"The Cutting Room"
(reviewed by Mary Whipple FEB 22, 2004)
"By fitting films together, searching for lost pieces, unearthing treasures, was I-were all trivial people-trying to repaint a picture that was missing something crucial? Was it [reflected in the person of Jeanine] standing in the doorway before me now?"
Roy Milano describes himself as one of the "trivial people," those aficionados of movie trivia for whom learning obscure facts about every film, actor, or actress becomes not only a hobby but a whole way of life. Newly divorced and living in an untidy apartment, he is the thirty-five-year-old writer of a newsletter, Trivial Man. From the opening scene, in which someone sticks a gun to his head and says, portentously, "Don't even breathe, baby," every aspect of his life resembles a film. A colorful crew of movie buffs, ex-actors, producers, and aides forms a wacky and sometimes bizarre cast of characters and provides Hollywood atmosphere and a sense of Hollywood "reality." Full of film trivia, the novel itself feels as much like the outline of a film as a novel, and no reader will be able to resist the temptation to "cast" a film version of the book, which offers many opportunities for cameo roles.
Opening his story with "the call that changed [his] life," Milano describes being summoned by a rival, Alan Gilbert, an arrogant, drug-taking film buff whose half-hour program, "My Movies," appears on public access TV. Gilbert, unable to keep his good news about a discovery to himself, gloats to Milano on the phone that he "has something big," and invites him to his grungy apartment to see it. Upon arrival, Milano finds the door open and Gilbert sitting in his favorite chair with a steak knife in his heart, "killed for Orson Welles." Somehow Gilbert has managed to acquire the missing footage from the original version of Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons, a find that will stun the "trivial people," movie fans, and serious academic film historians alike. Unfortunately, the film is now just as gone as Gilbert, and Milano finds himself fielding questions from the local police.
Moving at breakneck speed, the story of Milano's search for the missing footage and the unknown killers moves from New York to Los Angeles and then on to Barcelona, Los Angeles, Boston, and back to New York. Along the way Milano meets a motley assortment of film-connected characters: a murderous body-builder, a man of a thousand voices, a kleptomaniac producer's assistant, a second-rate producer who plans to remake two of Orson Welles first-rate classics, his hermaphroditic wife, the Spanish soccer team, drug dealers, a previously unknown heir of Orson Welles, a Boston politician running for re-election, a film professor from Wellesley College, and a photographer who makes "art photos" of operating rooms, post-surgery.
Murder piles upon murder, and mayhem upon mayhem, keeping the reader constantly on his/her toes trying to keep track of all the characters, their relationships with each other, and their connections to The Magnificent Ambersons and the murder of Alan Gilbert. Throughout the novel, the author, not surprisingly, includes a great deal of movie trivia, which adds some unique subplots to this mystery.
Clever dialogue serves to move the warp-speed action forward, rather than reveal character-there is simply no time for much character development. We see Milano as a "good kid," someone who is clumsy in his personal relationships, due, in part, to his time-consuming obsession with films, and someone whose sense of fair play and honesty make him as much of a hero as one can expect in a fast-paced novel of this type. His clumsiness allows him to be duped, betrayed, and set up for fall after fall, but we never see him engaging in deep thought or using his "little gray cells," as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot does. Milano's style is bold and purely physical.
Klavan's background is in theatre, which shows in his reliance on visual effects to provide both the drama and the humor, rather than on cleverness with words or ability to describe or evoke atmosphere. The author provides very little in the way of description-usually a sentence or two about each of the many characters so that the reader will have some idea of who is who-and he depends upon the reader's ability to use his/her own imagination to visualize the action and fill in the narrative blanks. Once s/he applies his/her own imagination to the story, however, the reader quickly sees the absurdity and irony of situations and their considerable humor, while the author gallops off in new directions and Milano faces a new set of crises, including romantic ones.
With the underbelly of the film industry as its setting, its lightning fast action, plenty of knock-down-dragouts, numerous characters meeting mysterious ends, and twists and turns galore, this could be a very funny feature film providing something for everyone. The reader of the novel, however, will be somewhat more challenged to keep track of the characters and the plot details as Milano travels the world seeking the missing footage from The Magnificent Ambersons and trying to stay alive.
- Amazon readers rating: from 9 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Cutting Room at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
Written as Margaret Tracy:
- Mrs. White (1983)
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- Official Website for Laurence Klavan
- Plays written by Laurence Klavan
- Orson Well's The Magnificent Ambersons
- Village Voice on The Magnificent Ambersons
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About the Author:
Laurence Klavan won the Edgar Award for Best Original Paperback for Mrs. White, written under a pseudonym. His work for the theater includes the libretto for the Obie Award-winning musical Bed and Sofa, for which he received a Drama Desk nomination. He lives in New York City.