01/10/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: The ASC Press (aka American Society Of Cinematographics). 245 page illustrated indexed large hardback. Price: see below. ISBN: 0-935578-06-4).
I should point out that the reason I'm reviewing L.B. Abbott's 1984 released book, 'Special Effects - Wire, Tape And Rubber Band Style', has nothing to do with it being released or an urge to get you to run off and buy a copy. That's not to say the book isn't of interest but it would be regarded as being particularly specialist in its nature.
As book readers, we all have holy grail books that we would like to read, let alone own, before we die. You know the feeling. The desire to know the content draws you irresistibly towards wanting to get a copy without having the opportunity to knowing what it contains. Consequently, it's an itch that with the Net can also be fulfilled at a price.
I came across a reference to this book while looking up L.B. Abbott, the man behind the special effects on Irwin Allen's films and SF TV series. What put me off buying it was the very high price many used book sellers put on it. There's many reasons for this. A book could be in big demand, not many copies available or even an over-estimate of a book's worth - the latter can be determined by variable pricing - let alone everyone copying the other. In fact, I took advantage of this and found a cheap copy and nearly £40 (including postage) from America seemed a good way to go compared to up to £250 from other sources. In that respect, I'm glad I saved my pennies, waited and jumped when I spotted a copy at a reasonable price that I thought I would regret if I didn't go after.
With the Internet these days, dealers are aware of the price of rare books and if they see a high price, decide that's the selling price and many fall into line and have a comparable price, forgetting that as a buyer's market people might not buy at high prices. It is only the rare book dealer that I come across occasionally who will offer a more reasonable price. Still expensive but at least not extortionate. Lesson for all the other book dealers: If you don't want dead stock, a reasonable price will get a sale and the rarer books will inevitably go back into circulation some time or other.
In this case, I doubt if the ASC will do a reprint and in many respects this is a rare book. However, are there that many people who would be interested in this book bearing in mind it's about early film special effects? Logic says the price I actually paid is nearer the mark than five times that value.
Sermon over, let's look at this book.
L.B. Abbott rose through the ranks of 20th Century Fox from cameraman to special effects cameraman and head of department to same. As such, he was significantly involved in many of Fox's films and resolving effects problems on many films. This book is an autobiography of his life and his work on eleven films, of which six of these are in our genre. As an ASC book, Abbott gives a lot of technical detail as to how he filmed his work and in today's CGI age is less likely to happen today. If you want to know how the effects were done on 'Journey To The Centre Of The Earth', 'The Lost World', 'Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea', 'Fantastic Voyage', 'Doctor Dolittle' and 'Logan's Run' under one cover then this is a great choice. In case you're curious, the films outside of our genre are 'Cleopatra', 'The Boston Strangler', 'Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid', 'Tora! Tora! Tora!', 'The Poseidon Adventure' and 'The Towering Inferno'. If you're expecting to see information from Irwin Allen's TV SF series, there is only one small photo of the Seaview letting the Flying Sub out and a reference to 'The Time Tunnel' then this book might not be for you.
There is a plethora of photos, both in black and white and colour, showing behind the scenes and end result and crew pictures and in a large book such as this, are truly given justice. Bear in mind the age of the book that they might not be as pristine or as good quality as we expect of books today but there isn't any other source for them.
Abbott also explains the reasons behind the decisions. A good example comes from the enormous chapter on 'Logan's Run' and producer Saul David's desire to use real lasers so it would look ultra-modern. From the information given, I think it was the use of real holograms for the first time (if memory serves as I can't recall any film before doing so) that achieved that particular aim. As such, Abbott doesn't skimp on giving credits to the various contributors on his team. The most significant lesson is just how involved the cameraman is in bringing all of it together and sorting the various problems out. You can certainly understand how Abbott got so many academy awards. His filmography is enormous in itself.
If you are intent on making films sans CGI effects, Abbott's notes on lenses, model scales and such would certainly be still useful. If you like books on special effects, especially on the older films, then this deserves to be in you collection. The only wish is why was there only one printing when effects books sell so well. If you've heard of this book and wondering if you should go after it or not, I hope the information here will allow you to evaluate as to whether you should pay over the odds for it. Me? I hope it gets a reprint some day and a realisation that the 1960s-70s, isn't that long ago for the upcoming generations.
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