In essence, there isn't much new in David Mamet's winding Hollywood essay/exposé Bambi Vs. Godzilla: On The Nature, Purpose, And Practice Of The Movie Business. Is anyone shocked to hear that audience testing is ruining movies, or that producers don't respect screenwriters, or that movie stars can be spoiled brats? And contrary to the inside-flap warning that BvG will leave the "demigods and sacred cows of the movie business" quivering, Mamet doesn't name any names among the fools he's not-so-gladly suffered during his decades in the Hollywood hopper. He speaks mainly in generalities, occasionally taking a dig at a specific movie or two, but mostly pontificating about where modern mainstream cinema has gone wrong, and—more importantly—why it matters.

And he does all this in a prose voice halfway between William Goldman and Ricky Roma. He serves up puzzling epigrams, like "Most writing assignments begin with the plea, 'Fireman, fireman save my child' and end 'Where is that half-eaten chicken I believe I left in the icebox yesterday?'" And he offers provocative suggestions like "Almost any movie can be improved by throwing out the first ten minutes," and "A traditional recipe for genius: inspiration, a plan, not enough time." A lot of Mamet's opinions initially sound like a variation on Goldman's "nobody knows anything," but what he's really saying is that nobody in Hollywood trusts what they know.

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Read closer, and it's clear that Mamet isn't always talking about movies. As he weighs the great dramas that prompt us to understand ourselves against the popular dramas that appeal to our insatiable thirst for immediate gratification, Mamet begins to break down where our culture as a whole is going wrong. Yes, he can be a crank, and his understanding of "art" seems to eschew the truly contemplative in favor of the direct and plotty, but Bambi Vs. Godzilla is always entertaining and frequently spot-on. At the least, Mamet pronouncements like "The Godfather, A Place In The Sun, Dodsworth, Galaxy Quest—these are perfect films" are so startling that they earn what he considers to be the greatest praise: "What happens next?"