Tuesday, 16 June 2015
AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'STARS AND WARS: THE FILM MEMOIRS AND PHOTOGRAPHS OF ALAN TOMKINS'
We've all got photo albums packed with memories to treasure, but surly none could be as exciting, exotic and world travelled, nor as memorably diverse, as those held in the collection of top British Art Director Alan Tomkins, his pre-retirement working CV a veritable goldmine of some of the most iconic and successful blockbusters ever made, across all types of genres over the last fifty years. His new book from THE HISTORY PRESS, Stars and Wars, is a lovely assemblage of those rare on-set photos and Polaroids he'd take over the years, coming alive alongside his unique behind the scenes memories revealing his major, often understated, contributions to the films that we never tire of watching, blessed with a rare talent that would go on to impress and wow legendary filmmakers like Oliver Stone (who, despite his seemingly gruff exterior in the media, gives a genuinely warm-hearted and pleasing introduction to this book), the ultimate Kid-ult that is Steven Spielberg, and the late, great John Huston.
This warm-hearted trip down memory lane includes so many great movie adventures and so many practical challenges for the rising star of the UK Art Department world to overcome and make his mark on- from getting his big break as a junior at the original ABPC Elstree Studios in London then making his way up through hard work, lots of luck and assembling a very strong list of contacts and friends that would prove invaluable in the years to come, primarily launched via the experiences of David Lean's spirited desert adventure Lawrence of Arabia. War movies would become a particular speciality of Tomkins, showing his expertise and love of aviation, from Guy Hamilton's epic sky drama Battle of Britain, to the epic Richard Attenborough helmed, star-packed A Bridge Too Far, Harrison Ford's shaky visit to Hanover Street, and the incredible exploits of those brave young pilots flying the flak explosions in their beloved Memphis Belle, followed by the genuine "war is hell" visceral and gritty qualities of Spielberg and Tom Hank's Saving Private Ryan. An altogether different type of war would encapsulate Tomkins imagination and attention to detail by 1979, that of the George Lucas fantasy variety. No stranger to blockbusters, what with numerous larger-than-life James Bond films under his belt, Tomkins would head out to the harsh climes of Finse, Norway to help bring The Empire Strikes Back's trench warfare of the Rebel soldiers of Hoth against the Imperial AT-AT Walker juggernauts to exciting life, working and often stuck in a genuinely hostile and danger-packed location but emerging to savour an experience that proved ultimately rewarding, and a sequence that has become much beloved by worldwide STAR WARS fans who'll certainly enjoy the intriguing section that Tomkins provides in this book, alongside some great snowbound imagery.
STAR WARS may be the main focus of the cover and of primary interest to readers of this blog, but the Classic Trilogy saga occupies but a small section of Tomkins invaluable collection of England and Hollywood-related memories and nostalgia, of which this tome contains sections both brief and detailed on all manner of other films large and small, some known, some not, but all pivotal landmarks or turning points in his growing career. Highlights include working with the genuinely one-of-a-kind charisma/whirlwind Stanley Kubrick -both heaven and hell for anyone working behind the scenes with him on what would become the benchmark science fiction wonder 2001: A Space Odyssey, landing back on planet Earth for a memorable stint on the seventies Paul Newman thriller, The Mackintosh Man (in which he famously got to direct the lead man and found the experience a joy), the live-action version of 101 Dalmatians (the challenges of creating sets occupied by so many gorgeous puppies), a demanding trilogy of Oliver Stone movies (from the stunning and authoritative JFK, to the psychedelic murder and mayhem of Natural Born Killers), then to the dark modern fusing of comic book and gritty urban thriller that would be the first Batman Begins from England's new "wunderkid", Christopher Nolan, helping to bring the Dark Knight's incredible war arsenal, the Batmobile, to such barnstorming creation. Tomkins ends his journey with the first of the Daniel Craig era James Bonds- the franchise reinvigorating Casino Royale, being one of the main contributors to its key finale sequence, where a Venice building sinks into the water as Bond fights his nemeses. As the book comes to close, Tomkins extensive filmography reveals other intriguing films that I wish he could have shed some light on, like Lewis Gilbert's sadly cancelled Terry & the Pirates, the Tobe Hooper UK horror Lifeforce, or Michael Mann's feature film debut, The Keep. Perhaps his contributions to those intriguing cult classics will come to light one day via an alternate route...
Bolstered by rare stills imagery and striking movie posters, plus other biographical details, and packaged in a nice, easy to read style highlighting Tomkin's generosity and amiable personality, Stars and Wars is another fine slice of publication magic for THE HISTORY PRESS. Don't expect too much in the way of anecdotes about working with the film stars, though. Instead, see how the incredible films they're a collective part of actually got made- through hard persistent work, long hours, spirited enthusiasm, and often genuine inspiration.
AFICIONADO RATING: 3.5 out of 5
Get hold of Stars and Wars here: Stars and Wars | 9780750956178
With thanks to THE HISTORY PRESS
Previous AFICIONADO blogs on Alan Tomkins: STAR WARS AFICIONADO WEBSITE: ALAN TOMKINS