Curtis (Spencer Tracy, 2011, etc.) details just about every aspect of director and film production designer William Cameron Menzies (1896-1957).
The author’s writing style allows readers to actually feel the methods Menzies used as he fractured perspective and created specific moods with angles and shadows. Undoubtedly, Menzies was the first and greatest master of film staging, art direction, and what is now known as production design. From his first great triumph in The Thief of Bagdad (1925) to Around the World in 80 Days (1956), he spent nearly every waking hour designing settings and sketching out every camera angle for every shot. When we hear of storyboards, we have this man to thank for inventing them. Having a sketch showing exactly what was needed saved hours of time and materials. Some directors, such as Sam Wood, relied entirely on Menzies’ work. Together, they produced wonderful films until Wood dissolved their partnership over politics during the 1950s. Curtis provides wonderful sections about his subject’s groundbreaking work on Our Town (1940) and an extended chapter devoted to Gone with the Wind (1939). Working for David Selznick on that picture was one of the most difficult assignments, as the producer was wont to micromanage, changing schedules, calling meetings, and then arriving late. Menzies was a significant part of the history of filmmaking, from silent films to sound pictures, the advents of color, 3D, and Cinerama. At the birth of TV, he worked on Halls of Ivy with Ronald Colman. While he was vital to the movie industry, with the exception of the first Oscar awarded for art direction, plaudits and applause were limited to those few who understood his contributions. Fortunately, Curtis fills in all the missing pieces.
While it can get bogged down in the minutiae of camera angles, set details, and the tedium of production, this is an illuminating, long-overdue book about the man who taught the world how to make a good film.