The Power of Film is an interesting book, not at all what I expected when I first saw the title. I thought that it would be this nice little book that goes through and explains how effective film is as a medium, its strengths and weaknesses, etc. But it does much more than that; it goes through and defines important terms, conventions, characters, genres, writing techniques, etc. It defines these things within the context of film, and then goes on to explain their uses and effectiveness. The following is an example:
Critics love to talk about antiheroes and it is often claimed that antiheroes suit the temper of our times. But “anti” means against” and the antihero is not someone who is against the hero—that, to repeat, is the villain. Nor are antiheroes people who are against being heroic. Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and R. P. McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest may be scruffy, crude, cynical, hostile, and apparently unwilling to stick their neck out for others. Yet Travis Bickle kills pimps and drug dealers to save the teenage prostitute, Iris, and McMurphy tries to avenge Billy’s death after Nurse Ratched drives the boy to suicide… they are not antiheroes; there are merely people who are not yet heroes… There is no such thing as an antihero. There are only characters who act heroically and those who do not (25).
Suber goes through over 200 terms in this book, explaining their uses, and describing films in which they were used (whether good or bad).
This book is incredibly easy to read. You don’t need any background knowledge to get a lot out of this book. Suber explains things in great detail, using examples from well-known, popular films to illustrate what he’s saying. Because each section is short—ranging between half a page to two and half pages—it is very easy to read it in chunks. Also, all of the entries are alphabetized, thus making it simple to find or look up a certain section.
I was amazed at just how much I learned from this book. Once I found out what it was about, I thought, “Okay, it’s basically little more than a big dictionary about film and writing terms.” But it is SO much more than that! I learned about subtle and no-so-subtle techniques that filmmakers and screenwriters use to tell their stories more effectively; I learned what things work in a story (a McGuffin), what things don’t (deus ex machina), and what things have to be handled carefully in order to be effective (foreshadowing). Even if you’ve taken writing, film, or writing for film classes, you will still learn new things from this book.
I really enjoyed reading this book. Even now, as I sit here flipping through it while I work on this review, I have to keep pulling my attention away from it to finish this. (Darn book!) Even if you have only a passing interest in film, I think that you will find this book interesting; if you want to write for or direct film, you will find it fascinating. I would also recommend this book as a teaching tool at the high school/college level.
There is a timelessness to this book, because the things it talks about are integral to the filmmaking/screenwriting process. The topics covered here are ones that were present in films made fifty years ago, and will still be in films fifty years from now. It’s a “book for all seasons”.
And now we come to the cost. This was the only area that I had a problem with, because, while this is a great book and would make an awesome addition to the library of a screenwriter (current or aspiring), I think that $28 is too much for this book.
When comparing this book with other similarly-priced books I’ve reviewed for this magazine, I noticed that the others are very information-laden: The Complete DVD Book and Film & Video Budgets 4 are both $26.95 and The $30 Film School is, well… $30. All three of these books are jam-packed with lots of helpful technical information which is appropriate to their price.
While The Power of Film is a fantastic book, I think that the $19-$25 range would be much more appropriate, especially when comparing it with the prices of books with similar themes or amount of information: Cinematic Storytelling, Independent Film Distribution, The Moral Premise (all $24.95), and Screenwriting for Teens/Filmmaking for Teens (both $18.95).
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is seriously interested in movies, filmmaking, or screenwriting. It will give you an even greater understanding of what makes an effective and powerful film. It is packed with helpful information, is easy to read and understand, and will be a book that you will be able to continue to use for years to come.