Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The 12 best novels about filmmaking, Part 2

6. Blue Movie, Terry Southern (1970)
Award-winning director Boris Adrian 'a film-maker - in the tradition of Chaplin, Bergman, Fellini' decides to make a stag film 'that's really good', in this Hollywood satire from the co-author of Candy (1958). 'I've got to find out… how far you can take the aesthetically erotic… suppose the film were made under studio conditions - feature-length, colour, beautiful actors, great lighting, strong plot… how would it look then?' Flown to Liechtenstein by his producer, Adrian gets his chance to fulfill an urge that's overtaken directors from Stanley Kubrick (Southern worked on the script for Dr Strangelove) to Lars von Trier.

5. The Day of the Locust, Nathaniel West (1939)
'West's Hollywood is made up of degeneracy and brothels, of failure and sexual desire, of cock-fighting and third-rate boarding houses,' says Alan Ross in his introduction to Picador's collection of the one-time screenwriter and contemporary of Scott Fitzgerald's work. Locust follows aspiring actress Faye Greener and the men who flock around her: set painter Tod Hackett, a cock-fighting Mexican and his cowboy extra friend, and a hapless clerk - Homer Simpson. It may have served as inspiration for AM Homes's This Book Will Save Your Life (2006).

4. The Last Tycoon, F Scott Fitzgerald (1941)
Hollywood loves films about filmmaking, so it was never going to forego the chance to shoot a script based on a work by one of America's greatest writers, even if Fitzgerald's novel was unfinished on his death in 1940. Robert De Niro and Theresa Russell were among the stars for Elia Kazan's 1976 movie set in Hollywood's golden age of the 1930s, inspired by MGM mogul Irving Thalberg. Fitzgerald had also worked in Hollywood, and previously mined the territory in his Pat Hobby stories.

3. The Book of Illusions, Paul Auster (2002)
American author Auster is rightly celebrated for his early novels, notably the New York Trilogy, but hopefully not at the expense of this powerful, more recent work. Grief-stricken professor David Zimmer receives an invitation to visit the elderly subject of Zimmer's film studies monograph, The Silent World of Hector Mann. For the last 50 years, Mann has been making films in secret on his New Mexico ranch, all of which are due to be incinerated within 24 hours of Mann's death. In an imaginative tour de force, Auster - who's made films himself - creates a shimmering back catalogue for his and Zimmer's mutual subject.

2. Remainder, Tom McCarthy (2005)
What happens when movie fiction becomes more real to us than our own experience, the brilliant Tom McCarthy asks in his debut novel (cf news events that are described as being like a film). Following a freak accident, Remainder's narrator lands an enormous amount of money, which he uses to create ever more elaborate sets and scenarios to bolster his sense of authenticity; 'Even before the accident, if I'd been walking down the street just like De Niro, smoking a cigarette like him… I'd still be thinking: Here I am walking down the street, smoking a cigarette, like someone in a film.'

1. Flicker, Theodore Roszak (1991)
History professor Roszak's book is tremendous: a student investigating the films of German B-movie director Max Castle uncovers a plot involving Orson Welles, Cathar knights and subliminal messages planted in films, which are portrayed as encapsulating the perpetual battle between good and evil (black and white/light). An unsurpassable mix of fanboy thrills and the sort of playful erudition espoused by Umberto Eco, it has long been rumoured to be a project for director Darren Aronofsky.

Part one is here


  1. Hi. Interesting list ... though it doesn't include my absolute favorite: Brock Brower's The Late Great Creature (1971), which I'm happy to see is being reissued in September by Overlook Press.

  2. Thank you for your comment, I'll have to look that up!

  3. kGeorge and Omer Ali and all, please come and see us at the Facebook page for the book at
    thanks for remembering this lost classic!
    (Brock's daughter)

  4. Thank you Alison, have done so - all the very best, Omer