May 22, 2017

Val Kilmer, Too Good Looking

Robert Redford and Paul Newman were openly dismissive that people appreciated their good looks more than their acting. In Val Kilmer we have one of the best looking actors who appears to have done open battle with being just a pretty face.

Kilmer is experiencing a sort of Twitter Renaissance, a perfect antidote to how people use Twitter to divide a nation. Twitter can be used to reach out to people and build bridges.

My favorite quote about adolescent Hollywood comes from the brilliant writer Steve Kloves. "It was much more entertaining to watch my daughter grow up," he quips, "than it was to wait for a 50-year-old movie executive to grow up."

In a recent Guardian interview, Kilmer said, " I can’t go through an airport without someone saying ‘I’m your huckleberry.’" I always think of him as Jim Morrison in The Doors: "Where's your will to be weird?"

Watching Kilmer and Tom Sizemore fill the space around De Niro in Heat is sublime.

And there are the duds, so many of which do not seem to be his fault. Take Kilmer's starring role in Mamet's Spartan. It's more a statement of how Mamet can direct hideously awkward dialogue versus how Paul Newman can shape Mamet's dialogue into something as brilliant as The Verdict.

Kilmer's painting is the statement of a serious artist, not a pretty boy floating through life as a film star. Check out Kilmer's profound painting at The Guardian, especially versus the record selling ($110 million) Basquiat. The Basquiat is a commentary on the state of painting, exposed in Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word. Whereas Kilmer's painting stops you for a look.

May 15, 2017

Cary Grant Drops Acid, Revisited

There's a new documentary about Cary Grant dropping acid, something I wrote about in 2011. I also highlighted Steve Jobs's shared experience of tripping and how people who have made the psychedelic journey are put off by people who have not.

For those of you who have already confronted the collective unconscious, there's not much new material, but plenty new about Cary Grant from other sources.

Cary Grant used to say that he was a self-made man and had pulled himself up by his own boot straps. While he came from humble roots and a mentally ill mother, only God could make a face like his.

My favorite stories about Cary Grant come from literary actors, those exceptional talents who know how to write. Frank Langella wrote in his gregarious Dropped Names that Tony Curtis said of Cary Grant: "He was one of my idols. The guy turns out to be a fucking bore."

Langella recounts how Mel Brooks said the same thing of Grant: "I thought I'd kill myself if I had to eat a meal with this guy again." Every time I see Langella interviewed, I feel the exact same pain as watching De Niro be interviewed. The interviewer is inevitably not up to the task.

David Niven recounts several Cary Grant stories in his beautifully written autobiography Bring On The Empty Horses. He describes Grant as a 'will-o-wisp,' at best elusive to pin down as a person. Niven describes a Grant as relentlessly bent on self-improvement:

  • "'I just think myself thin - and it happens', he was fond of saying, but he conveniently forgot his frugal eating, his daily work-outs and his appointments with the masseur."
  • "Some of us suffered stoically through his days of the carrot." Niven recounts the happy explosion of the carrot juice machine after Grant had declared "Today we'll have nothing but carrot juice."
Niven ends with Grant's LSD therapy and the result: "It seemed to the rest of us a most hazardous trip for Cary to have taken to find out what we could have told him anyway: that he had always been self-sufficient, that he had always been loved, and that he would continue to give a damn about himself."

Last week I pointed out the curiously public crisis that Brad Pitt is undergoing. Now we have Cary Grant to remind us that people who make their living in the public eye invite sardonic commentary as they move through life's trials.

May 8, 2017

Brad Pitt: Turning Point of the Puer

On the surface, Brad Pitt's GQ Style interview and photo spread looks like the "high-water mark of excruciating celebrity magazine interviews."

Look below the surface and you will see a psychological turning point. All such crises are awkward and embarrassing for the people going through them, not just the witnesses, but the poor bastard who thinks his life is unraveling in front of his eyes and without any control.

When the crises is played out in front of millions of adoring fans, it must be like a public flailing. All of the pain and suffering of Brad Pitt is there, for everyone to see in the GQ interview. I wrote a piece about the problems of fame, especially as it pertains to Brad Pitt.

Brad Pitt - and a lot of beautiful Hollywood actors - represent the very essence of the Puer Aeternus, the man who continues to live as an adolescent. It is telling that Pitt says that not a day has gone by without booze or a spiff. This is one of the ways the puer maintains his floating above the ground lifestyle. Alpine sports, which I explore extensively in my novel Powder Dreams, is another popular one. Hollywood certainly makes it easier for the pampered star to ignore the base elements of the grounded man, although Ty Burr in Gods Like Us brilliantly illustrates that this might be disappearing.

In middle age one of two things happens to the puer. Either they die or they abandon the lifestyle. Jung said to Marie Louise von Franz that the only way for the puer to escape the clutches of the archetype is through work. Pitt goes on at some length about how he works every day with his hands and how making film takes up less of his time.

The entire Brad Pitt interview is reminder of what the Ancient Greeks knew: Suffering is knowledge. And suffering publicly could drive a sane man to seek comfort in old habits.