Monday, October 03, 2005

BOOKS: If Chins Could Kill

Hey, I read a book! Good for me. It's not an especially profound or challenging book, but still, I'm just glad to learn that I retain the ability.

The book is Bruce Campbell's autobiography, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. It's told in a breezy, conversational style that makes reading it just fly by (or it would have, if I spent more than ten minutes a day reading anymore) (not counting comic books).

I've always liked Campbell, and his writing style matches his public persona. The book is funny, even smart-alecky (as you might expect from someone who's had to deal with hardcore genre fans as he has), and Campbell is well-versed in the acting business but none-too-serious about it -- though sometimes he lays on the self-deprecation a little thick.

There's very little material about his personal life; the opening chapters deal with his childhood and teen years, especially the lifelong show business friendships he would make of people like Sam Raimi, but his parents' divorce, for example, is skimmed over surprisingly quickly. As is his own divorce: he almost never mentions his first wife between the time he marries her and the time she asks him to leave. His second (and current) wife, Ida, is also given short shrift, and his two children get even less page time. This is a show business memoir almost entirely, not a true autobiography; at the end, I felt like I didn't know Campbell the man any better than before I'd cracked the book.

But Campbell the actor -- that's another story, and a gripping one. The longest segment of the book details the making of Campbell & Raimi's first real movie, the horror classic The Evil Dead. The lengths they and their friends had to go through in the making of this movie are awe-inspiring, from cold-calling local merchants to drum up financing, to the brutal, no-frills living conditions during filming, to the financial disappointment following the film's initial release. Success was neither great nor instantaneous; Campbell was making ends meet as a security guard even after starring in the second, more successful film in the series.

The rest of the book relates anecdotes and learning experiences throughout Campbell's career, from The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. to Congo to Hercules and Xena and beyond. Mixed in with the funny stories about meeting crazed fans or playing practical jokes on cast and crew is a boatload of simple, practical advice for would-be actors and filmmakers, whether it's making the sound man aware if you're going to be extra-loud, knowing how to block a scene, or coming up with ways to fill screentime when the script is lacking (if Campbell hadn't made such an effort during McHale's Navy, for example, he would've been screwed -- or even more screwed than someone co-starring in a Tom Arnold movie already is).

The paperback version of the book includes an additional section on the "Chins Across America" tour -- his booksigning promotional tour for the hardback edition. It also includes brief notes on the films Campbell made between the hardback and the paperback, including Spider-Man and Bubba Ho-Tep.

If Chins Could Kill is a lot of fun, even if you're not especially a fan of Campbell's work; it's very rarely you get a glimpse of how things work for the non-superstar actors. And it's packed with informative material -- just very little of it having to do with Campbell's non-professional life.

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