The concept behind this book is simple: people involved in a range of iconic films sit down with an interviewer (Mark Cousins, former director of the Edinburgh film festival) to reminisce over a key scene drawn from. First featured as a series for the BBC, Scene by Scene is a light-hearted feast of film trivia and demystification which allows us a rare glimpse behind the scenes of some classic films.
Surprisingly, it’s actors, not directors, who give us the best sound bites or insights. Janet Leigh shows an unwavering enthusiasm and clarity of thought while discussing three of her films: Psycho (1960), Touch of Evil (1958) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). She recalls Hitchcock as "a brilliant showman". By comparison, Lauren Bacall comes across as somewhat cold and intimidating, despite her obvious charm. She guides us through the famous ‘you know how to whistle’ scene in To Have and To Have Not (1944), and comes up with some fascinating anecdotes. Apparently she never really had much time for Marlene Dietrich, who had a ‘gigantic ego’ (we all knew that, but for some reason it’s nice to hear it from her). ‘I think Dietrich was a great movie personality’, she says archly.
Terence Stamp provides another highlight in the collection, especially when talking about Pasolini (‘he was writing poetry with his camera’) or reminiscing about his drag-queen character in The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert (1994). Stamp comes across as every inch the epitome of sixties cool, and he seems to have aged gracefully and elegantly. Another sixties icon, Sean Connery, is surprisingly articulate and refreshingly detached from his own myth. While watching scenes from Dr. No (1962), he finds time to dispense some criticism to today’s Bond series: ‘It’s too politically correct, not quite dirty enough, not quite rough enough.’
Roman Polanski again impresses with his intellect and articulacy. When analysing the dream sequence in Rosemary’s Baby (1968), we learn that he was the first film director to imagine dreams as being silent. ‘I think we more or less dream the same way. What is typical in dreams is this fluidity.’ Bernardo Bertolucci discusses the Nosferatu scene in Partner (1968), and talks about Last Tango in Paris (1972) in another chapter of the book. He remembers how the sixties reinstated a lightness to filmmaking that had been lost in the staid, baroque excesses of the 50s – a lesson that might not go amiss in today’s cinema. ‘All I want to do is to make movies which really pass in front of the eyes like two butterflies flying, kissing each other,’ says Bertolucci.
The ever-adorable Jack Lemmon meanwhile takes us back to the set of Some Like It Hot (1959). He remembers how his mother could not stop laughing when she first saw him in drag, and of Marilyn Monroe he says: ‘You’d go to the rushes and you wouldn’t look at yourself, you’d look at her because it seemed like nothing was happening, but it was happening between her and the lens, not between her and you.’
Many other icons of cinema are here as well: Scorsese, Lynch, De Palma and Dennis Hopper, to name but a few. Due to the variety of people involved and the varying degrees of artistry in the films discussed, Scene by Scene is a little patchy and Cousins’ overbearing ego sometimes gets in the way of his subjects. But it’s hard to resist such a bumper selection of photographs with an appealing layout that will keep any film buff happy over a long, relaxing coffee on a Saturday morning.