Saturday, November 14, 2015

Book review - "Bruce Dern: A Memoir" by Bruce Dern (2014)

I first heard about Bruce Dern when I read his entry in a book on film stars. I felt it was odd because he wasn't known as a star - and looking back that's still the case, even Dern would agree. However he did have his moment in the 70s, with a series of leads in a number of high profile films - Drive He Said, Family Plot, Black Sunday, Smile, The King of Marvin Gardens, The Great Gatsby, Coming Home, The Driver.  With the exception of Coming Home most of these movies were financial disappointments but they have their fans and Dern keeps busy as a character actor.

His schtick, if you could call it that, would be playing psychos and/or villains. He had an unsettling look - wavy hair and unnerving stare, plus a menacing voice. Maybe Dan Duyrea is the closest similar type of actor.

Dern's career got going relatively quickly - he impressed playing Waiting for Godot in college and was soon in the actors studio - but he had a long, long apprenticeship, appearing in a lot of TV, before getting more noticed in the early 70s (he attributes this to a change of agent).

It's a very actor-y book - Dern waffles on about the people he's worked with, actors and directors he liked, his philosophy; he seems perenially dissatisfied with his career - the projects he got, the money he earned, his billing. To be honest and times he comes across as a bit of a wanker - he brags about getting an assistant fired while making Middle Aged Crazy because he had the gall to provide fake tears; he says awards aren't important and always brings up the awards he got; he tells a lot of self-serving stories eg still hinting that he and Maud Adams genuinely had sex making Tattoo.

But there's lots of good stories - having fun with Hitchcock, the joy of working with Frankheimer, his affection for Walter Hill (with whom he made The Driver and Wild Bill). And Dern is an interesting person - Actors Studio, Roger Corman, father of Laura, had a child who drowned, enjoys running, privileged background. I enjoyed the book even if Dern was exasperating at times.

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