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Home Education Review of The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece: begging for an editor
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Review of The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece: begging for an editor

Photo by Cassidy Dickens on Unsplash

Bill Johnson, we learn, is in town to shoot a superhero blockbuster called Knightshade: The Lathe of Firefall. The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece duly chronicles its production, chivvying the reader from its 1940s conception through its first iteration as a countercultural comic book all the way to a star-spangled premiere in 21st-century Times Square. In the hands of a lesser mortal, Knightshade would be big, dumb franchise fodder. But Johnson’s an auteur. He means to tear up the rulebook and make the sort of superhero picture no one’s ever seen before. “No capes,” he declares, like Archimedes in his bathtub.

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It would be nice at this point to confirm Hanks’s book as a satire. That way we could applaud the means by which it deftly – even affectionately – pricks the pompous self-regard of Hollywood’s inner circle, complete with a star who unwinds by taking her Cirrus jet for a spin and a gonzo method actor who insists on sleeping in a tent. We might then go on to laugh at the idiotic footnotes that provide a needless justification for the use of slang and blithely mis-explain Alfred Hitchcock’s MacGuffin. Alarmingly, though, this tale is deadly serious. Johnson is great and Knightshade is amazing and therefore everything about them is a source of endless fascination. The production, says Hanks, runs for 53 days. Somehow his book makes it feel even longer.

Is it redundant to mention that the author is a fine actor? He’s a two-time Oscar winner, a Hollywood mainstay and an expert storyteller in his chosen field, so long as that field contains a camera and a script. Hanks won respectful notices for Uncommon Type, his 2017 collection of short stories, but the novel – at least this one – proves to be his Waterloo. The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece is a bland busman’s holiday dressed up as literary fiction, a bungled behind-the-scenes tour that can’t see the wood for the trees. It’s crying out for an editor. The plot is borderline incontinent. One fears that Hanks, like Bill Johnson, has been granted final cut.

“The very first shot of Knightshade: The Lathe of Firefall was of a shadow,” he writes. “A long, morning-sun shadow of the revolving sign on the town’s bank, cast down onto the pavement of Main Street.” There will be other shots later and these will be described to us too, as Hanks – narrating the tale in the guise of an embedded journalist – meanders backstage, pointing this way and that. Hollywood for him is a modern-day Mount Olympus, a serene feudal hierarchy where good people know their place. Johnson, of course, is at the summit, which means everyone else is measured and judged by their level of deference to him, be it the industrious producer, the stoic driver or the lowly character actor who can’t believe his good fortune (“Clancy decided then and there that he liked Bill Johnson a hell of a lot”). The novel’s few baddies are the upstarts and losers. We get a boorish co-star who won’t follow direction and a few weirdo fans who try to sneak on to the set. All of them, thank heaven, are swiftly foiled by our hero.

No doubt Hanks’s depiction simply reflects his own charmed experience. The man has spent decades in the sky lounge, adored and indulged, reassured of his worth. Small wonder he’s come up with a complacent insider’s account, a folksy salute to a true-life superman. I just wish that his tale had more nuance and momentum, more drama and depth. It reads like a Forrest Gump rewrite of Ayn Rand’s greatest hits.

No one should ever say they hate a film, Hanks’s hero argues. You might as well claim to hate a baseball game or a kid’s birthday party – you’re basically dismissing a shared human experience. He says: “The worst anyone should ever say about someone else’s movie is, ‘Well, it was not for me but, actually, I found it quite good.’” And maybe Bill Johnson is right, as he invariably is. Making a movie is tough; writing a novel is hard, too. So accentuate the positives, draw a line and move on. On a pure sentence level Hanks’s book is at times pretty good. Overall I confess it was very much not for me.

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