Sunday, 12 December 2010

Hammer Films: The Unsung Heroes

The volume of publications in recent years on Hammer films is such that you might well wonder whether any more are needed.

Wayne Kinsey has, however, established himself as one of the most talented writers in this crowded field, first with his long-running House that Hammer Built fanzine and latterly Bray and Elstree Studio Years volumes (also published by studio specialists Tomahawk).

As the structuring principle of these indicate, Kinsey’s main strength lies not so much in discussing what is on screen – though this is not to say that he is in any way inadequate as a critic/reviewer – as in looking behind the scenes, at the ins-and-outs of the productions.

This is an approach he has continued here, as he concentrates not upon the films and their main casts, but upon those behind the camera, ranging from the more likes of directors, screenwriters and cinematographers all the way down to the likes of carpenters and props buyers; some appearing on screen, including recurring stuntmen and extras are also profiled.

A number of those featured are not exactly unsung. Indeed, this is attested to by the likes of Kinsey’s conversational-style profile of director Terence Fisher (1904-1980), with its plentiful use of quotations from interviews from the 1960s and 1970s.

Nevertheless, if figures like director Freddie Francis, writer/director Jimmy Sangster, composer James Bernard, and make-up man Roy Ashton (himself subject of another volume from Tomahawk, Greasepaint and Gore) and the information on them, are comparatively familiar to fans of the studio, it is still good for this to all be compiled in one place and placed within a wider context.

Most of those profiled across the span of the book’s near 500 pages are, however, very much unsung. To give a few names at random: Production manager John ‘Pinky’ Green? Art director Ted Marshall? Renee Glynn, responsible for continuity? Effects man Sydney Pearson? Being honest, the only one I could place prior to reading was Glynn.

If you like Hammer – or, indeed, are interested in British cinema from the 1950s to 1970s – you need this book, which not only tells you who did what at Hammer but paints a vivid picture of this time and place in filmmaking more generally.

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