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Gavin LambertReading the book is an act of total emersion: you emerge saturated with all you could possibly want to know about the director's personal and professional life.
—Los Angeles Times
Posted September 14, 2003
Kevin Brownlow's 'David Lean: A Biography' is a landmark in the field of cinema studies. In this work, the premier cinema historian in the English language meets arguably the greatest English director, and the result is a masterpiece of the genre worthy of the maker of such film masterpieces as 'Brief Encounter,' 'The Bridge on the River Kwai' and 'Lawrence of Arabia.' Brownlow's understanding of the technical aspects of film-making does great justice to Lean's career, who himself made his reputation in the industry as an editor, gaining renown as the premier 'cutter' of his time. In my estimation, Lean was arguably the premier 'technician-style' director, a master of cinematic form rivalled only by Stanley Kubrick. My pantheon of directors includes more 'personal' directors, Bergman, Fellini and Tarkovsky, yet I respect the accomplishments of Lean; when I saw 'Brief Encounter' on the big screen, the climax of the film literally stunned me. The remarkable construction of 'Brief Encounter' perhaps could only have been created by a director possessing technical genius bred in the cutting room, and it is a great credit to Brownlow that he makes us fully understand the genesis of Lean's particular genius for film. While in these 800-pages, Brownlow does not slight the more conventional aspects of movies, e.g, personalities, finance, criticism, etc., it is his commanding knowledge of film as a craft that gives us great insight into Lean. This book should be required reading for film students for the insight it gives into the craft of constructing a motion picture. Finally, 'David Lean: A Biography' is also an insightful story about an unusual man with a marvellously contradictory character who would make a great protagonist in a work of fiction. Lean was, in turns, a sensualist with a Quaker background who had six wives, marrying many of them when most men, it was said, would be divorcing them; a director who commanded huge crews who essentially was a lonely and uncommunicative man; a man of extraordinary generosity who would deny a fellow professional a minor credit; an artist of international reputation who could be wounded mortally by a bad review by an insignificant critic, whose career was derailed by the storm of negative criticism over 'Ryan's Daughter.' Brownlow's portrait of the essentially unintellectual Lean, an insecure man tormented by a rivalry with his younger brilliant brother, himself a brilliant technician working in a medium with great artistic pretensions who was uncertain of his worth and reputation, should not be missed by any person who loves film. Lean's eclipse after the critical debacle of 'Ryan's Daughter,' his years in the woods in which he tried in vain to bring new projects to fruition that later were realized by other, lesser directors, his ultimate return to glory and respectability with 'A Passage to India,' and his final years as the respected yet still tormented man searching for the backing for his last project, 'Nostromo,' kick this book out of its genre into the ranks of the best biographies in which the life of which we read informs us not just about the human condition, but about ourselvesWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 9, 2010
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