Book Review By Heather Clisby
In Marshall Fine's unauthorized biography, "Harvey Keitel: The Art of Darkness", we meet one of the most intense and thorough actors of our time. From his Brooklyn roots and youthful denial of his Jewish background, the book traces Keitel's evolvement from dedicated Marine to frustrated court reporter and, ultimately, to the fierce performer that he is today.
The title is a double-edged reference to Keitel's controversial firing from the "Apocalypse Now" set (he was later replaced by Martin Sheen) and his rabid willingness to take on dark, complex roles, such as the twisted cop in "Bad Lieutenant." While many claim to being bitten by the acting bug, Keitel is clearly infected with the desire, bordering on the obsessed. He so consumes every role he takes on, his fierce devotion has earned him a reputation for being difficult in Hollywood. As actor David Dukes (his co-star in "The Men's Room") observed: "In his mind, every film is about his character's story."
Fine, a former Chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle, approaches his subject with a certain detached admiration. The writing itself is incidental, Fine relies mostly on quotes to paint the portrait. Thankfully, Keitel is a strong force with clearly defined ideals; his work ethic is more than a character component, it defines him as a person.
While audiences and critics alike have admired Keitel's work in "Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver," "Reservoir Dogs" and "The Piano," this book seems a bit premature. His film career began in 1967 with John Huston's "Reflections in a Golden Eye" but for a man who is not yet 60, it's a tad early for a retrospective. I would venture to say that unless Keitel meets an untimely end, his best performances are still ahead of him.
In addition to Keitel fans, the book will best be appreciated by anyone struggling as an actor. He has faced formidable odds, namely himself. By the time Keitel earned any notice, it was 1976; he was 34 years old and the film was Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets." For years, Keitel's name was synonymous with "unbankable." In Hollywood, this translates into career-death, hence, his long association with new directors and independent film.
Fine touches lightly on Keitel's personal life - his stormy relationship with actress Lorraine Bracco and his consuming love for his daughter, Stella - but manages to remained focused on the main point of interest, Keitel's acting career.
"The Art of Darkness" is a fascinating look at a man determined to face his fears through the craft of acting. Best part is, we get to watch.
© 1998 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 9/30/98
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