Monday, January 4, 2010
Say hello to my literary friend: interviews with Al Pacino
I love reading about the creative process. I'll devour critical analyses of writers I've never read (and some times never heard of). I feel cheated if a DVD doesn't have a commentary track. If I like something, I want to know how it came about.
A lot of artists (in the broadest sense) try to write about their own creative process. One of the best is Stephen King's semi-autobiography On Writing, but then again, writers should be good at putting their process into words. Musicians generally fail at this; visual artists do somewhat better. But the absolute worst tend to be actors, who combine a thin level of intelligence with an over-inflated sense of self and a deep-seated belief that, to put it rather crudely, their own farts don't smell.
But there are exceptions, and one of them is Al Pacino.
There's no denying his status (he's played Michael Corleone, Frank Serpico, Tony Montana, Big Boy Caprice and Satan) but what Lawrence Grobel's collection of career-spanning interviews makes clear is that Pacino is both talented and extremely intelligent about his craft Al Pacino, the book, is as surprising at Al Pacino the actor.
Pacino started as a theater actor, and even after movie stardom he continues to tread the boards. He's knowledgaeble about Shakespeare, understands the core of contemporary drama and has even financed and directed a couple of films based on stage plays, unreleased until a recent DVD box set.
The interviews span his career from the late 70s to the mid 00s. His perspective matures as he does, and changes dramatically when he has children. There are personal, gossipy bits, but the book is mostly interested in finding how Pacino the person channels into Pacino the actor, and how that actor views his craft.
All teenage boys know Pacino from Scarface, even if it's only from the omnipresent posters or quotes ("Say hello to my li'l friend!") that have permeated hip-hop culture. They might even know him from Heat, or the classic Godfather films. What they might not know is how far from the "real" Pacino these characters truly are. The man revealed by these interviews is both talented and lucky, that's true; but he also, even as he closes in on age 70, continues to challenge himself. Not many of his status, in any field, dare to do the same.