It was an invaluable experience, and one that has made Carriere modest about the writer's role. A screenplay, he says, is a chrysalis, which can be discarded after the transformation into a butterfly. No one wants to read screenplays, he adds (though his British publisher, the leader in the field of script publishing, might not agree).

On a more general level, Carriere has thought a good deal about the nature of cinema, and offers examples to illustrate its conventions and its relationship to reality. Looking around at the state of world cinema, he sees a dangerous tendency to stress content over form (a screenwriter's rather than a director's cinema), and argues strongly against leaving cinema up to the market: "If it collapses not only French cinema will disappear, but with it the last vestiges of European cinema."

Carriere's book is thoughtful and thought-provoking; it would be a useful addition to the library of any school teaching film or media studies. Sadly, it is harder to see a use for Barry Sheppard's How to Make a Successful British Movie. This DIY manual is written in a way suggestive of the memo-writing style of a 1930s Hollywood mogul with a careless secretary. Be your own production manager, he urges: "Whose job is it? You don't know? IT'S YOU. So your doing that job as well. Who better than you. NO ONE . . ." (sic); and so on, in a flood of capitals, misspellings, bold type and one-sentence (or half-sentence) paragraphs.

Despite that, there is some pertinent information here, including a 45-page directory of contacts (which contains some errors, including the address of this paper). There is also a two-page list of dedications and acknowledgements that would do credit to an awards ceremony. Between these two are breathless exhortations to go out and start putting a deal together. One omission: in the section on finance, Sheppard forgets to include: "write a book". But he doesn't fail to promote his own movie (still at the pre-production stage). As he might say: GET IT?

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