If you love Chinatown, then you’ll love The Big Goodbye—and it’s good reading for any American cinema buff.

THE BIG GOODBYE

CHINATOWN AND THE LAST YEARS OF HOLLYWOOD

A biography of the making of Chinatown, which scriptwriter Robert Towne called “a state of mind.”

In his latest, Los Angeles–based film chronicler Wasson (Improv Nation: How We Made a Great American Art, 2017, etc.), who has written about Bob Fosse, Audrey Hepburn, Blake Edwards, and Paul Mazursky, undertakes a multifaceted dissection of the infamous noir film starring Jack Nicholson. Produced by Robert Evans and written by Towne, Chinatown was directed by the “brilliant tyrant” Roman Polanski. Throughout the book, Wasson treats the film as a masterpiece, an arguable but reasonable assessment, and delineates his biographies of Nicholson, Evans, Towne, and Polanski in the context of the film specifically. The author adeptly illustrates how each man brought his own experience of contemporary Hollywood to the film though the story is arguably a more accurate depiction of 1930s Hollywood than any noir film recorded in that time period. Wasson portrays drugs and crime in a matter-of-fact manner befitting the movie itself, and he doesn’t minimize or romanticize any of the less-than-savory elements involving the principals of the narrative; this applies especially to Polanski. The author weaves into the text details about the Tate-LaBianca murders and their effects on not only Polanski, but the city as a whole. He shows how the phrase “That’s Chinatown” was not just a memorable motif in the movie, but also a reflection of the visceral emotions roiling LA at the time of the film’s release. “Since the murders,” writes the author, “the communal dream of social and political reformation that had illumed the sixties had blackened, almost on cue, at the decade’s turn.” As Towne said, “there are some crimes for which you get punished, and there are some crimes that our society isn’t equipped to punish, and so we reward the criminals.” Through Wasson’s thorough research, this book clearly illuminates that concept.

If you love Chinatown, then you’ll love The Big Goodbye—and it’s good reading for any American cinema buff.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-30182-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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