David Mamet’s latest book takes its title from a memorable two-minute 1960’s cartoon that documents an imaginary encounter between Bambi and Godzilla with predictable results. Mamet — a major American playwright who has carved out a respectable career as a screenwriter and film director as well — clearly sees himself and like-minded artists as Bambi, mercilessly trampled by a monstrous studio system that cares only for money.
Mamet’s book is a curious combination of anti-Hollywood screed and guide for wouldbe film auteurs. The screed is the lesser, and less successful, part of the book. Mamet’s complaints are neither new nor remarkable, and readers looking for inside Hollywood dish should look elsewhere. Mamet prefers the general to the specific, and he names few, if any, names. He barks at the hand that feeds him but stops short of biting it.
Fortunately, most of the book is given over to an extended discussion of the principles of dramatic structure, studded with numerous fascinating tricks of the filmmaker’s trade. The prose is rough sledding at times, and Mamet himself rambles more than any good screenplay should, but the master class Mamet conducts in these chapters is well worth the price of the book.