Sinemania!: A Satirical Expose of the Most Outlandish Movie Directors: Welles, Hitchcock, Tarantino, and More
“. . . pretty damned good . . .”
Sinemania! is a madcap of a thing—in the Schiaparelli sense of the word.
Like Katharine Hepburn’s favorite hat, Sinemania! is silly almost to the point of stupidity, and jaunty, even striking. There is a bit of genius about it, and a bit of the jazz hands.
It is rather like MAD magazine goes to the movies. Sinemania! is presented in a graphic novel format with word balloons, captions, and four panels of caricature to the black-and-white page. The subtitle explains the contents: “A satirical expose of the lives of the most outlandish movie directors! Welles, Hitchcock, Tarantino, and more!”
As the title and its sub indicate, exclamation! points! abound!
Written and illustrated by Sophie Cossette, Sinemania! is a tribute to all things movies, most especially the Grand Guignol sects of Tarantino, et al. As such, it is an effective product, in that the targets selected for inclusion and inspection (not just Welles and Hitchcock and Tarantino, but Otto Preminger, Ken Russell, and even Paul Thomas Anderson, whose Magnolia and There Will Be Blood most especially grant him admittance to Hollywood’s Grand Guignol elite) are all most worthy of the dissection they receive here.
Sinemania! is not for the faint of heart. It is also not for the casual film fan.
The great joy of the thing is in the deep cuts. The references to George C. Scott in Hard Core or the cynically wry The Big Heat reference to Gloria Grahame getting hit in the face with a pot of scalding coffee with the author’s simple notation, “Lee Marvin is the mob boss’ henchman and the last thing you’d want is for him to make you a cup of coffee,”—these are what give Sinemania! its aforementioned “jazz hands.” The reader respects film knowledge when he sees it and applauds the author’s determination to not explain anything to those who can’t keep up.
Kudos for both.
As Sophie Cossette explains in her introduction:
“Making a movie is pure madness: you’ve got to continually deal with big egos, despotic producers, rejection from distributors, money not coming in, years of waiting for the green light to start production, divas or tormented actors pushing your buttons know-it-all critics who give you the thumbs down. Dealing with the Weinstein Brothers . . . the list is endless! All that for what? For your movie to be downloaded for free on the Internet or the satisfaction of saying that David O. Russell put you in a headlock at a glamorous Hollywood party! And then there’s the fact that some filmmakers lose their shirts, mortgage their houses, even commit suicide! All because of their uncontrollable compulsion to tell a story. Is it worth it?”
The simple answer to the question is “yes,” if only for the David O. Russell reference. (Those left in the dark should Google “David O. Russell + Christopher Nolan + headlock and ogle the results.)
Ms. Cossette finishes her intro with an invitation and a hope:
“Enjoy my film buff psychosexual dementia but please don’t take it too seriously.”
And that phrase “film buff psychosexual dementia” triggers a moment of recall.
Credit where credit is due, and thankfully credit is given when Sinemania! remembers the author of Hollywood Babylon, granting him the double-truck tribute he so richly deserves, with “Kenneth Anger’s Snakes and Ladders Game.” Indeed, Sinemania! could not have existed without Hollywood Babylon, its spiritual, intellectual, and textural parent.
Sinemania! does right by Dennis Hopper as well, and Fritz Lang and Woody Allen (who fits in here better than one would have suspected he would, especially when he is paired with Spike Lee) and Roman Polanski and Werner Herzog (would it be a party without him?) also.
But the “best of show” goes to either the section on Russ Meyer and his obsessive love for the female breast, or William Castle, he of the “nurse standing by in the lobby,” in case one of his schlock horror films proves too much for its viewer.
It would be easy to nitpick. To demand better recognition for Ed Wood or John Waters or Sam Army of Darkness Raimi or Samuel Fuller (whose opening sequence to the film The Naked Kiss, with Constance Tower as a bald prostitute beating up her john once seen can never be unseen).
Fair enough, but in the light of so much rollicking splendor (the section “Blame Canada” is itself worth the cost of the book: “Upon viewing a movie made in Canada, do you, like I often do, groan: ‘God, that flick was SO Canadian!’”), so many worthy targets aimed for and hit right between the eyes, that seems self-defeating.
Sinemania! focuses a loving if jaundiced eye to all things filmic, from the silents through the evocation of the silents (the “tribute” to Rudolf Nureyev as Rudolph Valentino is a pip) in the ’70s, to something that comes within a decade or so of what we consider “modern day” in its nod to the career of Steve Buscemi.
Along the way, it manages to more or less constantly entertain, occasionally instruct, and even momentarily enchant (Dietrich’s gypsified image from Touch of Evil barking out at Orson Welles, “Your future is all used up! Why don’t you go home?” jumps off the page).
Which is pretty damned good if you ask me.