What is "Metaliterature"? It is literature about literature, in this case, views, reviews, and thoughts provoked by stuff I've read. I'm hoping this might be a chronicle of the brain of a life-long reader as guided by intertextual coincidence. If you like what you read, read what I like.
Currently domiciled in the Vale of Glamorgan.
Guilt appears to play a major role in the selection of my next read. In
lots of recent decisions it has been pretty evident, and it is intriguing that
one should feel guilty about buying (or possessing) a copy of a book without
having read it. In my case, I suspect, it’s because I’m a big old mess of
guilt, stemming from a child-like disbelief that I appear to have gotten away
with “it” for nearly 34 years. What “it” may be is open for debate.
"Do you want to hear the story of old Love and Hate?"
Nevertheless, I guilt-tripped myself into finally reading this
stupendously thick biography of icon Robert Mitchum by the ever studious Lee
Server and am endlessly glad I did. Despite the impact it had on my relationship
(it appears that the subsequent and repeated renting of black and white Mitchum
vehicles on my wife’s dime is an act with internecine repercussions) I
literally rushed home from work at lunch times to cram in another paragraph
between mouthfuls of cous-cous salad,
dog-releasing-into-the-garden-to-prevent-damage-to-property and washing up. Not
that it’s all that surprising a biography* when one boils it all down, but it
does represent a snap-shot of a life well-lived, and of a man so adept at going
with the flow that it was almost as though the flow was going with him. And, in
essence, it’s just a “here’s the next entertaining thing he did, and here’s
another” type roll call of classic cool comportment, with no major departures
from any other Hollywood eye-opener. However, the subject is the star, something
to which all good biographies (and probably also reviews) should aspire, and in
this case, the star is such a paragon of anti-establishmentarianism (“paragon”
being an amusingly apposite word for it despite the satirical undertones) that
he could not possibly NOT appeal to me, romantic old fusspot that I am.
Of course, a badly written biography therefore would do nothing but
slap me in the face with a wet haddock. Instead, I was basking in the warm
embrace of prose that never tried to be something it was not, grammar and
syntax that echoed that of Mitchum himself, and masses of superb contextualising
evidence that did nothing but support a balanced and comprehensive report on
the life of a man who despite his clear flaws and unapologetic (and in fact,
undefended) opinions was someone I would probably liked to have shared some
time with. But only a little: I’m quite the lightweight these days and that
goes equally for drinking and fighting. In spite of my early reservations (about
size, quality, encroaching apathy) at page 660 when I realised the rest was
taken up with copious references and notes, I was suitably upset!** If I had to
be one of those guys who make a fantastic and frankly disturbing connection
with a movie star, then I would probably be one who was ridiculous in his
adoration of this one. Server is a great biographer (of Hollywood stars) and I
would urge any cinephile to read it, just as I would urge any fan of
well-tempered biography to do the same.
And lastly, quoting verbatim as I don’t have my copy with me, I would
love to repeat to you one of my favourite Mitchum anecdotes:
When on set with Loretta
Young, a devout and some might say prickly Catholic, he was amused when an
assistant came over to explain her curse box system for those who swore on set –
it was fifty cents for ‘hell’, a dollar for ‘damn’ – so, imperturbable as ever,
and whilst making eye-contact with her across the room, he asked in as loud a
voice as possible, “Just how much does Miss Young charge for a ‘fuck’?”
*I should clarify that it IS a surprising biography in that it comes to
660 pages without any direct input from the man himself.
** It doesn’t help that, as with all linear narrative posthumous biographies,
you know they die at the end...