The Book of Michael Caine

This is here because I can’t find anywhere to send it. Perhaps someone will read it and pass it on…

Hi Michael,

This all started with a book on mosaics. I had been laid-off from work and was looking to fulfill my last required purchase in a book club when I found a book on mosaics. I became fascinated with the art form. Being broke at the time, I spent months begging around for stained glass, broken pottery, and tools. When I finally had what I needed I went at it like the hammers of hell, learning and working at the craft on my own. Well, maybe I went a bit too crazy when one night I realized I needed to take a break and set my mind on something else. I decided to rent a dollar movie at The Redbox. The only thing that looked like it might do the job was what looked like a vigilante film called “Harry Brown”. Thinking it would be another Charles Bronson kind of deal I took it home.

I was surprised. It was nothing like I thought it would be–so sad with a character filled with sorrow and regret in the midst of the need for righteous vengeance. There was a whole lot more going on here than I expected–there was so much feeling coming from you that I wondered what was going on. I returned the film and it haunted me for a few days. I went over to the library and found a copy there. I took it out again and watched the commentaries. It was then that I knew why the role had so much feeling in it. I had learned about your background and decided to look further.

I began watching all the interviews on the Internet. I had no idea there would be so many of them. I was impressed by all the storytelling and self-effacing humor, all the impersonators, the TV skits–it just went on and on. I thought, this guy is cool, I’m going to learn more about him…

Now, what I remembered about this Michael Caine guy came from the time my mother took me to see Zulu for my birthday. Knowing how I loved action movies with battle scenes she hit it right on the head that film. There we were, watching this movie on the biggest screen I think I’ve ever seen. We loved it. When we were leaving she asked me how I liked it. I told her that it was great but I didn’t like that blonde guy because was so arrogant and obnoxious. She said, but Janie, he pulled through and fought bravely with all the other men. I told her that was true but I was sure when he went home he would revert back to the same old person. Mom assured me that he wouldn’t.

I later saw you in “Alfie” which I felt to be both funny and sad (I felt sorry for him), and then later in “Educating Rita.” Now I could really relate to “Educating Rita”, having spent most of my life as a teacher’s pet and having a number of mentors throughout my life. But that was it–my total experience with the work of Michael Caine–and oh yes, I remember I was developing photo prints one day and there you were on the cover of the Ilford print package. I wondered what your portrait was doing there. I figured you probably needed to make a few bucks.

So next I read your autobiographies…

I could relate to a lot of the things that happened in your youth. My mother would send me to the door or have me answer the phone when the debt collectors came around. I hated it, it was really uncomfortable, especially when they would say that they knew my parents were there and I’d better put them on the phone. I grew up in a neighborhood that was like a real life Fellini film. Crazy, crazy–sometimes a little dangerous, at times scary and sometimes very sad.

But no matter what happened back in those days, there was one thing my family loved more than anything, and that was the movies. From my early years we would watch movies from the thirties and forties. My parents would talk about all the old actors and actresses. My mom and I would watch “Wuthering Heights”, “Mildred Pierce” and all those classic woman’s films. My father and I would watch adventure films. He loved Errol Flynn, I loved Basil Rathbone. We would watch “Captain Blood”, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and the like whenever they came on. My side always lost, Flynn always won, of course. LOLOLOL

What was so important to me about your autobiographies as I read them was the idea that the art of acting was so interwoven with your life. Your books are full of descriptions of how you approached your art–how you grew with it and developed in it. In fact, after your autobiographies I read your book “Acting in Film” and watched the video as well.

So I guess you’re probably wondering what I got from all of this since I am not involved in acting at all.

First of all, my best friend has been involved in local theater for years and it enabled me to understand her work even better than before. Even though theater is different, I picked up enough to be more knowledgeable in our conversations. It didn’t make us better or closer friends, that was not possible since we were like sisters, but it brought a richness to our discussions.

Second, your approach to your work is very much like that of a visual artist or a fine craftsman. I realize that your mind and body, sense of observation and internalization and externalization of your character is the essence of your work. Now recognized them as your tools. When you talk about how you check the props on the set and carefully measure your steps for long, medium and close up shots, I recognize the tremendous care you take in your work. This was very inspiring. I had never read an autobiography of an actor that was so giving of their craft. I found it to be very generous indeed.

Sometimes it’s a good idea, when you are involved in a craft, to look for your inspiration outside of whatever craft you’ve chosen. This keeps you from creating work that looks like what other people are doing and that way your work remains your own. I’ve seen enough of artists whose work was so like their teacher that you can recognize exactly who taught them. No good.

So through all of this as I smashed glass and twisted jewelry apart I decided that the only way to really know Michael Caine’s body of work was to start watching the films. No book of photographs could do it justice so I started renting from the libraries. I decided I would watch what I called, “The Book of Michael Caine”…

The cooperative library system here includes over a hundred libraries from which I can order whatever I want. As time went on and I rented your films, I would come to value the poorer libraries more and more because they still kept some of their old VHS tapes and that was where I would find the old Michael Caine films. The town librarians would get a real charge out of my mission and smile as they held up yet another one that had arrived.

I watched one or two of your movies a week. I can say, at this point in time, that the Book of Michael Caine has had over 120 pages for me and surprisingly it’s been quite an education. I’d never seen most of these films. I didn’t know they existed. I’d never seen any of the Harry Palmer films or “Get Carter” or “Mona Lisa” or any other films of the Social Realism school. I watched the attitudes towards women change in your films. I saw films on racism as well as anti-war films. In a sense, it was like watching a study in Social History. Some films were obviously close to your heart, some very commercial, a few a bit more artsy (and some, forgive me, outright porkers–but we have to put food on the table.).

I will say this though, from what I saw no matter how bad the film might have been, you never short-changed the people who hired you. Many people will go see a films just to see you and sometimes it can be the only bright moment they will get for an hour and a half.

Again, it was hard to imagine how many of these films were totally unknown to me. Of course, a lot of it was because I would devote myself to foreign and art films or else the new science fiction films. I suffered from terminal hipness over the years and simply would not watch any of these films. But that’s OK, I’ve seen them now.

Well, I expect you will continue to make films no matter what you say about retiring. I can easily see you going into your 90s. One day I expect to be at work and have somebody yell, “Hey Janet, come check it out, the Oscars are doing a tribute to Michael Caine.” And we’ll all be watching and trying to keep from missing our deadline. LOLOLOL

Thank you for the inspiration and all your uncompromising excellence over the years..

Sincerely and with Best Wishes,
Janet D. Kroenke

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