David Mamet might be known by theatre-lovers and cineastes as the tough-talking bard of Brooklyn, excelling in such foul-mouthed examinations of the contemporary male psyche as Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed the Plow, but in his “exhilaratingly subversive” treatise on film and screenwriting a softer side is revealed. Reference is made to his favourite film (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp) and his great affection for old-fashioned British cinema.
As befits an elder statesman, the tone here is not angry and aggressive, but ruefully amused at the pointless machinations of contemporary Hollywood. The chapter titles alone spell out half the story – “The Development Process; Or, Learning to Make Nothing At All!”. Treading similar ground to William Goldman’s acclaimed books on Hollywood’s hypocrisy, Mamet skewers with precision and wit the rush for the buck that has become symptomatic of modern movie-making.
There is generosity here as well as vitriol; films as disparate as Bullitt and Galaxy Quest are lavishly praised, and even the absurdities of the studio system are treated affectionately rather than with scorn. It verges on sacrilege even to hint at it, but perhaps there is a chance that, as he approaches Grand Old Man status, Mamet has finally mellowed out.