It was very difficult for me to watch a black-and-white movie as a child. They were just rather dull in every sense of the word. Movies were a way for me to escape into different galaxies and adventures. Nowhere in my wildest dreams did I ever want to enter a black-and-white universe; it would have completely shattered the whole fantasy aspect. – Emmett James, Admit One: My Life in Film
You never know when you’ll find a free ebook to be worth your time, so I tend to download anything that might, just possibly, in the exact right mood, be worth reading. Friends and family are also looking out for me and sending possible reading suggestions from time to time. Such is the case with Admit One: My Life in Film by Emmett James. My initial impression was a collection of stories about films that influenced the author’s life or, perhaps, a series of personal commentaries on the movies that marked life milestones. Unfortunately, Admit One is just a memoir in which the author selected random movies to force some kind of link with the personal stories he wanted to tell.
The book begins well enough, with James establishing himself with a witty, self-deprecating voice, and the first stories are influenced by the films each chapter highlights. Because he and I are of the same generation (children of the 70s), we share the same catalogue of movies from our lifetimes. But as the book continues, it becomes much more about the experiences of the author instead of the movies he tries to reference. One chapter is titled Honeymoon in Vegas, for example, but the only mention of that movie comes when James reveals that he dreamed of it one night after taking a job to digitally alter the first tabloid photo of Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley’s private wedding ceremony. The chapter is a good read – I’ve noted it below – but the only connection to the movie is that both relate to Nic Cage. And the book continues in this vein for most of the later chapters, becoming less about film and more about James’s personal history.
Still, Admit One is not a bad book. Emmett James has led a fascinating life, especially when he relocated from London to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. As one might expect, acting jobs were few and far between, so many of his stories relate to alternate jobs, including work as an extra, an unexpected (and, at first, unknowing) appearance in a porn flick, and the aforementioned photo enhancement “career.” James’s tale is filled with outrageous anecdotes of trying to make ends meet until he is finally given his big break: a small role in James Cameron’s epic Titanic. While his post-Titanic career may not have blown up like the film’s stars, his experiences do make for an interesting behind-the-scenes tale.
Although I expected this book to be more about the movies and less about the author himself, I did read it all the way through. Too often it felt like James was name-dropping in an effort to lend his memoir a greater Hollywood connection, and I wasn’t always interested in every story he shared, but it was a somewhat interesting look into the life of a struggling actor and the periphery of Hollywood. Some readers will find great enjoyment in this.
STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE, 1977
Undoubtedly, the Star Wars Trilogy would be in my top five best-of-the-best movie list. To separate the movies from one another would be virtually impossible for any and every schoolboy. Why? For precisely two reasons:
1. Because the movies would take up more than half of the top five and that would just be… silly.
2. Because the movies became such a cultural part of my generation, influencing every viewer’s adolescence in such a way that splitting them would just be… wrong.
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, 1979
The supposed age restrictions cinemas try to enforce to keep children out of public showings of horror films in fact only serve to [screw] kids up even more. It’s a FACT. Children, if told by any form of authority not to watch something, will soon become overwhelmed with the desire to watch the now-forbidden spectacle. Instead of watching cinematic horrors safely surrounded by numerous people from within the confines of the comforting cinema walls, children are reduced to watching them with a brave accomplice at a late-night viewing at a mate’s house. Very much alone. The slightest movement and ensuing sounds from the house would cause heads to snap violently and simultaneously in the direction of the eerie noise.
HONEYMOON IN VEGAS, 1992
Movie stars, as presented to us by the media conglomerates representing them, really are a part of the huge facade that is Hollywood. Nobody can look that perfect all the time, and believe me, nobody ever really does. I spent many countless days when auditions were few and far between being honestly employed in another field courtesy of the film studios. Hollywood’s digital beautification service industry, or more commonly known as computer retouching.
I was paid ridiculous amounts of money for my specialist skill. This entailed digitally touching-up the Hollywood elite known to us all as movie stars, thus perpetuating the public’s desire for human perfection. The raw, and I do mean absolutely raw, photographic shots of Hollywood’s top players would be delivered to me for routine refining. Subsequently, they would each leave my computer screen with sparkly white and straight teeth. Bags and lines would be removed from around their eyes at the touch of a button. Signs of nights spent boozing were erased, and, naturally, inches were taken from their newly sculpted calves and bums. Heaven forbid the public should ever see them as real, flawed people.
ON DIGITALLY ALTERING THE TABLOID PHOTO OF NICOLAS CAGE AND LISA MARIE PRESLEY’S PRIVATE WEDDING CEREMONY
Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley had arranged a very secluded ceremony, far from the lenses of the paparazzi and prying public scrutiny. Was I really going to taint their special romantic day with a fraudulent matrimonial picture? Don’t be silly—for $5,000, of course I was. I needed to move quickly, time was ticking.
I worked feverishly through the night, trying not to dwell on my nagging, debilitating conscience. I gathered as many Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley shots as I could from previous public events. I would at least have a truthful, yet corrupt, starting point for my work. A wedding dress was taken, or I should say “borrowed,” from a picture of Slash’s nuptials from Guns and Roses that I stumbled upon. His wedding had also taken place somewhere tropical, so the light and scenery nearly matched perfectly. I snatched a bouquet from another random wedding shot, Lisa Marie’s head from a red-carpet event where she had been conveniently photographed in profile, and gradually built up the tropical skyline.
The only real problem I encountered was Nicolas Cage’s noggin. I couldn’t for the life of me track down a suitable image of him where he wasn’t wearing sunglasses. I wouldn’t dare have him look so casual in his wedding photograph. This was a serious event after all, not a dodgy movie premiere. What do I do? Did I have any conscience left? Well yes, but it was also nearly 4 a.m., [screw it] — sunglasses it was.
The wedding photograph was finally composed and completed. Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley’s images, to be fair, were certainly used in the making of it. That night, though, I single-handedly proved the saying the camera never lies to be an outright, bold-faced lie. I felt great about my handiwork and the effect of the final produced portrait, but I had sold my soul to the devils at the supermarket tabloids to produce it. How absolutely disgusting.
To my utter and complete horror, my night’s work was displayed on every channel I flipped to. News channels, music stations—even fashion television. I couldn’t get away from my lie. Specialist commentators were being brought in to critique Mrs. Cage’s dress, bouquet, and general wedding grandeur. The ensuing discussions commented on the posture of Nicolas Cage and the location and the weather conditions, to which nobody was any the wiser.
The power of the media showed its true strength to me that morning. Something I had pieced together four and a half hours ago in my bedroom was now in millions of peoples’ homes being force-fed to them for breakfast. Instantly. It was a discussion point. A pictorial, recorded fact presented to the unsuspecting public. Weeks’ worth of fodder for the masses of trickle-down entertainment programming. I felt absolutely terrible. Whenever the design for the wedding dress was discussed, I felt as though the fraud squad would soon be kicking down my door, led by a furious, gun-toting Vera Wang and her fellow posse of outlaw designers.
Kate Winslet, Kathy Bates, Victor Garber, Frances Fisher, and I packed into the van and did our best to avoid getting our costumes wet from the light sprinkle of rain. This all seems a little ironic now when looking back on and considering the scene we were about to film. We were escorted to the foot of Titanic’s grand staircase where James Cameron greeted us with his usual infectious enthusiasm.
The director was brilliant. An articulate, astute, fascinating genius; one of the most exceptional people I’ve ever met to this day. Cameron went into what was going on in my scenes both emotionally and logistically by giving me as much personal attention as he did the stars surrounding me. To throw an actor into a scene in a film doesn’t take a genius. For a director to have mapped out logistically the position of every steward and key passenger on the boat at any given moment falls dangerously into Rainman territory. He literally knew which part of the ship my character had come from, how long it had taken me, the velocity I would have had to have been traveling, and he could dissect whose path I could have crossed and who I could have spoken to while ascertaining information on my travels. And here I was struggling to merely remember where the bathroom was that I visited every day. It was inspiring and intimidating in one fell swoop.
Cameron was a perfectionist and everyone knew he could do any job at any given moment on the set as well as if not better than any of us he had employed. For every actor and actress on the production, filming was a unique and arduous experience. This was the type of film on an epic scale witnessed by not even the most seasoned of thespians. It was as if this common bond united us in a long battle together and we were all comrades trying to make it through alive.
The next time I would talk to James Cameron would be at the Titanic premiere. This was a baby he had reared for years under harsh public scrutiny but was now ready to let the public have their judgment. In 1977, after seeing Star Wars, Cameron quit his job as a truck driver to enter the film industry. With Titanic he now would become the newly appointed king of the film world, the ruler of his own unique, watery galaxy surpassing his inspiration on multiple levels. I approached him at the after party extending my hand, still amazed from the film I had just witnessed as if I were conversing in a dream state. “I didn’t think they made films like this anymore, James,” I said. To which he paused, and with his usual dry delivery said, “They don’t, Emmett.”
Throughout this month I’m participating in 31 Days, a challenge issued by The Nester to post on your blog each day in October. If you’ve missed any of my 31-day Blogging Catch-Up, you can see a list of the posts on this index page. You can also receive new posts via email by completing the form below.