The Final Word Less One - on any subject anywhere any time that the author finds interesting -

Friday, October 21, 2011

A book review: Rin Tin Tin - Was the author dog dazed?

The first half of this book, where the author talks about Lee Duncan and his dog was fabulous. Here is a gripping saga of a boy who spent part of his early life in an orphanage, growing up and going to war, befriending a mother dog and her litter of puppies on a battlefield in war-torn France. We learn where the name "Rin Tin Tin" originated and why Rin's mate was called "Nanette". This is an enthralling saga of a dog who became a movie star.

The author also discusses other dogs who performed in the silent movie era and notes what was about Rin Tin Tin that made him so special, despite the dark coat that made him hard to light for the camera.

I loved this part of the book. I enjoyed the author's chronicle of her search for the town where Lee found the puppies and how hard it was, since the name and spelling of the town had changed in the years since World War I.

There is real value in these pages about the early days of movie making and the changing culture of the times. In silent films, a dog actor closely bonded to his human trainer could give a more natural and affecting performance than a human overacting to compensate for the lack of words. Attitudes toward animals were changing. All these factors allowed for Rin Tin Tin, but the essential element of the story was and remains the bond between the human and the dog. And the dog was something else as anyone lucky enough to have seen even a snippet of one of his silent films can attest.

But the latter half of the book is about the branding and marketing of Rin Tin Tin, of the lesser dogs that succeeded him, of the plastic figurines that depicted them, of the declining fortunes of his trainer, of the TV producer who created a show to capitalize on the name and of all the tawdry schemes and hoaxes and frauds and cheats and dog breeders who tried to exploit that. And of the lawsuits.

And none of that had anything to do with the dog. I really wish I could give the author five stars for the beginning of the book. I really wish she had found some redeeming twist at the end. In fact, she only fantasizes about an ending; it becomes all about her. What I felt as I ground my way through the last chapters was that the author had lost sight of her subject completely and was desperately padding out her material to achieve some predetermined length.

Or else she was betrayed by her own first sentence: "He believed the dog was immortal." She seemed to believe that she could go on and on, talking about tangents that weren't really about the dog in the hope this would prove her point. As if exploiting the name "Rin Tin Tin" somehow was the same as immortalizing our animal hero--but it isn't. I came to the end of the book feeling ashamed -- my interest in Rin Tin Tin the real dog had been exploited by the author. If I had wanted to read a book about showbiz lawsuits and marketing I would have looked in a different section. I can't recommend this book to animal lovers...maybe fans of pop culture would have a different take on it.

----this same review appears on the Amazon product page of the book under the title "Dog Dazed"----

Rin Tin Tin -book product page on Amazon

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