World Film Locations : Las Vegas
Edited by Marceline Block
Bristol: Intellect, 2011
Softcover. 203 pages. ISBN: 978-1841505886. £11.50
Reviewed by Todd McGowan
University of Vermont
This book is primarily a collection of film reviews by a wide variety of reviewers commenting on films that are at least partially set in Las Vegas. There are also essays by film scholars about the role that Las Vegas has had in the history of cinema and about Las Vegas as a cultural icon. As its title suggests, the book belongs to the World Film Locations Series at Intellect Books, a series that examines various locations that are often used in cinema.
World Film Locations : Las Vegas is a coffee-table book and would be of interest to those who would like to know the precise location of scenes from different films set in Las Vegas. In fact, the book goes so far as to include maps of Las Vegas that detail where in the city various famous scenes, like the scene in Caesars Palace from Rain Man, took place and where they occurred relative to other famous scenes described by reviewers. But the collection does nothing more than this. If one is seeking a scholarly analysis of films that take place in Las Vegas or a theorization of why this city plays such an important role in American cinema, nothing of the sort is forthcoming. This is, simply put, not a scholarly book in any sense of the term.
From a scholarly perspective, the problem comes from the amount of space allotted to each contributor. The films reviews are each only a paragraph long and allow for no development of any critical ideas. By the time the reviewer arrives at an interesting point (like Oana Chivoiu’s claim about the way Martin Brest’s film Midnight Run reveals the conflation of the illegal and the legal), the review is at an end. It is difficult to find anything to praise or criticize because the reviews are so brief. The format is not one conducive to genuine thought about the cinema or about the role of place in films, despite the suggestion explicit in the book’s title.
The few longer essays, such as one on the role of Las Vegas in the American imagination by David Sterritt, are themselves only two pages in length. Though Sterritt, for example, contemplates the link between Hollywood and Las Vegas as parallel poles in the American imaginary space, the brevity of the form does not permit him to go beyond this suggestive comment that concludes the essay.
Given the sparseness of the writing in World Film Locations : Las Vegas, it is difficult to recommend it to any audience seriously concerned with the cinema and the questions that it arouses. It is not suitable for university libraries or for films courses at the university level. It would be out of place in these environments. But I can imagine a cinephile traveling to Las Vegas who might use the book as a guide for a cinematic exploration of the city. This must be, to my mind, the intended use of the volume.
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