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Behind the Scenes

Let's watch, let us pray, and let's party.

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Early in his film career, he designed the sets for Around the World in Eighty Days (1955). Late in his film career, he designed the sets for The Madness of King George (1994). But it was in mid-career that Ken Adam rose high above the ranks of production designers when Stanley Kubrick called on him for Dr. Strangelove and Barry Lyndon. (Adam's influential sets for Dr. No, Goldfinger, and Thunderball weren't exactly small potatoes, but they didn't cause Adam, as Kubrick's projects did, to have a nervous breakdown.)

This and more info on the art of production design comes to you courtesy of an outstanding series of interviews with Ken Adam conducted by Christopher Frayling of the Royal College of Art in London. The book is Ken Adam (Faber and Faber), and in it, Frayling comes across as absolutely on top of the subject in question. That subject comes across as one of the most self-effacing master craftsmen who ever worked in film. No wonder he seems to have worked for or partied with everybody in the industry.

You're interested in filmmaking, the tricks of the trade? Meet a man, Ken Adam, very much behind the scenes.

Or you're curious about what's on the minds of the men preparing for today's priesthood? And no, it's not scandal-ridden. It's The Collar (Houghton Mifflin) by Jonathan Englert.

The author had uncommon access to a group of men attending Milwaukee's Sacred Heart Seminary, a school that trains young men but actively invites vocations other seminaries might have questioned: men in middle age who are widowed; men who have retired from well-paying jobs; men of various backgrounds who sincerely believe they've arrived at their one, true calling: the Catholic priesthood.

Some of them make it to ordination; some of them do not. Some are hoping to serve a parish; some are hoping to save the Church. All have to tackle the difficulties of doctrine, celibacy, classwork, the communal life, the hierarchy, and doubt. If you think their doubts aren't your own, you would be wrong.

Englert is a sensitive eye-witness. His book is a needed eye-opener.

You've seen Capote the movie, now see Capote in full swing in Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and His Black and White Ball (Wiley) by Deborah Davis.

Davis was the author behind the excellent Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X, and here she is again, behind the scenes describing what led to, happened during, and took place after the masquerade ball Truman Capote threw for a few hundred well-heeled friends at the Plaza Hotel in New York in 1966. The guest of honor was a shy Katherine Graham, and the guest list included everybody Capote thought was anybody. But the center of attention was Capote himself, who'd just made megabucks on In Cold Blood. Killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock couldn't attend. They were dead. But let's party.

Let's see: Some (say, society columnist Suzy Knickerbocker) called the Black and White Ball a hit; others (say, actress Candice Bergen) called it a dud. And maybe it was. Or maybe it wasn't. What the murdered Clutter family of Kansas would have made of it: a shame to even think.

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