Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Admit One: A Journey Into Film by Emmett James - 198 pages

Book CoverAdmit One is Emmett James' nostalgic and whimsical memoir of his passion for movies. Marking his personal milestones with cinema favorites, James recounts his childhood in South London, telling stories that many will fondly relate to. In the section titled Coming Attractions, he expounds on his childhood. From his mother's giddy fascination with John Travolta in Grease to his experience with a dodgy Santa, James is always entertaining. Through his introduction to petty crime, and his very own ghost story, James recounts his childhood along with his favorite must-see films. The later section, Feature Presentation, deals with his life as an adult trying to break into the movies. This section really takes off, as he divulges his crashing of the Oscars, his hilarious stint as an extra, the unintentional stalking of a director, and his defining moment: a brief appearance in Titanic. Each of these anecdotes is recounted in conjunction with a movie that shaped him during the experience, making this a colorful and interesting tale. As he moves from watching the movies to actually being a part of the cinema magic, he realizes that his dreams of Hollywood are more encompassing than mere movie appearances.

I found this to be a curious book. James relates a story that is at once universal yet unique. His experiences could have been the everyman's, yet the framework and method of delivery made them distinctive. The sections on his childhood would have seemed common and interchangeable without the inclusion of the movie introspection. It was impressive the way that movies shaped and defined his childhood, and sustained him throughout his later years. The later sections I found to be more entertaining, as James went out of his way to maintain his connection to the silver screen. Many of the incidents were zany and incredible, leaving me hungering for more. I felt that he could have divulged more details of his escapades to win and delight the reader. It was almost as if he withheld the most compelling and forceful part of the narrative by leaving off the more satisfying bits of the story. Another puzzling aspect is that the author seems to have bypassed any emotional reflection throughout the book. He never speaks of his deeper feelings about his family or friends (except for a brief excerpt about his father), or expounds on the feelings he had as a struggling actor making his way in show business. Instead of emotional exposition on his part, he catalogs a list of hardships endured at the time. At one point, while having an unexpected adventure in Mexico, he does seem to make the emotional connection, but it is brief. Most memoirs I have read have captured more fully the experience and viewpoint of the subject, and it was odd that this book didn't seem to have that emotional connection to the reader. His attitude throughout the book seemed to be strangely distant and miffed, as if he wanted to simple tell a story, not share it.

On the other hand, his passion for movies and movie making was clearly communicated in such a way as to be infectious. I wanted to go back and re-watch the movies to experience the awe and excitement that James had found, to be shaped by what was on the screen in undefinable ways. Though most people love movies, James took his passion for cinema and channeled it into a life appreciating and being surrounded by the art.

This book had its ups and downs. I loved the anecdotal way in which the stories were described, and found that the book was very clever and witty. James' tone was descriptive and engaging, which gave the book a light and conversational feel, yet I wished that I could have been privy to more of his feelings and insights. I laughed and discovered the joy of film with him, but in the end, felt like I really didn't know him. He was clever in describing the movies and how they made him feel, but that's where it ended. It seemed as though if an emotion wasn't related to a movie, it wasn't worth delving into. A bit of an uneven book, yet diverting and amusing nonetheless.


Anonymous said...

"... as if he wanted to simply tell a story, not share it" - true observation. I enjoyed it for what it was, light anecdotal flashbacks in an interesting framework (I agree, not a typical memoir)

Anonymous said...

I really loved this book myself having just finished it. Books that make me laugh out loud while reading are the best.

I found this interview with him which I thought I would pass on to you.


A great review, thank you!


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