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My Life in Pieces Paperback – 1 Sep 2011
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Essential...Callow has a gift for transforming personal experience into blazingly intelligent, objective, critical appreciation. --Observer
Callow's not simply a terrific actor who happens to write. You could as well call him a terrific writer who happens to act. --The Times
Full of love and delight...A person of gargantuan capacity, as actor, director, biographer, scholar, solo performer, raconteur and confessional writer. --Diana Quick in the Guardian on My Life in Pieces
His detailed and perceptive portraits of figures as various and extraordinary as Charlie Chaplin, Charles Laughton, Peter Brook, Rudolf Nureyev, Peter Ustinov, Tommy Cooper and John Gielgud are utterly irresistible. When it comes to people he admires, whom he's befriended through working with them - Alan Bennett, Peter Shaffer, David Hare, Michael Gambon - you realise he also possesses a gift for transforming personal experience into blazingly intelligent, objective, critical appreciation...his brilliant analysis of naturalism in acting, and his scornful rejection of the "luvvie" label, are alone worth the price of this essential, agreeably exhausting tome. --Guardian
About the Author
SIMON CALLOW is best known for his performances in Four Weddings and a Funeral and Shakespeare in Love, as well as his many starring roles in the West End, most recently in Waiting for Godot with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. He is the best-selling author of Being An Actor (Penguin), Love is Where it Falls (NHB) and two biographies - of Charles Laughton and Orson Welles.
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Callow is a natural hero-worshipper and his affection for his craft and its practitioners make this an upbeat and entertaining collection. True, he's helped by having known some of the true greats - Olivier, Gielgud, Richardson, Guinness, Simon Grey, Redgrave, etc - but he's equally entertaining and thoughtful on styles of acting and writers. Anyone with even a passing interest in the theatre could hardly fail to be enriched by this great collection.
You can also see the development of his writing style. Some of his earlier pieces (as I've said they are not chronological but he says if it's an early article) are less well written, but with remarkable speed, he became a gifted and thoughtful writer on the theatre.
Perhaps the only thing missing is that because the focus in on other people, there's less of Callow's own humour here - although some of the stories about the other actors had me laughing out loud. Thoughtful, interesting, intelligent, well written and an original approach to autobiography. Very highly recommended.
I have been privileged this year to have had the opportunity to read two masters of English prose at their peak, in two not so very different books, either of which could be said to be its author`s magnum opus. One is Clive James`s great `summing-up` of a life`s thought and reading, Cultural Amnesia (which I`d recommend to anyone with a pulse and a few functioning brain cells) and the other is this unputdownable `alternative autobiography` of the great and good Simon Callow.
I first was aware of this often undervalued actor just before he made his name (as Mozart in the National`s Amadeus), in Brecht`s Arturo Ui. I realised then that we had a vastly dynamic, full-blooded, resourceful actor-entertainer in our midst. (Even then, 30 years ago, he was being touted as a future KBE, and I fully expect him to join the ranks of theatrical knights before long, deserving of that honour a little more than not a few recent recipients.) The years have shown how little we knew of this ebullient man`s talents and enthusiasms - and what an Enthusiast he proves to be in this wonderful book - as he has become essayist, book reviewer (those for the Guardian in this capacity are marvels of concision as well as the generosity that seems to be in his spirited nature), memoirist, biographer (of Laughton & Welles, both perfect subjects for Callow`s almost Dickensian pen), librettist, not to mention theatre and opera director.
How very un-English it all is. Tut-tut, we can`t have that.
If you can have that...then this is an unmissable pot-pourri of autobiography, thoughts on acting, memories of and tributes to other actors and artists - often in the form of published obituaries - and much else. Try his short but fascinating, as well as timely, essay called Actors and Their Bodies (pp364-367) or his obituary of the peerless Paul Scofield which closes the book.
Callow has hit upon a simple yet effective format, which is to intersperse already
published pieces with his own memories, autobiographical fragments, and portraits of colleagues - such as the famously prickly, regularly abusive director of genius John Dexter, the madly disruptive wunderkind Victor Henry, the eccentric visionary director Milos Forman or the indiscreet yet `saintly` John Gielgud.
Along the varied walks and byways of his seemingly charmed life and career Callow has found several mentors and kindred spirits, and it is a mark of this national treasure - sorry, but he is! - that he tries to be as generous, or at least as forgiving, to those he has loved as to those who have quite obviously driven him up the wall.
He will send you back to such disparate bedfellows as Dickens, Beckett and Peter Shaffer with renewed respect; he might make you re-evaluate the whole `Method` acting phenomenon, at least the somewhat humourless American version of it. He may even get the unconvinced into an opera house.
What continually elevates this nicely-packaged 400-page labour of love above most books by artists is that Simon C is, quite simply, a born writer. He loves language, using it with irreverent respect and a fulsome engagement with each and every subject that interests him - and many things interest him; hence this glory of a book.
Let us celebrate, not denigrate, our great enthusiasts; our `big` characters. As the afore-mentioned Clive James once said of one of Callow`s heroes: `Olivier didn`t overact, he was just over-alive`.
Simon Callow here shows that he is alive, kicking, and writing up a storm.
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