William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Films To Come

Pantheon. Nov. 2015. 448p. illus. filmog. notes. index. ISBN 9780375424724. $40; ebk. ISBN 9781101870679. FILM
OrangeReviewStarWilliam Cameron Menzies's groundbreaking set designs for the 1924 film The Thief of Bagdad ensured his services as an art director would be in high demand. His work over the following 30 years, although not as publicly spectacular, was no less revolutionary. Working as a consultant and, quite literally, the first-ever production designer in Hollywood, his design, composition, and planning techniques quietly and permanently changed the art of filmmaking. Curtis (Spencer Tracy: A Biography; W.C. Fields: A Biography) admirably rises to the challenges of chronicling Menzies's career; crisp pacing and tight chronology keep the ever-shifting cast of producers, directors, and actors from becoming overwhelming, and he makes the impact of the designer's innovations accessible to the layperson through well-chosen visuals rather than technical explanations. Readers will come away with a new understanding of the work that goes into moviemaking before the camera begins to roll.
VERDICT An important and informative biography that, like its subject, breaks new ground in its field. Essential for film historians and highly recommended for fans of performing arts biographies.[See Prepub Alert, 5/11/15.]
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