Monday, 30 June 2014

Desert Island Books...

Image courtesy of: Simon Howden / Free Digital Photos
We're coming to the end of our Desert Island Books series now, just time for a couple more contributions before we finish...this week from Chris Buxton, Lecturer and Senior Research Assistant in the School of Fine Art, Photography & Film and CIRIC (Creative Industries Research and Innovation Centre), Dynevor Campus. 

If you were stranded on a desert island which 4 books would you like to have with you and why?
So, here's the thing, I rarely read novels. A shameful admission for a long time journalist and screenwriter, I know, but there you go. I blame my deeply tedious afternoons in 'O' Level English Literature. Actually, I did enjoy William Golding's Lord Of The Flies - hopefully, not the desert island experience you have in mind - but it was Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd that really soured me. In my defence, hearing it read aloud by a bunch of disinterested Bristolian teenagers for months on end is probably enough to steer anyone away from the delights of the classics.

Still, I am an avid reader and have a huge number of books, lots of non-fiction, lots about films, filmmakers and filmmaking. I was and am an autodidact and, in the days before the internet, books gifted me the secret knowledge I was seeking. And so, my first choice of book is one I bought as an undergraduate studying History and Sociology, David A Cook's A History Of Narrative Film. Until then, film for me was just the movies, whatever was on in the cinema or out on VHS. Cook's text book weaved a spellbinding story out of films, some that I knew and many I didn't. It drove me to investigate the many films within and sparked the passion that has driven my life ever since. I didn't really know about things like directors, auteurs, the studio system or national cinemas, before reading Cook - movies weren't something anyone I knew took remotely seriously, let alone saw as a potential career - so this was a revelation. It's hard to think of a single book that has had a bigger impact upon me than that chance purchase in Waterstone's in Bath one summer afternoon.
A similar early inspiration is Ian Christie's book, Scorsese On Scorsese, a series of interviews with the director, whose film Taxi Driver had shocked me with its power when a school friend hired it from the video library a few years earlier - on a fake ID, naturally. In Christie's book, the story of Scorsese was told in his own words. Here, I not only encountered his other work, the sublime wonders of Goodfellas, Raging Bull and Mean Streets, but discovered that he went to something called a film school and studied to be a filmmaker. Why didn't they ever tell us these sort of places existed when I was in school? And Scorsese was from a working class background, like me, so if he could do it, why couldn't I? As a one-two punch, Cook and Christie's books, both bought in the same summer, transformed my life. I still have them to this day, and their creased, dog-eared states are a testament to the profound effect they exerted over me.
I rarely read novels but I do read graphic novels. As a small child, I would read comics like The Beano and The Dandy, then progressed to British sci-fi stalwart, 2000AD. British comics of the day were inky, smudgy, black and white affairs, with just the cover and centre pages in colour, colours that usually bled into each other. American comics were a different beast, all colour with glossy covers and filled with adverts for things we could only dream of like Sea Monkeys, Crackerjack Popcorn and Hostess Twinkies. The very first American comic I bought from the local newsagent was Daredevil #168, a self-contained tale of love, tragedy and revenge. By complete chance, I had stumbled on to one of the highpoints of Marvel Comics' history, Frank Miller & Klaus Janson's run on Daredevil. Miller was yet to create his more-lauded The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City and 300, but these works' adult themes, noir cityscapes and spectacular violence were already there in his Daredevil, collected in the mammoth Daredevil Miller-Janson Omnibus that's replaced the comics now consigned to my Dad's attic.
Now, I feel I should have a proper novel, so I will go for one of Ian Fleming's James Bond stories. Pretty much any one will do, although I particularly enjoyed Casino Royale and From Russia With Love. The Bond of the books feels a bit stiffer than Sean, Roger, Daniel et al, but he's more of bastard too, and can drink, smoke and take various pharmaceuticals for Britain. I read them all over the space of a few months, mostly on trains as I went to and from hospital visiting my mother as succumbed to ever more illnesses towards the end of her life. She was a huge fan of the Bond movies, had them on video, and when I was little, would take me to them on school holidays whenever a new one came out. So, whilst the Bond books remain thrilling page turners, there's always that sentimental link for me, that adds a further resonance.
If you could bring one of the characters to life, for company, who would you choose and why?
It would have to be James Bond, wouldn't it? If he couldn't get me off a desert island, who could? If Bond couldn't help me escape, though, Casino Royale Bond girl Vesper Lynd would be a far preferable, if potentially treacherous companion.
You can have one luxury item on the island with you…what would it be?
I would have my cat, Willow, with me. She's a pedigree Ragamuffin, bred to be affectionate playful companions, which she most certainly is. And she's certainly a luxury as she's no good as a mouser, is afraid of visitors and needs pretty much constant combing and brushing. Still, she's incredibly entertaining, very relaxing and a great listener - we all talk to our pets, right?
You are rescued and can only take one book back with you…which one would you pick?
For sentimental reasons, it would have to be my old copy of Cook's A History Of Narrative Film, even though I could probably recite whole passages of it from memory.

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