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David Lean

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David Lean by Kevin Brownlow, re-issued for the David Lean Centenary in 2008.


This is the U.S. edition of a superb biography of the late British film director, best known for Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and A Passage to India. Brownlow (Behind the Mask of Innocence, LJ 10/15/90) started the work as interviews with Lean to assist the latter in writing his autobiography, but Lean's death turned the book into an authorized biography. The author relies heavily on interviews with and recollections of Lean's co-workers and relations, but the emphasis is on the films, especially the epics that made Lean famous. Brownlow makes no attempt to hide evidence of the less appealing attributes of the director's nature, however. To call him an indifferent father to his only child would be kind, and he treated the majority of his wives abominably. Though somewhat lengthy, this piece is never dull or dry. Lavishly illustrated, this will probably number among the best film biographies of the year; highly recommended for public libraries and subject collections.‘Marianne Cawley, Enoch Pratt Free Lib., Baltimore

Best known as the director of such epic films as Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai and Doctor Zhivago, British filmmaker David Lean (1908-1991) enjoyed a long and distinguished career. In turn, this volume, begun as an autobiography told to Brownlow, has been wrought by its author, a noted film historian (The Parade's Gone By...) and documentarian, into an epic account of an epic life. Coming from a stifling middle-class family who frowned on movies, Lean worked his way up through the lowest ranks of British cinema to become a top editor, then a director. The narrative here, based largely on interviews with those who knew Lean, and including long excerpts from Lean's correspondence, centers on extensive anecdotal accounts of the making of Lean's films. Brownlow shows that each one, including Lean's great films of the 1940s and '50s like Brief Encounter, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, as well as the epic masterpieces, arose from a messy tangle of artistic ambition, dodgy finances, obsessive perfectionism, clashing egos and unforeseen contingencies. Brownlow's 90 pages on the contentious production of Lawrence of Arabia are unsurpassed by any other account. Even his descriptions of the flops and failed projects, such as Lean's attempt to film the story of the Bounty mutiny, are fascinating and instructive. Indeed, this book is as much an education in the realities of filmmaking as it is a biography. But ultimately, it is Lean's personality‘charming, insecure, stubborn, maddeningly heedless of the feelings of others and, above all, brilliant‘that dominates the text. The book's flaws‘too much detail about Lean's tortuous love life; a lack of critical analysis of the films themselves‘are serious but forgivable. As a movie insider's affectionate, admiring but unblinkered look at a great director, this is a magnificent, essential work. Photos and filmography. First serial to Cineaste magazine. (Sept.)

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