A collection of exemplary pieces about the movies that influenced contemporary filmmakers.
When the editor of the New York Times Weekend section wanted to expand film coverage, Lyman, the paper’s Hollywood correspondent, suggested a series in which he joined famous actors, producers, and directors to watch the movies that shaped their lives. Lyman thereupon got together with the likes of Woody Allen, Kevin Costner, and Nicole Kidman to watch films such as (respectively) Shane, Cool Hand Luke, and The Shining. The results, collected here, range from predictable to surprising and are almost always insightful. Of course, John Travolta gets up and dances after watching Yankee Doodle Dandy, and, yes, Sissy Spacek chokes back a sob near the end of To Kill a Mockingbird. But Quentin Tarantino goes off course, finding depth in a Roy Rogers programmer, and producer Harvey Weinstein sees moments to admire in the largely flatfooted Exodus. In two of many pieces here that film students will value, Ron Howard applies a sharp director’s eye to The Graduate, and Kevin Costner offers a keen actor’s appraisal of Paul Newman’s work in Cool Hand Luke. Curtis Hanson shows why In a Lonely Place merits another look. Director Kevin Smith wishes he could reach the level Fred Zinnemann achieved in A Man for All Seasons, while Wolfgang Peterson praises Zinnemann’s High Noon. Lending cohesion to the collection is a theme the watchers reiterate: films from the late 1960s and ’70s reflect work that was honest, original, and literate, qualities now missing in what Barry Levinson terms “a thin age for storytelling.” Also pulling this all together is Lyman’s lively prose. His cogent observations and smooth construction should encourage his college film teacher, who complained that the press wrote poorly about film.
Vivid takes form an impressive montage.