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Sam Shepard: A Life by John J Winters

Sam Shepard: A Life

by John J Winters

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Some things are better not to know about a favorite writer/actor, but not much in here surprised me. The author details Shepard's life, but spends most of his time on the early years. He brushes over the last three decades of his life too quickly, since there was interesting stuff going on, and doesn't detail much about any movie Shepard himself didn't consider worthwhile (though some of us may have disagreed; many people are not the best judges of their own best work). He spends almost no time at all on what is arguably Shepard's most famous play, True West, just sort of passing through that with a breeze. He seems to be interested in exploring the author/actor as a strong, silent type, and portraying him as sort of a modern day John Wayne. I imagine Shepard would love that, but still...this is a world where the romantic myth of the west doesn't even play all that well on screen anymore, and Shepard is so good at skewering the modern west, it's a shame that so much time is spent on building the image of the man as he wants to be seen rather than digging deeper to see the man as he was. I suppose it would have been easier for the author if Shepard had cooperated, but it is so obvious that the subject is an unreliable narrator where his own life is concerned that it behooves a biographer to dig deeper to get to the meat of the life he is portraying. For the most part, the biography is shallow and a bit superficial, but most people will probably miss that because of the endless discussions of Shepard's obsession with a philosophical school called "The Work", and the constant discussion of his disenchantment with the modern world (and what playwright isn't?). It is disappointing, because I would have liked to see some original thinking on the part of the man who wrote so many truly original works, and could truly be called the quintessential American playwright. Still, the work is worthwhile, but don't expect to always like the subject (or the writer - get an editor already, please?). ( )
  Devil_llama | Nov 13, 2017 |
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"With more than 55 plays to his credit, including the 1979 Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child, Sam Shepard's impact on American theater ranks with the greatest playwrights of the past half-century. Critics have enthused that he "forged a whole new kind of American play," while younger playwrights venerate him -- Suzan Lori Parks, herself a Pulitzer winner, calls Shepard her "gorgeous north star." As an actor who's appeared in more than 50 feature films, Shepard possesses an onscreen persona that's been aptly summed up as "Gary Cooper in denim." He earned an Oscar nod for his portrayal of Chuck Yeager in the 1983 film The Right Stuff, and his screenplay for Paris, Texas helped that now-classic film sweep the top prizes at the Cannes Film Festival. Despite these accomplishments and more -- five collections of prose, writing songs with Bob Dylan, making films with Robert Frank and Michelangelo Antonioni, as well as romantic relationships with rocker Patti Smith and actress Jessica Lange -- Shepard seems anything but satisfied. Sam Shepard: A Life details his lifelong bouts of insecurity and anxiety, and delves deeply into his relationship with his alcoholic father and his own battle with the bottle. Also examined for the first time in-depth are Shepard's tumultuous relationship with Lange, and his decades-long adherence to the teachings of Russian spiritualist G.I. Gurdjieff. Throughout this new biography, John J. Winters gets to the heart of the enigma that is Sam Shepard, presenting an honest and comprehensive account of his life and work"--… (more)

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