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The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography…

The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography (1971)

by Frank Capra

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231477,465 (3.97)5
Although Frank Capra (1897-1991) is best known as the director of It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Can't Take It with You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Arsenic and Old Lace, and It's a Wonderful Life , he was also an award-winning documentary filmmaker as well as a behind-the-scene force in the Director's Guild, the Motion Picture Academy, and the Producer's Guild. He worked with or knew socially everyone in the movie business from Mack Sennett, Chaplin, and Keaton in the silent era through the illustrious names of the golden age. He directed Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jean Harlow, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis, and others. Reading his autobiography is like having Capra sitting in your living room, regaling you with his anecdotes. In The Name Above the Title he reveals the deeply personal story of how, despite winning six Academy Awards, he struggled throughout his life against the glamors, vagaries, and frustrations of Hollywood for the creative freedom to make some of the most memorable films of all time.… (more)



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Capra comes off as a little conceited, and there isn't much about It's a Wonderful Life (half the reason I bought the book), but this is still a terrific book about the early days of Hollywood and the part Capra had to play in that. Highly recommended. ( )
  ilanderz | Aug 24, 2017 |
Before I discovered film culture I was entranced by the 'old-fashioned' Americana that has become known as 'Capraesque'. As a family each Thanksgiving we watched Miracle on "Thirty-fourth Street". I loved Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith goes to Washington" and Gary Cooper in "Mr. Deeds goes to Town". Later I would learn about other great films of Capra like "Arsenic and Old Lace", Meet John Doe", and "It Happened One Night". One indication of Capra's greatness as a director is a partial list of leading actors that he directed including, in addition to Cooper and Stewart, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Kathryn Hepburn & Spencer Tracy, Donna Reed, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, and Frank Sinatra.
This autobiography was a natural for me to read when it was first published and I was not disappointed. It is an inspirational book and offers insights into the nature of artistic creativity. Anyone interested in the background of Frank Capra should consider reading his inspiring autobiography. ( )
  jwhenderson | Jul 6, 2013 |
  leslie440 | Jan 5, 2012 |
A little over a week ago, I checked this book out from my college library to use for a research paper. Glancing over the worn binding and Capra’s impish, Sicilian grin on the cover, I never dreamed that it would so completely overtake my reading life for the next ten days.

Let’s get this straight: when one is writing four research papers in a single semester, and checking books out for all of them, one isn’t supposed to actually read any of the books all the way through. Something will inevitably get lost in the shuffle of conflicting demands. Yet director Frank Capra’s autobiography is so fascinating and compelling a read that I could find no way to resist it, and threw the unspoken rules of undergraduate research to the wind.

In one passage of The Name Above the Title, Capra writes about what he refers to as “Gee Whiz!” movies, pictures that feature a broad outlook and larger-than-life characters, as opposed to darker, more “realistic” films. By that measure, this could easily be billed as a “Gee Whiz!” autobiography. This is not to say that it is factually incorrect, as some critics have suggested. “Surely no life was ever lived this way,” Ray Carney writes in American Vision: The Films of Frank Capra. “The official, optimistic party line of the book … is a kind of desperate whistling in the dark to cover up the profound crises of confidence and identity of a man who could never adequately convince himself of the ultimate value of his life and work.” This could possibly be true—I am certainly not an expert in the matter—but I am inclined to take Capra at his word when he says that some people simply see the world in fairy-tale terms, and he is one of them. Just because his life reads like one of his movies doesn’t mean he copied the tale from one of them, and not vice versa.

Besides, he is shockingly frank about the hard times he went through, including two long periods of depression. One of these might have ended in his death were it not for a strange visitor he received—a little man who called Capra a coward and an offense to God, and demanded he use the gifts he had been given for the good of his fellow men. This pulled him out of his slump and could well have been a turning point in his life, but it wasn’t all daffodils and butterflies after that. Of his cinematic creations, he most resembles the honest but conflicted George Bailey, rather than the more childlike characters of Jefferson Smith or Longfellow Deeds.

However, because I like fairy-tales, and because Capra is so adept at telling them, the first section of the book is my favorite, chronicling his rise from a life of poverty to winning his personal “Grail,” the Oscar. In places his writing is unpolished, but it is full of character and charm.

Fans of Capra and future filmmakers simply must take a look at this, but I recommend to everyone as an absolutely fantastic read.

Who knows? It might even make a pretty good movie. ( )
8 vote ncgraham | Oct 21, 2009 |
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I hated being poor.
The day before photography began my wife read me reams from her Science and Health in order to tranquilize the butterflies. But later that evening I copped her bet by kneeling alone in a back pew of the Sacred Heart Cathedral—to remind the Almighty that here was another sacred sparrow needing his help—even though I was then only a Christmas Catholic.
Odd, I thought to myself, how in all walks of life there are lives graced by dreams, and lives steeped in dullness. And when greatness strikes, the dreamer is prepared; grace softens the blow. But to the dull, greatness can be traumatic.
I had yet to learn the power of creative art; that Leonardo, seeing with an inner eye, could, with simple brush and canvas, evoke a bewitching smile on Mona Lisa that no all-seeing lens could "see;" that the Psalmist’s powerful imagery in nine single-syllable words, "Be still then, and know that I am God," was worth more than ten thousand pictures.
I sat down, weak as a cat, and just as curious. The little man sat opposite and quietly said: "Mr. Capra, you’re a coward."

"A what?"

"A coward, sir. But infinitely sadder—you are an offense to God. You hear that man in there?" Max had turned on the radio in my room. Hitler’s raspy voice came shrieking out of it. "That evil man is desperately trying to poison the world with hate. How many can he talk to? Fifteen million—twenty million? And for how long—twenty minutes? You, sir, you can talk to hundreds of millions, for two hours—and in the dark. The talents you have, Mr. Capra, are not your own, not self-acquired. God gave you those talents; they are His gifts to you, to use for His purpose. And when you don’t use the gifts God blessed you with—you are an offense to God—and to humanity. Good day, sir."

I didn’t choke up again, didn’t worry about my films being hits or misses. I simply asked the Almighty for the wit and courage to do my job well—and left the rest up to Him.
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