Rob Hardy on books


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Pictures of Information for Motion Pictures



Rob Hardy


Movie fans love trivia. Even on the indispensable Internet Movie Database website, each movie has not only a listing of stars and a plot summary, but a page devoted just to trivia about the movie. A blockbuster or a cult favorite may have scores of entries. Most of them are interesting, some are more significant than trivial, but they are just lists without any particular design or plan. If you want your movie trivia laid out in eye-catching (and mind-catching) formats, get Infographic Guide to the Movies (Cassell Illustrated) by Karen Krizanovich. It's a little hard to tell what role the author has played in the making of this book. There are over thirty credited designers of the ninety clever graphs and charts here, so perhaps she was the one who supplied the idea for each graphic, or supplied the voluminous data. The graphic pages themselves are colorful, with sleek, computer-generated graphs, pictures and caricatures that look something like art deco cartoons. Most of the graphics are complicated; you will not find a simple pie-graph here. Many of the pages have to be studied for a while before the reader can begin to take in the information contained; it's worth the study, not only for the information itself but for an appreciation of the novel style of the presentations. Movie fans will like this book, but graphic designers and fans of Edward R. Tufte will find much to think about. 




Start simple. Naturally the work of Alfred Hitchcock is figured on many of the pages here, and one page is devoted to a circular graph of actors and actresses that worked on three or more of his films. So, trivia fans, who made the most appearances in Hitchcock's movies? If you guessed James Stewart or Cary Grant, both of whom had four Hitchcock movies (can you name them?), you are wrong. You, and everybody else, have forgotten Clare Greet, who died in 1939 and was in seven of his early British films. But you might have remembered Leo G. Carroll, who was runner-up with six films. On a page titled "100% Losers," the graph (a roll-out of a black carpet) shows that in 1959, Hitchcock's witty and exciting North by Northwest, which gets a 100% critic rating at the compilation site, didn't win the year's Best Picture Oscar, beaten out by the sanctimonious Ben Hur (89% rating). Another graph shows that in 1958, Vertigo (98% rating) was beaten by Gigi (74% rating). Life is just not fair. (The book doesn't mention that Hitchcock never won an Oscar, except for an honorary award given to him in 1968). 




There are lots of maps here, usually fanciful rather than cartographically correct. One shows the routes taken across America by the characters in Easy Rider, Smokey and the Bandit, Thelma and Louise, and On the Road. Another shows a jolly schematic of the route through New York City taken by the three sailors as they sing "New York, New York (A Helluva Town)" in On the Town. One map shows where you are most likely to be attacked by movie zombies; California, unsurprisingly, is a dangerous place, zombie-wise, but zombie outbreaks are no small thing in New York, and even bigger in Pennsylvania. Outside the US, Britain has a high zombie rate, but most of the states in South America or Africa have yet to register even one. America may have more zombies, and India has none, but another map shows the nations of the world with their land masses proportional to the number of tickets their citizens buy. India is huge, about three times bigger than America. There's an old-fashioned map of the Atlantic to show how French movies have crossed over to America, not for foreign film screenings but for remakes. Hollywood has a well-known and regrettable habit of making for Americans, who seem not to tolerate subtitles, movies that were hits in other countries, particularly France. An exceptionally complicated set of maps (requiring four pages) shows how Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig, playing 007, have jetted around the world. It looks as if those early Bonds did a lot more traveling in America than their successors. 




Plenty of the charts here are just odd and fun. One purports to show Neo's route through the first (don't you wish it were the only?) Matrix movie, an intricate weave between the matrix, the real world, and Zion. I don't know if it is accurate; the movie is too confusing, and so, necessarily, is the graphic. There's a similar attempt to track the levels, dreams, and dreamers in Inception, and a timeline that straightens out Pulp Fiction. There's a chart of bookshelves that shows the surprising fact that in the period 2000 to 2012, movies based on the works of Charles Dickens have done better box office than those based on works by Stephen King. One chart shows how the movies depict the end of the world. The ones that show the disaster based on earthly effects like weather (as in the movie 2012) have the best gross, followed by doom from space (as in Cloverfield), and then doom caused by humans (as in Dr. Strangelove), and trailing all is apocalypse from God (as in The Rapture). One page charts the causes of the thirteen on-screen deaths Bruce Willis has suffered. Another shows the top-grossing movies of all time that featured cross-dressers, with thirteen movies in the "Male to Female" category, one in the "Female to Male" category, and two in the "Female to Male to Female" category (no, I won't tell you which they are). 




There is plenty of information here, presented in amusing ways. You can argue with some of the charts; the two pages devoted to which James Bond was statistically the best (based on number of times he was believed dead, number of women he slept with, number of martinis drunk, and so on) are complicated and, come on, Sean Connery was the best, no matter what the statistics say. There are two ambitious, busy pages to show the diverse projects of Francis Ford Coppola over fifty years, but how could they have left out the early, eccentric You're a Big Boy Now? Krizanovich says in her introduction, "And if you find something that is reasonably wrong - this means sticking to the same level of detail the graphic has and not going further into the Morass of More Data - well done!" I don't think you will find many such faults, and the wealth of colorful, often convoluted diagrams here will be worth the study of anyone who likes movies or information display. 




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