Mad, Bad and Dangerous?
The Scientist and the Cinema
2005. By Sir Christopher Frayling.
Reaktion Books. ISBN: 1861892853
Another winner from Sir Christopher Frayling!
Mad, Bad and Dangerous? The Scientist and the Cinema is not a book I’d heard of until a few weeks ago when I was trawling the london shops looking for “a fistful of folios” to take with me on my summer holidays. This book immediately leapt out at me because it was face-on in the display rack and had a picture of Rotwang (the inventor from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis) on the cover. I had a quick flick through it and was persuaded to instant purchase by both the promise of a book covering the image of “the scientist” throughout the history of the cinema and also because it had some pictures in it from some of my favourite Universal Monster Movies!
I didn’t even notice it was by Christopher Frayling until I’d got it home. This is the third book I’ve read by him and although I wasn’t quite as gripped by it as his two excellent books on Sergio Leone and his book on Spaghetti Westerns, I still steamed through this one at a fast rate of knots because... well this guy knows a good deal about what he’s talking about (which is a good deal more than I’ve discovered a lot of the other writers of critical analysis of films seem to know about their subjects in recent years - do some research guys!) and also because his enthusiasm for his subject is always plonked right there on the page and you will invariably be caught up in it.
The other good thing about his books are, and this one is no exception, that you will always be sure to learn a thing or two you didn’t know yourself when you go in and read these things. Some of the personal anecdotes and factoids from Mr. Frayling, such as attending a Cambridge dinner with Barnes Wallace in the 60s and asking him about the portrayal of him in The Damn Busters, are real nuggets which you’re not going to find anywhere else.
If I had one grumble... and my readers will know me well enough by now that I’m never happy reviewing something unless I find “something” to grumble about... is that, although a good deal of emphasis was placed on the scientist in cinema up until the late forties/early fifties... the last forty years were rushed through in maybe the last 50 or so pages. I would have liked to have seen the scientists in the films of people like, say, Cronenberg or Ridley Scott given a little more ink on the page. But I think I’m probably reacting more to the fact that this was such an interesting (and frankly, fairly unique) read that I would have liked to have read a greatly expanded edition. This book could have been three times as thick and I would still have gobbled it down with much pleasure (especially in comparison to that Corman book I reviewed the other day). Or to put it another way... forgive me if I suddenly come over all Dickensian and say... “Please sir, can I have some more?”
Mad, Bad and Dangerous? The Scientist and the Cinema is in your bookshops now and is definitely worth your time and money if you like rocket science, pipe wielding inventors and people who should not be meddling in affairs that man was not meant to meddle in. Have a good read!
P.S. When Lightning Strikes Twice...
Back in December my parents bought me a copy of Mr. Frayling’s key text on Spaghetti Westerns which I was reading on the train earlier in the year on my way to one of the more prominent Film Fairs in London. At the fair I went to see my regular supplier of "the finest Italian soundtrack albums in the country" and was delighted to see Mr. Frayling shopping at the same stall as I. He was very gracious to me and was good enough to personalise and inscribe said tome for me. By a strange twist of fate, I happened to be finishing off Mad, Bad and Dangerous on the way to the Film Fair last weekend and blow me down if I didn’t run into Mr. Frayling again. Once more I had the good luck to get this book personalised too (and this time I managed to slip him one of my cards advertising this blog). Mr. Frayling, if you ever get around to reading this review on your busy schedule, please leave a comment below. And best of luck with the new book you were telling me about!