Bambi vs Godzilla by David Mamet Simon & Schuster, HK$144 Reading Bambi vs Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business is like eavesdropping on a tough Hollywood visionary in the sexually segregated Turkish baths Saul Bellow celebrated as one of the last playgrounds of primeval man. Here, the old values reign. 'A relationship of 20 years,' playwright, screenwriter, director and author David Mamet laments, grieving for the long-term colleague who, after forming a coalition with 'the Eurotrash money folk', no longer takes his calls. In this anthology of essays - brilliant, musical - Mamet shucks himself of anger to emerge as something altogether more graceful: a screenwriting sage. Now 60, Mamet, one of the most celebrated dramatists, teaches at the Yale School of Drama and New York University and lectures at the Atlantic Theatre Company, of which he is a founding member. His prose here is significantly less angular than the dialogue that won him, among other prizes, the 1984 Pulitzer, and his tone is jovial. Ever sweet on individualism, modesty and effort, Mamet praises Hollywood's 'workers' throughout Bambi vs Godzilla. He hurls thunderbolts, but always from Mount Olympus. He reviles the near-exclusive commercial emphasis of the big studios, whose executives 'bet their all upon the big-tent franchise film, which is to say, upon appeal to a self-selected, pre-existing audience'. The paradox? These 'big-tent' films reflect the aspirations of the very 'workers' he admires, almost all of whom will champion James Cameron over Preston Sturges. The fact is, while Mamet can own the diction and directness of a dock worker, he is also the son of a lawyer and enjoys wearing a beret. Bad behaviour drives him crazy. On set, he writes of having seen 'theft, fraud, intimidation, malversation, and seen it with such regularity that its absence provokes not comment but wonder'. He recalls a movie star who, as a jape, danced on the roof of the prop master's new car in a pair of combat boots. 'This is not a picayune instance but in my experience, the industry norm. While the star is late coming out of the trailer, while the producer is screaming obscenities on the cellphone to his assistant regarding, most likely, a botched lunch reservation, the folks on the set are doing their utmost to make a perfect movie.' It is this fragile ideal of perfection (Bambi) and its subjugation by its opposite (Godzilla) that is, in some respects, the theme of Mamet's work. In Bambi vs Godzilla, it is manifested as the ideological war between 'the artists and crafts-persons' and the 'bottom feeders' in charge of the purse strings. ('There are, admittedly, some good producers. But we must remember that even Diaghilev went into the ballet because he wanted to screw Nijinsky.') While conflict is the heart of every drama, Mamet has never subscribed to the dynamic unity of reality. His analyses are luminous. Yoking historical cross-references to the vernacular, he reflects: 'The Godfather is ostensibly about a bunch of murderous thugs. Operationally, though, it is our American House of Atreus. 'It is the story of an American family. It has gods, demigods, fates, furies, clowns, just like your family and mine ... The Mafiosi are merely the Plantagenets of our day: removed, exalted, unbound by law.' Mamet's excellence may have a hard shine, but he always tells his truth and tells it beautifully. After all, it 'requires a genius of morality - in effect, a hero - to remain pure while involved in the conflicting rewards and temptations of power'.