Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Title Page

NONFICTION : LIGHT YEARS: CONFESSIONS OF A CINEMATOGRAPHER by Tom McDonough (Grove Press: $17.95; 215 pp.).

December 20, 1987|Ernest Callenbach

"Light Years" is a stressed-out evocation of the blase world of movie-making crews. Author Tom McDonough is a cameraman himself, and nobody else has given us this much low-down ethnographic feel for the profession--though it will be no news in Hollywood that there's often more intelligence (and better conversation) behind the camera than in front of it.

The book is a "fictionalized" fabric loosely thrown together from vignettes of the crazy movie-making life; it has no particular dramatic beginning, middle, or end. The narrator, Duke, is evidently not exactly McDonough; his buddy is also more or less fictional, yet some real cinematographers also appear. But it doesn't much matter--as Duke says somewhere, this is postmodernism and meaning is arbitrary anyway.

There's enough character continuity to keep you reading happily, and plenty of food for thought for any working (or aspiring) film maker. Duke goes to India on a documentary shoot and nearly dies. He works on commercial abominations, including a Miss Piggy shoot. He hangs out with Andean peasants. Always, because he has the eye-mind of a cameraman, he can't help seeing life--painfully, a victim of uncontrollable mental overexposure.

The writing is cynically lively, and McDonough gets off many penetrating and sometimes moving comments on the craft of cinematography. Moreover, he's not just a technician; he's read Sontag and Barthes, and "Masters of Light," and a couple of thousand movies have imprinted themselves on his brain-emulsion. Bouncing around with him as he discourses on cinematographers from Billy Bitzer two generations ago to the contemporary innovator Johanna Heer will be a treat for any observant moviegoer.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|