The title of Norman Jewison’s informative and entertaining autobiographical story of his distinguished career, “This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me,” tells us a lot. Yes, it is a terrible business. But Jewison has contributed mightily to its artistic side and has also extracted the pleasure that comes from doing what he loves. His new book covers the scene in a felicitous way that can also bring a reader pleasure. (Thomas Dunn Books, St. Martin’s Press, $25.95)
Think of the variety of important films that Jewison has directed, some of which include “The Cincinnati Kid,” “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!” “In the Heat of the Night,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Gaily, Gaily,” ”Fiddler on the Roof,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Rollerball,” “A Soldier’s Story,” “Agnes of God,” “Moonstruck,” “F.I.S.T,” “…And Justice for All,” “Best Friends,” “The Hurricane,” “The Statement”—and he’s still at it.
The book is filled with anecdotes about his experiences in making his films, the stars and others with whom he has worked and accounts that shed light on the intricacies of the filmmaking process, including, for example, what’s involved with financing, casting and working with actors. It is a veritable treasure trove of information.
Jewison’s films have received many honors, including Oscar nominations and Oscar awards. A Canadian, he also took the important step of enlisting support to found the Canadian Film Centre, where aspiring filmmakers can study and where notables of the film world come to teach. Many who studied at the Centre have gone on to build careers. One of the annual highlights timed to the Toronto International Film Festival is the Centre’s annual barbeque on its generous grounds, an opportunity for people at the Festival to meet old friends in and out of the business. I’ve been there nearly every year and it is great fun.
What comes through strongly in the autobiography--and in many of his films--is that Jewison is a socially committed person with heart and conscience who takes pride in choosing subjects that offer the occasion to say something worthwhile about the human condition.
His personality and code of ethics are evident in the narrative, as is his sense of humor. There is also welcome modesty in his recounting of his origins and the persistence it took to work his way into the film world and climb the success ladder while adhering to his principles. Not an easy task.
“This Terrible Business Has Been Good to Me,” written in a serious but breezy style, is a worthwhile and interesting read and one can learn a great deal abut filmmaking while enjoying what Jewison has to say based on his years of experience and love for what he does.