Review on Jonathan Rigby's Book
Attempting to document and describe the film career of Christopher Lee is not only a mammoth undertaking, but as Lee's career can be seen to reflect just about every type of role in the post-war film industry, also an ambitious one. The sheer number of films-- well over 250-- is alone a daunting proposition faced by the historian. The greatest pitfall awaiting any author when approaching this voluminous output of celluloid is the temptation to take a glorified "grocery list" approach. Although a list approach can provide a good indication of the length and sheer volume of Lee's film career, it gives very little indication of the breadth or quality of roles that he has undertaken in these past 54 years. A list also fails to demonstrate any sort of contextual background within which the film student, or interested fan, can judge the reasoning behind particular film choices. In short, a list is merely…a list.
Fortunately, what we have in Christopher Lee: The Authorised Screen History is something considerably more appealing and satisfying. In fact, it is, just as the title proclaims, a 'history', although it provides much more than simply 'screen history'. By drawing heavily on Lee's own autobiographical work, contemporary interviews, fan club bulletins, presskits, books, newspaper articles as well as recent discussions with Mr. Lee, the author has put together the most all-encompassing and up-to-the-minute overview of Lee's life and career to date. Gathering together, as it does, not only a summary of Lee's work but also all the familiar anecdotes, in one volume, it is, for the newly minted fan or casually interested reader, an invaluable guide. Don't expect to find in-depth analysis of the various films, or endless pages of credits and story synopses, as it just isn't that type of book. Instead, what you will find is that Rigby has charted and carefully documented not just the fruit of Lee's labor, but the life that provides the framework within which that career began, blossomed and continues to this very day.
The book very closely follows the format established by Reynolds and Hearn with their Peter Cushing published last year. It begins with a short biographical
piece on Lee's pre-screen activities and carries on to discuss all of his work in a straightforward chronological manner, with an eye on personal developments all along the way. Considering the uneven quality of some of Lee's films, Rigby makes the interesting decision to give very nearly as much emphasis to the lesser-known, and in some cases poor films, as he does to the commonly available and successful films. The result is a rather well balanced book that doesn't indicate preferences through over-attention to any particular film or period, but leaves the relevance to be found in the commentary itself. This approach is particularly rewarding to those interested in Lee's early television work or some of his lesser-known and consequently poorly documented European films. This aspect of the book is what makes it of value to the already well-informed reader. Happily, as much as fans adore the Hammer Films and The Man with the Golden Gun, they do not overshadow Mr. Lee's other cinema contributions in this book.
The book itself is broken into 10 distinct time periods with roughly 20 pages being accorded to each. As Lee’s star rose, and his workload became more densely populated, the time periods represented by each section decrease dramatically. Some of the most interesting material can be found in the pre-1956 and post-1975 sections of the book, as neither of these periods has been effectively documented elsewhere. The writing style is engaging throughout, and presents the material in a relatively objective and clear manner, once again emphasizing the ‘historical’ rather than ‘analytical’ nature of the book. Most of the subjective elements are generally Mr. Lee’s own comments; these are, at times, very revealing and do add a distinctly personal touch. The book has a stunning, full-color cover and features over 180 black and white photos to supplement the text. There is very nearly a picture on every page with each chapter being punctuated by a full-page image that typifies the particular period being covered. Although some of the images have been previously published, there are a wealth of new and rare shots that have never before seen print. These photos, many from Christopher Lee’s private collection, will please even the most jaded collector and very nearly justify purchasing the book all on their own. As with the text, the material from lesser-seen films is the most rewarding, giving a glimpse to the reader, of Lee in character, from films that many fans will likely never see.
This wealth of fascinating material is preceded by a rare foreword provided by acclaimed director GeorgeLucas. This foreword is a remarkable tribute to Mr. Lee and also marks the first 'official' confirmation of his character's name in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode II. It stands as a great reminder of the sort of influence Mr. Lee's career has had on the new generation of filmmakers.
While Christopher Lee: The Authorised Screen History in no way supplants or diminishes the value of Lee's own autobiographical work Tall, Dark and Gruesome or the excellent The Films of Christopher Lee by Robert W. Pohle Jr. and Douglas C. Hart. It does however, provide an up-to-date combination of the best elements of those two books. In that regard, Christopher Lee: The Authorised Screen History successfully achieves what it aims to be, a 'history' of the life and career of one of cinema's most prolific and well-respected actors working today. Jonathan Rigby has created a worthy and recommended addition for any reader's bookshelf!