I. Making Movies  by Sidney Lumet – ★★★★
This book on movie-making is by American director Sidney Lumet (1924 – 2011) who was probably best known for directing a number of “legal” films including 12 Angry Men , Murder on the Orient Express  and The Verdict . It provides a deep insight into the “magical” process of making movies, from deciding whether to do a movie (Lumet almost always decided “instinctively”) to the final editing process and running previews. Lumet was a “trier” and a “doer”. He tells us in his book that he did not believe in waiting around for opportunities and liked to create his own luck. His eagerness to create chances reflected the sheer variety of films he directed. Cinematic success is hard to pin down, he states. That is also his first lesson to us: “nobody knows what that magic combination is that produces a first-rate piece of work” [Vintage, 1995: 9]. Even a great script or a great star-actor does not guarantee success.
Referencing many of his films and his work with such actors as Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and Al Pacino, Lumet divulges to us many “truths” about the film-making process. For example, he states that “the script must…keep you off balance, keep you surprised, entertained, involved, and, yet, when the denouement is reached, still give you the sense that the story had to turn out that way” [1995: 31], that “all good work requires self-revelation” [1995: 59], and that “there are no small decisions in moviemaking” [1995: 165]. Perhaps some of the nitty-gritty of the movie- making is not as interesting to read (there are pages on the impact of certain camera angles and the importance of tempo in editing), but other insight offered certainly makes up for any dullish bits. For example, it was particularly interesting for me to learn that the Murder on the Orient Express production hired the best ever sound technician to create real steam locomotive sounds for the scene of the departing train. That technician’s work was brilliant and he worked four weeks on some incredible train sounds. Unfortunately, that work also proved fruitless: after Lumet had heard the final version of Richard Rodney Bennett’s score, he chose the music over the sound and what we now hear when the train in the film departs Istanbul is the wonderful music instead (both do not combine).
The result? After finishing this book I now would love to watch Lumet’s film Death Trap , based on a play by Ira Levin (who also incidentally borrowed the first part from a book by Boileau-Narcejac) with always brilliant Michael Cane and Christopher Reeve (see memoir Still Me), and his movie Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead  with Albert Finney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Making Movies is a “relaxed”, almost conversational book packed with lots of little “truths” about the film-making process: some fun, some painful and some more interesting than others, but all delivered with such passion that only a director who truly loved his work and was dedicated to it as an art form could have done.
II. Gomorrah [2006/2007] by Roberto Saviano – ★★★★
Roberto Saviano wrote in his book: “I believe that the way to truly understand, to get to the bottom of things, is to smell the hot breath of reality, to touch the nitty-gritty” [Saviano/Jewiss, 2006/2007: 70]. He remained true to his words which also say a lot about his method. Gomorrah is a brutally honest account of one south Italian mafia that, since its inception in the very early 1980s, killed more people than “the Sicilian mafia…the ‘Ndrangheta …the Russian mafia…or the IRA” [Saviano/Jewiss, 2006/2007: 120]. The author dives deep into the heart of this mafia’s operations and the information gained by Saviano to write this book often came through extreme personal risk to himself since he worked in Gomorrah-controlled factories and witnessed horrific deaths when he was just a youngster. So he talks about the Secondigliano Alliance, the psychology of this criminal syndicate and the extent of its violence, touching on such topics as revenge wars, drug trafficking, the position of women and ecological crimes.
In the 2017 interview, Saviano said: “everything [criminal activity] today is not hidden, it is simply not observed, that’s the paradox”. This sounds particularly true when it comes to international trade. It was fascinating to read about the strong links existing between the Gomorrah-controlled fashion industry and the legal commerce operating worldwide. Saviano emphasises just how dependent the legal economy really is on the illicit: “the huge international clothing market….is fed by the System; the clans “produce garments and accessories identical to those of the principal Italian fashion houses”; “the Secondigliano clans have acquired entire retail chains, thus spreading their commercial network across the globe and dominating the international clothing market” [Saviano/Jewiss, 2006/2007: 38-39]. One example of this influence is the white tuxedo-style suit that Angelina Jolie wore at the Academy Awards in 2001. That suit was made by Pasquale, a tailor then working day and night for the Gomorrah in one sweatshop in Arzano and labouring on a very meagre salary. Saviano’s book is replete with the most eye-opening information on the operation of one almost unassuming, but very far-reaching mafia.
III. Pure Invention: How Japan’s Pop Culture Conquered the World  by Matt Alt – ★★★
This non-fiction traces the history of Japanese inventions conquering the world, starting with Kosuge’s toys and Tezuka’s creation of Mighty Atom (1959), and continuing to the rise in the otaku culture, to such global sensations as tamagotchi and Pokemon, and to the birth of Internet platforms. Though the book clearly purports to explain why some Japanese products took the world by storm, providing concrete examples, it also rambles, contains too many sweeping generalisations, restlessly jumps back and forth in time and from topic to topic, often in the same chapter, and confuses the cause and effect of this or that global phenomenon. For example, there is this statement in the book: “Idols rule because mainstream Japanese pop is the product of a database that emphasises pleasure and escape over virtuosity and artisanship” [Crown Publications, 2020: 191]. Well, in reality, there is a very complex psychology behind the phenomenon of aidoru (idol) in Japan and it certainly cannot be reduced to mere preference for pleasure and escape over quality, and even all the intricacies of Japanese pop do not paint the full picture.
Alt also starts every other chapter with some story from an anime or a creator’s biography, which simply annoys, for example: “Shigeru Miyamoto was naked when the idea hit him. This was only natural, because he was sitting in a bathtub…” [2020: 124]. Yes. We get it. Pure Invention is “Jack of all trades, master of none”-type of a book, touching on a variety of different topics concerning popular Japanese creations, but without going into any depth and thus resulting in non-fiction that is surprisingly uninspiring and unsubstantial.