Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Films of James Bridges

My new book, The Films of James Bridges, was published this past week. (You can purchase it here or here.) It took me three full years to research and write the book, during which time I worked on no other major projects. I was surprised to realize recently that I spent more time working on it than I did my previous book, an ambitious interview book about Orson Welles. Why did it take me so long to write about a director who made just eight films?

The fact of the matter is that Bridges didn't just make eight films. He did, and was, so much more. As I write in my preface, he was a tremendously gifted playwright; it's a pity that his brilliant play Bachelor Furnished has not been published in book form. He wrote sixteen episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, including at least two that can rightly be considered classics ("The Jar" and "An Unlocked Window"). He directed plays by Tennessee Williams, Jack Larson, and Christopher Isherwood to great acclaim on the stage. His life was, I discovered, nearly as full as Welles's.

And, of course, there are the films. His greatest popular successes were The Paper Chase, The China Syndrome, and Urban Cowboy. But his greatest films were those made in between those big hits. As his partner in life and work, Jack Larson, explained to me, "When Jim would have a hit, he would want to make a personal film. When he was the goose that laid the golden egg... he would want to do a personal film and they were basically about what he knew and were romans a clef." I am convinced that September 30, 1955 and Mike's Murder are among the best movies of their era.

As I learned more and more about the variety of his accomplishments, the book grew from a critical study to something like a biography. I interviewed many of Bridges's most important friends and collaborators, including Gordon Willis, Norman Lloyd, Barbara Hershey, Debra Winger, Richard Thomas, Collin Wilcox, Ed Herrmann, and many, many more. I learned about his childhood and college years in Arkansas, which inspired September 30, 1955, and about his early days in Hollywood, where he was lucky enough to be mentored by the likes of John Houseman, Salka Viertel, Montgomery Clift, and others. All of which is detailed in my book.

Perhaps the late Kim Kurumada -- who produced Mike's Murder and Perfect, and worked on a number of other Bridges films in different capacities -- put it best: "Once you met him, you never forgot him." I never met James Bridges, but after spending three years researching his life and studying his deeply personal films, watching and re-watching them, in some ways I feel as though I have. And I will never forget him.