Sunday, June 26, 2016

Signal Watch Reads: "The Elephant to Hollywood" a bio of Michael Caine by Michael Caine as read by Michael Caine (audiobook)

Normally this sort of thing isn't my bag, but a while back my pal SimonUK gave me a print copy of this book, and I picked it up and started reading it only to hear Michael Caine's voice reading the book in my head.  "Well," I reasoned to myself, "why not see if he actually did an audio recording of the book."  And, indeed, he had.

I don't know much about Michael Caine and I'm not up on his filmography.  But, you know, who doesn't like Michael Caine?

This was actually his second memoir, and I suspect the first one probably played up a bit more of his exploits and wild, free-wheeling ways in the 60's and 70's.  But this one is more or less Caine's reflections on being a bit of a lad from an area of London called The Elephant and Castle, a down and out neighborhood both during his youth and at the time of the book's writing (circa 2010).  He grew up working class, a father serving the army in WWII, and Caine himself evacuated.  Post-war, he grows up a bit tough, decides on theater and acting as a career, and as a young man pursues the idea with dogged determination, even as misfortune and the challenges of life heap up.

Of course, he went on to be Michael Caine, so it's not like I feel like telling the end spoils anything (he is very happy to have played Alfred Pennyworth in the Nolan Batman films, by the way).

He describes his first trips to Hollywood, how he broke from British film star to American film star (Alfie and The Ipcress File both played here and did well, and he was recruited into some American movies).  So much of the book is name dropping, but not in a negative way - these are his friends and associates - and it provides great context to know how he met Sinatra or why he was talking to Beyonce Knowles.

He's actually a very good storyteller, so the book flows well, and even subjects I don't care about as much - a career as a restaurateur, his pursuit of the perfect real estate, are still pretty entertaining.  Caine isn't shy about his pre-marriage success with the ladies, but it's actually very charming to hear him discuss his discovery, courtship and relationship with his wife of many years, Shakira.  And, of course, his two children from separate marriages.

But if you came to hear him talk about his movies, his showbiz friends, his struggles as a young actor - it's all there.  He's a pragmatist when it comes to the reflections upon his career, and I admire that while he is somewhat obliged to describe everyone he mentions as "a very good friend", he's honest about the merits of many of his films, good and bad.  And, his shock at the transformation from hunky lead actor (I'm not quite sure that's how he was taken here, but who's arguing?), to best supporting actor type gigs.  It's actually quite fun to hear what a blast he clearly had working on Goldmember.

He does drop the occasional "I'm in my 70's and here's what I think" bit, which is interesting to take in when you consider Caine's wide breadth of life experience.  It's not just your drunk uncle rambling over Thanksgiving dinner.  This is a guy who has dined with Royalty, grew up in modest surroundings, served in the military, lived lean and mean to become a working actor and wrangled Hollywood and London successfully for his entire career.  He's no dope.

Many stories are genuinely very funny, and on the recording, occasionally you hear him break up laughing after he hits the punchline.  Kudos to the editors for leaving that in.

I don't really know what to say about the book as it's not my usual reading material, and I'm hard pressed to push this sort of thing on anyone, but it's a good read if you're looking for this sort of thing.  And, of course, it made me make a list of movies I need to watch or rewatch.

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