NOT BAD FOR A HUMAN: Superb for a Biography, Phenomenal For an Artist
NOT BAD FOR A HUMAN:
Superb for a Biography
Phenomenal For an Artist
An In-Depth Review of A Book About an Even Deeper Man! By DAMM
**NO REAL SPOILERS!**
As a comic purist, die hard movie buff and pop culture junkie I am acutely aware of Lance Henriksen, but I had no idea what kind of man he was. I have watched him my whole life in Aliens, Close Encounters, Omen II, Jagged Edge and one of my favorite films in the genre Nightmares from 1983 and have, like most of you out there I would bet, took how significant his career has been for granted. His biography is unlike any book you have ever read, let alone any biography. Forget, just for a moment, all the beautiful art and top notch bookmaking, and look at the amazing life story of the man with one of the most impressive resumes in movie history. But, to understand this man you HAVE to acknowledge this Avant Garde style of storytelling, where the Co-Author Joseph Maddrey does the set up and the details, then Lance drives home the realism and personalization to his tale in excerpts. I read about 5 biographies this year including a good one by Sammy Hagar, not one of those was as awesome as this one. The first page An Invitation hooked me and I didn’t stop reading (with the exception of X-Men: First Class) till I was finished.
Here is said first page.
“When I first came to Hollywood, I tried to walk onto the Universal studio lot. I went right up to the gate, and the guards wouldn’t let me in…because I didn’t know how the entertainment industry worked. Later I came back – with a couple of Kleenex tissues stuffed in my shirt collar – and I walked right through the gate. They let me in because they thought I was an actor in makeup.
There is a wall around this entire industry. They don’t usually invite you in. But if you decide this is what you want to do, they can’t keep you out.
– Lance Henriksen
See? I was hooked. Just like you. I could stop this review right here and that would be enough. IF it was a book about ANYONE else – it I not; Lance Henriksen is a remarkable man and deserves a remarkable book, so that means an in-depth review. The book(unlike so many other biographies) is not an exercise in vanity or look-at-me-ism, in fact it is more of what a biography is supposed to be – a telling of a life story yes, but to redeemable and edifying ends. Like so many thing about lance Henriksen’s life, the book, becomes art because it is funneled through him and his vision. There it is, the word I was looking for, or words, artistic vision. I have never read of a person who has been so blessed by artistic vision on this scale and so unwilling to let it get in the way of said art.
Early encounters in his film career with directors Speilberg, Lumet and Truffant were not as much jobs but real tests of his desire to create art. His disdain of “fartcatcher roles” and stereotyped suit characters are punctuated by his illiteracy, street upbringing of himself and escape attempts from the heaviest kind of relationship chains all are front and center but what you see is the artist indulgent and harsh being hammered into the fascinating man Henriksen is. As he matures, his perspective incubates into a brilliant philosophy both that film is a more communicative medium than theatre (to which he has worked with some of the great NYC theatre community players) and a desire to immerse himself, to experience or experience again what the character is going through. He talks of his amazing opportunities with teachers, directors and companies. He talks of the hypocrisy and side of the industry that is counterproductive to the art.
While reading his life story all of the movie sets and job descriptions are like heaven for any fan, but once in it truly lodses significance compared to the journey of being the actor, painter and potter. Henriksen does not give the lame who slept with who details of salacious glory whoring of so many Hollywood biographies, he talks about on the onset horrors of fitting in, passion for the craft and the constant suffering of fools dressed in plastic suits and attempts to stymie, bully and dissuade him. It is a tale of being the late bloomer and never giving up. It is a tale of not understanding you do not know who you are to deciding what that is and forging it with will. The gratitude in this book is refreshing because it is not sticky sentimental nor is it disingenuous. Henriksen is well aware he had help on the way but is unwilling to hand all of the lumps and hard work from his own catalog of passion to others. His anecdotes are more potent than any actor’s bio I have ever read save Chaplin’s, because all pretention has been stripped away before it ever hits the page – it was removed at the source.
Henriksen is a monolith of regular guy mentality in a truly gifted soul that is neither regular nor ordinary. He is frank, unabashed and coarse at times and entirely too rare a personality type. He is a true tough guy where it counts, mentally and emotionally in my opinion, but my opinion of him is irrelevant because as he reiterates over and over it is the journey and the process not the destination or the product that makes a man an artist. The book talks about how Lance unlike any other actor I have heard of did this from his gut and never apologized for it. He followed the natural instincts engrained, nurtured and trained as an artist religiously and only seemed to suffer when he did not.
In this book the actor/painter/potter goes film by film and offers the reader insights that we all look for in biographies here are two examples of those to close this review. A large portion of this book is devoted to Millenium, one of the biggest cult shows ever and I promised no spoilers for them. But trust me when I say this, If you are a fan of Millenium and you do not have this book – you do not know half of the story. There are sections on his pottery and his direction in that craft. There are admissions of failure and moments of triumph that had me choked up. Like when he comes to terms with hoew he needs to learn to read better or when…oh boy almost had me. If you miss out on this book you will be missing an entire chapter in pop culture, film history and art legacies of this era. Not to mention, He’s Bishop!
There was a very iffy moment. In the first scene I had with Hackman, Sam (*Sam Raimi the director) had put the camera down on the ground and he says, “OK Gene, Ace Hanlon is right over there. You step in and we just see your boots.” And Hackman looked at him and said, “What the fuck does this have to do with acting? This is camera shit.” He was a little annoyed but he agreed to do it. In the next shot Gene was supposed to walk up to me, and I said “No Gene, don’t walk up to me – let me walk up to you because you give up your power if you walk up to me, so I’ll just walk to you.” And he said alright. But that could have gone very differently. He could have said, “Who the fuck do you think you are?” I did not realize until I got back to the hotel that night what I’d done. I had been waiting 20 years to work with Gene Hackman, and I had the nerve to give him a direction. What the fuck was I thinking?
From the facing page 205 when talking about being hired for Dead Man with director Jim Jarmusch:
For the second time in my career I said to a director, “I don’t want to say one line that you have written for this character in the script. I want to improvise the whole thing.” He said, “How are we going to do that?” I said, “You’ll see when we get into the situations.” I said that at our very first meeting….Any other director wouldn’t have hired me, but Jim was willing to trust my instincts. He is more receptive to the actor’s instincts than any other director I have worked with.
This last excerpt is followed by the director’s remembrance of the encounter. That kind of brilliant story followed by quality follow up authorship of Maddrey, and the exceedingly long line of directors actors and friends in this book make Not Bad For A Human more than a biography, it is art, it is art history, it is a fascinating look at the heart and journey of a true visionary whose work is not the flashy Tom Cruise smile or the uber-recognizable name like Stallone but is a more relevant and spectacular embodiment of the craft. Not Bad For A Human is a must buy for any fan of film, art OR biography.
Until Next Flight,
*DAMM insertion not in book