Do you love going to the movies? Do you enjoy watching ‘Behind the Scenes’ clips and documentaries? Do you like a good novel? If you can answer any of these questions with yes, you should at least consider putting Tom Hanks’ debut novel, The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece, on your to-read pile. If you can answer all of them with yes, you should probably go and read it right now. (But finish this review first.)
So, Tom Hanks, one of the most prolific people working in Hollywood today, has written a novel. And, staying true to the time-honored ethos of ‘Write What You Know’, the veteran actor and filmmaker has decided to write about filmmaking. The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece tells the story of how one single movie is made from its earliest inception to the public release of the final product. In fact, it even sketches the origin of the source material, decades before someone picks it up and turns it into a screenplay. The Making of is thus a novel about film production, a ‘Behind the Scenes’-turned-literary-fiction. Needless to say, you could hardly find a better field guide for such an enterprise than Hanks, but it deserves stressing nonetheless just how well-informed – and informing – a read this makes. If I thought I knew a fair bit about filmmaking before reading The Making of, I realize now that I was unjustly flattering myself. Hanks’ novel is, in a sense, almost as much an encyclopedia of filmmaking as it is a thrilling and well-paced page-turner. In fact, Hanks does not shy away from using footnotes to explain, for instance, some of the technical terms used in the main story: “short track: A few feet of railroad-like track that allow the pushing or pulling of the camera, adding a dynamic motion for the shot.”
But The Making of is a lot more. It is a humane, moving story of people from very different backgrounds that chance has thrown together on a film set. The novel’s microcosm is populated by a whole host of characters – all of which, miraculously, Hanks manages to make the reader care about in some way. It would have been all too easy, certainly, to fall into the trap of stereotyping here: the celebrated, vain auteur-director; the pampered diva; the handsome male lead with a drinking problem. You get the picture. But Hanks, for the most part, elegantly avoids such easy ascriptions, and instead crafts well-rounded characters that truly come alive on the page. Characters that are by no means flawless, or even in every instance likeable. But characters whose individual stories are fascinating enough to solicit human interest and grounded in reality enough to seem utterly plausible.
The Making of contains a variety of stories and voices, and it presents them in a variety of ways, ranging from straightforward to more unusual. Not only do the narrators change repeatedly over the course of the novel, but Hanks also experiments with different modes and styles, and indeed media. There are comic strips. There are instant messages. There are passages of monologue in direct speech, resembling interview transcripts. There are excerpts from the film’s screenplay. Indeed, a QR code allows the reader to download the entire screenplay for the “major motion picture masterpiece.” (And lucky this is, because the novel teases just enough of the film that one really wants to know what it is all about.) In short, The Making of is a surprisingly experimental assemblage, at times almost postmodern in its playfulness. Adding to this the different timelines that Hanks juggles (from World War II to today), one cannot help but wonder how he managed to put it all together into such a readable and compact novel.
Toward the end of the novel, one of the main characters says, “If your world is expanded by going to the movies – if you’re one of us who need films to make our lives wider, more complete – a great film has the same transformative power as hearing soul-filling music or being spellbound by, say, great oratory like a sermon.” Surely, many readers will relate to the sentiment – and might add quietly that the same holds true for great books. With The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece, Tom Hanks has successfully welded together the spellbinding nature of great storytelling with the enduring magnetism of cinema and filmmaking. The result, if not the inflationary major masterpiece, is a thoroughly enjoyable summer read whose only flaw is that, inevitably, the credits roll at some point.
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