Elwes, Cary. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014. Print. ISBN 9781476764023
Before I can move into the book listed above, I first have to expand on the movie that inspired it. The Princess Bride is a movie I simply adore. It’s on my very short list of books where the movie is actually better. (I miss a few of the set pieces, but honestly the internal monologues in the book work so much better as actual conversations between the characters, it’s a whole level better of goodness.) My cousin who hasn’t ever seen the movie calls it “That movie you talk about all the time.”
It’s got everything true love, magicians, a giant, the greatest sword fight in modern times, an albino, a handsome prince, a beautiful princess, and a dread pirate. It has dialogue that cries out to be frequently quoted – and it is, not only to the cast, but to other people and all over T-shirts. It’s a fairy tale that gently makes fun of fairy tales. It really does have the most impressive sword fight in all of cinematic history and exactly what I always meant when I said I wanted to learn fencing, to look that impressive while never being out of breath and spouting pithy quips about the history of fencing (which is never what would happen in real life mores the pity). It’s a lovely story with just a spice of sadness and humor that makes the whole like the best cake you’ve ever dreamed about tasting.
Also important is its message which shines through the everything that is in this movie. “Life is pain, Princess, anyone who says anything else is trying to sell you something.” Yes, there will be pain and sadness and sorrow in life. Wesley will die in the Pit of Despair. No one will stop the wedding between Buttercup and the evil Prince Humperdink. The king’s lousy son might kick you out of a job. A six fingered man might kill your father. Just like no one can prevent your parent from needing surgery, your dog from dying, your best friend from moving away, or you not getting that job you so CLEARLY would have been a better match for. Things in life will NOT be fair. Nobody can stop any of those things or completely put them right. “I want my father back.” BUT, if you are loyal, faithful, and true, if you work hard and train your body and your mind, if you help others and let them into your life, if you truly love people, if you TRULY look for them, and have just a little bit of luck, there will also be love, amazing sword fights, four white horses, adventure, friendship and if you are very, VERY lucky there might also be a great romance, a miracle, and an MLT – a mutton-lettuce-and-tomato sandwich.
“Even death can’t stop true love, it can only delay it awhile.” That true love doesn’t have to be with a spouse. That true love can be family. It can be a son who trained his whole life to find his father’s killer. It can be a friend who will never let you down. It can be a grandfather who took a day when you were sick to read you the best parts of The Princess Bride and will return to read it again “As you wish.”
The Making of Book
As You Wish is a history of the making of The Princess Bride from the inside. It’s written by Cary Ewels who played the Man in Black himself, Wesley. Ewels is absolutely brilliant actor in the right part, most recently his best has been as a con man or was it a government agent or ??? in the TV show Psych. Ewels was a very young actor with only a few credits to his name when he was approached to play Wesley.
By Fans for Fans
In a way, they way they describe the production reminds me of the current production of Doctor Who, it’s made by fans for fans. The movie was almost universally made by people who knew and loved the book. Ewels said it was his favorite book since he was a teenager and he couldn’t believe it when he was approached to do the role. Most, but not all of the cast and crew interviewed expressed similar sentiments. It is a great story with a wonderful screen play by the book’s author William Goldman (also a very noted screenwriter). However, several attempts in the past to make it into a movie failed. The studio wasn’t thrilled when this new attempt started but Rob Reiner was coming off of two big successes that allowed him to write his own ticket enough to make it.
Behind the Scenes
As You Wish is very much from the viewpoint of an actor and gives an interesting prospective of how you get a role, how you move from job to job, what training is like, what doing stunts both by yourself and with your double is like, and what it’s like to be on the set. You also get behind the scenes stories that tells you where certain ideas in the movie came from and the full versions of stories you might have heard in passing in interviews or on from other fans over the years. For example, I had heard about Ewels moving strangely in the scene between rolling down the hill and going into the fire swamp was because he’d injured himself driving an ATV. It was great to get the full story (which was pretty funny, if painful).
Another great feature of the book is that it spells out the various shooting locations. I always love it when I can find and document shooting locations for movies or TV shows. They are harder to find than you might think after the fact and I think always nice to know.
Although they were to be the participants in the most impressive sword fight in modern times, neither Cary Elwes nor Mandy Patikin knew much about fencing when they were cast. Not only had Goldman described it in such impressive terms, he’d actually done a lot of research. Those names they drop through out were really the names of styles and defenses that Goldman learned from doing months of research on 16th and 17th fencing styles and moves. If you want to research it yourself Elwes recommends:
- Treatise on the Science of Arms with Philosophical Dialogue (1553)
- Great Representation of the Art and the Use of Fencing (1610)
- The Academy of the Sword (1630)
Patikin started training with a fencing master as soon as he knew he had the part, Elwes waited for the movie trainers. Four months after they were cast, Elwes and Patikin showed up to work with the trainers at the movie studio. They were Peter Diamond and Bob Anderson. Diamond had one of the most legendary careers of a stuntman in Hollywood history; a career that had reached from Errol Flynn to being the man in charge of light saber fights in Star Wars, and coordinating stunts for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Highlander. Anderson was a World War II hero and was on the British fencing team. He was among the world leaders of fencing before he made his way to Hollywood, also working with Flynn and in Star Wars with his final credit being Sword Master on the The Lord of the Rings series.
People who knew THAT much about sword fighting knew there was no way they could teach them to BE that good in the amount of time they had, but they planned to make them LOOK that good. They had them training basically every minute they could. After the intensive training the teachers came along on the location shots, grabbing them for training at every break. They started with the basic way to hold the sword and worked on things looking impressive. Since they change hands mid-fight, they both had to learn both right-handed and left-handed and they learned both parts of the fight so they knew what was coming. Cool parts of the training included always look at your opponent’s eyes because that’s how you see what they are going to do and watching classic cinema sword fights and picking out what they did wrong. It sounds completely awesome. They got so good at it, that the sequence was faster than they thought and they had to add in the part with spinning on the bar to stretch it out. That’s my favorite part of the movie.
The Cast and Crew
Elwes interrupts himself to put in paragraph block quotes from the other people involved with the movie. Rob Reiner offers the forward and does heavy lifting on the comments. His long term producing partner Andy Scheinman also provides stories about the production side. Goldman himself offers his views on the productions as does head of the production company, Norman Lear. Cast who offer insight include Bill Crystal, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Fred Savage, Chris Sarandon, and Carol Kane. Often the cast offer their own individual memories of instances or how certain things happened related to the story Ewels tells. This has to be the definitive book on making The Princess Bride and for a colloquial actor’s view, maybe one of the best books on the making of any movie.
Marathon on Sundance Channel
On Christmas Day 2014, Cary Ewels hosted a marathon of The Princess Bride. They did several videos in promotion.
Introduction to Marathon:
Cary Elwes Answers Your Questions Part 1:
Other Things To Buy
The original book that started all this was The Princess Bride: The Good Parts by William Goldman. It was always special to Goldman in part because he started it as a story to tell his own daughters. The good parts subtitle is part of the conceit of the book. It supposedly is an edited down version of a classic book from the narrator’s family’s mother country and what you hold in your hands is the good parts he’s edited out. Not knowing this I didn’t buy the first copy I saw in the book store because my librarian mind went Pbbbft! Abridged!, who wants to buy an abridged copy of something for your home library? But that really is all there is, so go ahead and buy it. Especially look for Ingio Montoya’s time training with the Scottish sword master which is my favorite thing they left out of the movie.
The October 2011 issue of Entertainment Weekly (their annual reunions issue) gather the cast for a reunion shoot. Check out back issues or buy one online.
Photo from backstage:
AND the audio book of As You Wish has the actual people reading their comments. It’s available both on CD and digitally.
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.