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Barry Avrich Can’t Wait to Read the Inside Scoop on Making “The Godfather”

The Canadian film director, who grew up in Montreal, cites "The Catcher in the Rye" as a seminal book / BY Shinan Govani / January 20th, 2022

Power and fame. Influence and evolution.

These are some of the themes Barry Avrich returns to again and again. Having given the bio treatment to a swath of subjects over the years, both famous and infamous – everyone from Dominick Dunne to Harvey Weinstein, Lew Wasserman to Oscar Peterson – the intrepid Toronto documentary maker certainly knows a good story when he sees one. And books have long sated him.

Currently juggling a number of projects – a con-artist tale called The Talented Mr. Rosenberg, a film titled The Palm Beach Diaries and a documentary about Supreme Court of Canada Justice Rosalie Abella – he took some time to talk to us about great reads, past and present.

What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

Easily, Mel Brooks, All About Me! The book not only takes you deep inside his frantic and zany world of brilliance, but gives you meticulous, delicious details of making some of the funniest movies ever made, such as Blazing Saddles, The Producers and Young Frankenstein. The book reads pretty much like he talks and you feel he is right there with you, telling a story.

What book can’t you wait to dive into?

Mark Seal’s Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of The Godfather. This is the inside story of how one of my favourite films, ever, was made so dramatic, operatic and always compelling. I can’t wait to read about the complications of filmmaking that intersected with the real-life members of its subject matter: the Mob.

What’s your favourite book of all time?

That’s like asking me to identify my favourite movie, and, even harder for me is differentiating between biography and novels. I will have to go with The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. As a boy growing up in Montreal, desperate to escape to another world ­– perhaps another era – Gatsby gave me that ticket. From decadence to wealth and fashion to power, the book was thrilling, Shakespearean and endlessly elegant. Long before Baz Luhrmann, Tom Ford, Leo DiCaprio or even Robert Redford, there was Jay Gatsby.

What book completely changed your perspective?

Another tough question and almost impossible choice as books can change your perspective socially, politically or personally, but I will say one book that shook me to the core at the time was The Catcher in the Rye. As an insulated teenager with nothing really to complain about, and very little exposure to mental illness and depression, the book opened my eyes and forced me to grow up just a little a bit faster. Plus, I have yet to read another book that captured New York City in the ‘50s much like Woody Allen’s brilliant cinematographer, Gordon Willis, did for the film Manhattan.

If you could have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would it be?

I was fortunate to have dinner many times with both Dominick Dunne and Robert Evans, so I am somewhat satiated. But to be honest, I would have loved to dine with Joan Didion, to help guide me through the painful, aging process of my mother, who is turning 93 and in desperate need of some magical thinking.


Barry Avrich
Photos: Brooks (Bettmann/Getty); Fitzgerald (Library of Congress/Getty); Didion (Jason Kempin/Getty)


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