Tag Archives: Hollywood

Review: Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

6th September 2012

*I received this book from the publisher Riverhead Books in exchange for an honest review.

Elsa Emerson grows up walking the boards at her family’s playhouse in Door County, Wisconsin in the 20s. Her childhood is full of costumes, actors and actresses running through dappled sunlight, and nights under the stars watching magic on stage until her older sister gets involved with one of the actors and has her heart broken. Devastated, Hildy kills herself, and the playhouse and Elsa’s life change forever. Determined to recapture some of the pleasure of those heady nights on stage, Elsa marries and moves to L.A., where a movie exec discovers her, has her dye her hair dark, and renames her Laura Lamont.

In this golden era of Hollywood, stars are made, not born. The studios craft very careful images of their stars, grooming them to their specifications based on the types of films they shoot. And Laura is made, driven not only by her desire to act but also a sense that she should since Hildy cannot. After she outgrows her first marriage, she marries Irving Green, the studio exec who first discovered her, and the novel is the story of her life, the ups and downs of a film career, and the reality of raising a family in the most unrealistic place.

If you know nothing else about me, you know I love classic film. And not in the “I collect Audrey Hepburn posters, but I’ve never seen these films” kind of way. [And yes, that was me being snooty. ;)] It isn’t the films alone, however, that I love. The studios had such character and personality, that you can definitely tell an MGM film from a Warner Bros. film. Ownership to that extreme also engendered pride in making films that you just don’t feel today – at least not in the same vein.

Irving is part of that magic, and when he turns his spotlight on Laura, it’s a dream. When she marries him, Laura says she “decided it was reasonable to think of it as her first wedding, because the previous one had been someone else….There were an endless number of things that Laura was going to do that Elsa never would, and she couldn’t wait to find out what they were.” This disconnect between Elsa/Laura continues throughout the novel, and it’s something she, at times, seems aware of but mostly ignores. There’s no depth to her, so when her world is turned upside down a couple of times, she loses who she is and isn’t quite sure how to regain either of her selves.

It was when the plot began heading for the typical Hollywood story – actress past her prime, troubles with pills, selfishness – that my affection began to wane. Particularly because Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures uses one or two familiar names, but for the most part, all the actors and studio names are fake. I can understand there were possible legal reasons for this, but I’ve read plenty of books that use real names and brands. And, if you do choose to go the “anonymous” route, then I wouldn’t recommend giving the actors specific identifying marks. It’s confusing and annoying. There were moments when I was more caught up inwhothe real actors were than in Laura herself.

Ultimately, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is an engaging read and a promising debut. It may not be for the die-hard classic film fan, but it is a great story of life, love, and identity, perfectly summed up in this line: “No one could tell Laura Lamont what to do; she was too old for that. Let them come and look at her, let them try to swallow her up into their old-fashioned story lines. Laura was going to sew herself into the shape of happiness all on her own.”

Add it to your Goodreads shelf or check out others’ opinions.

Kino by Jurgen Fauth

5th April 2012

*I received an egalley of Kino by Jürgen Fauth from NetGalley through the publisher Atticus Books.

“What do you call the power to turn your imagination into reality?”

(Kino, p. 50)

In Kino by Jürgen Fauth, Mina Koblitz, home early from her disastrous wedding and honeymoon, knows three things about her German filmmaker grandfather Kino: his own son cannot stand the thought of him; he made a horrible film; he killed himself. When she finds two cans of celluloid with one of Kino’s lost films outside her New York apartment, Mina calls on a film expert in Berlin, more to determine the monetary value of the film than anything else and hoping to possibly sell it. Instead, she begins to see that Kino was much more than he was made out to be – at the very least, his missing film Tulpendiebe is a sign that Kino once had a promising start. Unfortunately, Mina’s interest in Kino is slight compared to those who want Tulpendiebe for their own purposes.

Kino’s films are special, in part, because they have an odd after-effect. Once Mina sees the first film, she can’t unsee it, and the scenes replay themselves before her – literally. Same camera angle, same incidents, same lighting. Mina’s grandmother talks about this phenomenon because she once saw a man fall to his death amid broken lumber, the same scene having played out in Tulpendiebe: “[H]e called himself a visionary, and that suited him fine. He didn’t understand his power, had no idea how to control it, and he didn’t care. His movies set events in motion…It was extraordinary” (Kino, p. 120).

Presented as a dabbling, irresponsible artist by some and personally describing himself as a “conduit” of the images, Kino created himself in the bars and whorehouses of Berlin before the rise of Hitler and Goebbels. With his friend Steffen by his side, he assumed a new persona each night. Having lost a leg in a childhood accident, Kino finds women, drugs, and friends abound, particularly when Steffen dubs him a movie director. When Kino calls himself, instead, Kino – meaning cinema – it sticks, and as he says, the lies became truth as Kino goes from being an extra in Fritz Lang’s films to directing his own film.

Ultimately, the novel revolves around this idea of lies as truth. Since Mina learns of her grandfather first through her own father, then through Kino’s journal, and lastly through her drug-addled grandmother, the truth of Kino changes. Who he is and why he created what he did changes depending on who is being asked, and as Mina’s grandmother says about the films Kino was forced to make under Goebbels: “A screen doesn’t just show things, it also hides them. There was no truth in Kino’s operettas! They told splendid lies about gaiety and happiness when the reality was death and fear and destruction and oppression” (Kino, 125). But in a sense, those lies became the Germany many wanted to see.

Thwarted from fame in Germany by Goebbels and saddled with an unsupportive wife, Kino cannot fully realize his potential until it is much, much too late. When Kino is finally able to create a film without control after immigrating to America, he goes off the rails, and his friend and producer Marty tells Mina: “He turned it into something we weren’t ready for, using every trick he had learned….Twenty-Twelve contained bits and pieces from earlier stories, scenes pilfered from his other movies, and a strange private mythology. It was reality-warping and prophetic” (Kino, p. 150).

Kino is obsessive, working as a cab driver in LA, writing and rewriting scripts, picturing films in the dozens of red light changes he passes on the Hollywood boulevards, and pitching ideas when and where he can. For Klaus Koblitz, the man known as Kino, is deeply unhappy. As Uma, Mina’s grandmother pointed out about Kino’s operettas, film hides truths as well as telling lies. Kino’s life is much like this, and even at the end of the novel, the reader must parse the facets of Kino’s life to find some semblance of the man.

Funny at times but deeply despairing, Kino is a testament to the visionary but destructive power of genius and how such genius alters the world around us.

Pre-order your copy from Barnes & Noble here.

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

29th September 2011

*I received a signed copy of this book from the author at BEA. She inscribed it “For Jennifer, the discerning girl.” 🙂

Transcript: “London. An American girl new to the city meets a boy whose father possesses a powerful book full of ancient spells and magical potions which might just be what they need to save the world.”

With a bit of spywork, a lot of adventure, and a good dose of Cold-War-era history, The Apothecary was just a really fun book. I love the premise: the apothecary has a real potion book that the Soviet Union is trying to get its hands on, and after Benjamin’s father disappears, it’s up to Jane and Benjamin to use the spell book and protect it in order to figure out who the good guys and the bad guys are. Along the way, they meet Pip who helps them outwit the double agent out to get the Pharmacoepia, Benjamin’s father’s book. Pip was actually my favorite character because he brought a bit of grit and a whole lot of humor to the novel.

I’ve waited until closer to its publication date to review it, but my enthusiasm hasn’t diminished. It isn’t a perfect book. There were some unanswered questions, and I think the characterization could have been a bit stronger, but I’m hopeful this is (maybe) the first in a series, and I would definitely pick up a sequel.

Plus, this is an absolutely beautiful book. Illustrated by Ian Schoenherr, I absolutely prize this book above many of the others I got at BEA, even though some of the pages are unfinished.

Run out and grab it, or order it from Indiebound.