Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Review: Screen Legends

Screen Legends by Bruce Yaccato

Summary: A collection of brief biographical essays on Canadian "legends" of the silver screen (and also stage and television). Seems to be based on a series of "Historica Minutes" produced for Canadian TV, but I've never seen one about film stars, so maybe I live in the wrong part of the country.

Now, I hesitate to write anything negative about books because more than likely it'll show up on the author's Google Alert. This is awesome when an author drops by to say thank you for liking a book (so please feel free, authors!), but not so much fun the other way. But this book just kind of bugged me. Here's why:

- It's hard to tell who the audience is meant to be. At first I thought maybe high school/college students, because the author feels the need to define, for example, Prohibition and Jim Morrison. And it probably would make a good book for a Canadian high school drama class. It would be good for assignments, too. But then he also, for example, devotes a large part of the Mike Myers entry to quoting the funny parts of the Austin Powers movies, which any young person is going to know.

- There's no introduction and no table of contents. There's also no order (that I could find) to the entries - not alphabetical, chronological or geopgraphical. There's also no mention of what "qualified" people for inclusion.

- There are a few proofreading mistakes, the largest being that Raymond Burr's death date is listed as 1933. Kind of hard to be Perry Mason if he died just as TV was being invented.

- I'm actually biased and find this a rather endearing Canadian quirk, but the author follows it to a T - you don't have to have been born in Canada, spent much time here, or retain your Canadian citizenship for us to claim you as our own.

- A not so endearing Canadian quirk, a mention of hockey is squeezed into about every other entry, whether it fits or not.

- The space given to different "legends" varies greatly. People you've never heard of from the Silent Era get detailed descriptions, Christopher Plummer's 60-year career gets less space than Jim Carrey. (And a chunk of Plummer's entry is devoted to describing the Sound of Music itself, another example of needing to define weird things - who hasn't heard of the Sound of Music?)

- "Legend" seems a bit of a stretch for some of the people featured. As talented as Sandra Oh may be, can she really be considered a legend at 36?

I did learn some interesting factoids, like that Norma Shearer's brother won 14 Oscars in technical categories and basically revolutionized motion picture sound. I enjoyed the entries on Colleen Dewhurst and Catherine O'Hara, in particular. It's not a bad book, but all of the above things just irked me throughout it. But if you are or you know a Canadian film buff, this could be worth a look.

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