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Supporting Features:
Writing and Interviews on Movies and Moviemakers

by Damien Love

(CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2016)
Pages 548. Paperback, $ 22.94.
ISBN: 9781517618636.

Review by Dr. Kirk Bane

Damien Love, journalist and cinephile, has assembled a terrific anthology of his film-related essays and interviews, Supporting Features. A Glasgow, Scotland, resident, his writing has appeared in such publications as Uncut, The Guardian, The Scotsman, The Sunday Herald, and Bright Lights Film Journal. Love is also the author of Solid, Dad, Crazy, a fascinating study of Robert Mitchum.

Comprised of more than fifty articles, Supporting Features includes pieces on such film artists (actors, directors, and writers) as Mitchum, Robert Walker, Humphrey Bogart, Lana Turner, Sam Peckinpah, Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, the Rat Pack, Donald Cammell, Monte Hellman, James Whale, Tod Browning, Orson Welles, Val Lewton, Sam Fuller, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Audrey Hepburn, Alec Guinness, John Wayne, Sterling Hayden, Marlon Brando, Richard Harris, James Coburn, Jeff Corey, Jack Elam, Lawrence Tierney, Timothy Carey, Warren Oates, Stanley Kubrick, Dennis Hopper, Richard Widmark, Harry Dean Stanton, Bruce Dern, Burt Young, Kris Kristofferson, David Carradine, Elliott Gould, Ray Harryhausen, Arthur Penn, Roger Corman, Walter Hill, John Milius, Manny Farber, Oliver Stone, and Peg Entwistle, the struggling young actress (and stepmother of Brian Keith) who committed suicide in 1932 by jumping from the famous Hollywood sign. "The stories about her ghost haunting the sign started a few years later," Love observes. "You still hear them-sightings of a pale blonde, dressed for the '30s, the scent of gardenia. Peg became the secret saint of all Tinseltown's lost hopeful, all the young people who go there full of life and dreams, then get used up and fail."

To gain some insight into Love's incisive and wonderfully written observations, consider these half dozen excerpts.

On Marlon Brando: "Long before the end, Brando had started to carry his talent and beauty like responsibilities he hadn't asked for…He took roles for the cash and he let everyone know it. He stopped learning lines. He gave performances that seemed designed as jokes, or insults, aimed at his fellow actors, his directors, his audiences. Himself. He got fat. And yet, no matter how hard, or how little he tried, the fact of his colossal talent, his incredible beauty, could never be denied. He was one of the greatest and certainly the most influential cinema actor in the second half of the 20th century. That was his curse, and our blessing."

On James Coburn: "Coburn defined himself as 'a jazz kinda actor, not rock'n'roll.' Indeed, although he became a star as a rangy, mockingly handsome participant in westerns, war movies and spy pictures-genres that stress violent action-his acting was always graceful, almost languid, and hiply aware. Grinning like a silver-haired Cheshire Cat, with his stonewashed baritone and caustic laugh, Coburn projected confidence, but he didn't force himself on audiences, preferring to hang back and slyly observe, even in movies where he was the whole show."

On Roger Corman: "Roger Corman has assured his place in the history books several times over. As fast and furious director, he established the new land-speed record for no-budget feature filmmaking across the 1950s, outdoing even himself with 1960's Little Shop of Horrors (shooting schedule: two days). Meanwhile, as producer of almost 400 exploitation movies since 1955, he remains the most successful independent filmmaker Hollywood has ever known…If he'd done nothing but direct the startlingly cosmic X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (1963) or his 1960s cycle of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, films that found the perfect balance between doomy, haunted elegance and trippy, Pop hallucination, he would be remembered."

On Bruce Dern: "People forget that he was Hitchcock's last leading man. But they remember that, from the mid-1960s to the late-70s, he was American cinema's most gloriously loose wire, staring from the screen with eyes like holes in a skull crowned by a wild halo of hair electrified by the chaos in his mind…Flashing a smile that barely covered a sneer, Bruce Dern held the franchise on sly guys, junkies, schemers, cheats, losers and psychos, men simmering on the edge of breaking down, blowing up or flaking out…The die was irrevocably cast in 1971, when he killed John Wayne. The film was The Cowboys, a family picture about Wayne turning boys into men-until Dern's deranged long-hair showed up to put a bullet in his back, and a couple more in his legs. The role earned Dern death threats, but made him immortal."

On Kris Kristofferson: "He has spent a lifetime refusing to be pinned down. For thirty years, Kris Kristofferson has maintained a balance between his vocation as a songwriter and his work as an actor that is unique…It has been a career devoted to confounding expectations. Born in Brownsville, Texas, 1936, the son of an Army General, Kristofferson won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. Academia beckoned-until storied British impresario Larry Parnes signed him as a teenage popster in the late 1950s. In 1960, he joined the Army. West Point wanted him as an instructor, so he quit to become a janitor in Nashville. When songs like 'Help Me Make it Through the Night' made him a country sensation, he switched to movies."

On Arthur Penn:
"In 1967, Arthur Penn finally dragged Hollywood into the modern era with Bonnie and Clyde. The film featured the most visceral, bloody, in-your-face violence the American screen had witnessed till that time, but it alternated the carnage with romance and slapstick comedy, all scored to goodtime banjo music. Outraged by the amorality, the Warner Brothers studio practically disowned it at first, but the movie struck a seismic chord with audiences…Hollywood had been glamorizing outlaws since day one, but few films had presented gangsters so strangely beautiful. Presenting the Depression-era hoodlums as endearingly innocent nonconformists, yet facing violence for what it is, Penn's movie was the first to speak to the mood of the disaffected youth culture of the 1960s."

A genuine wordsmith, Love has compiled an engaging, astute, and important volume. Supporting Features belongs in the library of every cinema enthusiast.

Review by Kirk Bane, Ph.D.
Managing Editor, Central Texas Studies
June 2, 2017

Reviews by Dr. Kirk Bane
Texas Books

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