Monday, 8 August 2011

The 12 best novels about filmmaking, Part 1

12. The Director's Cut, Nicholas Royle (2000)
I forgot to include one of Nick's books that would have been appropriate for a previous post, so am making sure not to repeat my mistake here. The majority of the books in this list are about Hollywood, so let's start with the exceptions. Framed within a murder mystery, Royle's work has a very strong sense of place, including the view of central London's Hanway Street he would have had himself from the eighth floor of Time Out's offices on Tottenham Court Road.

11. Show Business, Shashi Tharoor (1992)
Seriously injured on the set of his latest movie, Bollywood star Ashok Banjara reflects on his life in India's film industry and as a disgraced politician while hundreds of fans stage a vigil outside the hospital where he is being treated. Author Tharoor is a fascinating figure: he ran for the position of UN secretary general in 2007, supported by India, where he is now an MP; this book is due to be reissued by a US publisher in September.

10. LA Confidential, James Ellroy (1990)
Crime writer Ellroy's connection to the Black Dahlia killing is well-documented - not least by the author himself; his LA Quartet inescapably features Hollywood at its heart and great fun is to be had here in the character of Jack Vincennes (played by Kevin Spacey in Curtis Hanson's 1997 big-screen adaptation), the police sergeant compromisingly attracted to the showbiz world.

9. The Player, Michael Tolkin (1988)
It's easy to forget that The Player was originally a novel, such is the reputation of Robert Altman's 1992 film, starring Tim Robbins as a film studio boss targeted by a rejected writer. Tolkin creates a freewheeling thriller about creative power and ambition; a host of stars appeared as themselves in the movie version, much as they did in 2003's Elmore Leonard adaptation, Be Cool.

8. & 7. Karoo, Steve Tesich (1998) & Playland, John Gregory Dunne (1994)
Two books by scriptwriters about scriptwriters: Tesich adapted The World According to Garp (1982) and apparently died four days after completing this book (one of many here that features celluloid on the cover), about script doctor Saul Karoo, alcohol and nicotine addict. From Ellroy's 1950s to the 1940s, Dunne's screenwriter delves into the past to uncover what happened to Baby Blue Tyler, one-time child star, now trailer park resident with 11 marriages behind her.

Part two - numbers six to one - is here. If you'd like to add any suggestions below, please do!


  1. Wow! Great idea for a post, and any such list that includes Tesich and Tharoor is off to a great start. Some random favourites of mine (including short story collections) would have to include F Scott Fitzgerald's hilarious 'Pat Hobby' stories (and 'The Last Tycoon', if incomplete works count), Gavin Lambert's 'The Slide Area', David Freeman's 'A Hollywood Education' and 'It's All True', and Robert Stone's 'The Children of Light'.

    There's something about the creative/commercial clash, and the unreality of the world, explored by good Hollywood novels that's really intriguing.

    Anthony Slide's 'The Hollywood Novel', an annotated bibliography of 1200ish such books, is an interesting, if sometimes puzzling in its judgements, guide.

  2. Brilliant to hear from you James, thank you! Managed to get Fitzgerald in there but must look up the others; I've been meaning to read some Stone for a while. Hope you're well, thanks again for your very kind message, Omer