07 July 2011

Post 401: Kiss Me Like a Stranger

Kiss Me Like a Stranger by Gene Wilder. ISBN: 9780312337063.

I am amazed by this book. Gene Wilder writes like Gene Wilder. I don't know if it's just because I've grown up with his movies and can watch Young Frankenstein five times in a row or what, but I could hear his voice while I read this book. He has a very unique inflection and for some reason he was able to write in a way that it translated to print. Even more amazing was the fact that I could also hear the voices of Sidney Poitier and Mel Brooks (two other great men I've more or less grown up with).

I loved reading about was Wilder's incorporation of sense memory into his acting technique. This is mostly because he focused on The Producers (one of my favorite movies) for that particular chapter. Reading about how he got into character for the opening scenes made it easier for me to see exactly how brilliantly he managed to pull those off. For instance, he got himself all hopped up on Hershey's chocolate bars to give himself that nervous energy. While this may seem a bit like cheating, you also don't see that nervous energy until Max Bialystock (Mostel) really starts going after him. And then he tells us that he used the memory of a dog he lost when Bialystock takes away Bloom's blue blankie. It just about ruined that scene for me, except that it's so neurotically funny and knowing that Wilder actually flipped out for that scene in some ways makes it all the more astounding.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this memoir is that he starts us off on the therapist's couch. By including us in that setting it almost feels like we, the audience, are part of his catharsis. As if, even in his most private moments, he still needs an audience to observe his recovery and still needs that affirmation of love or at least recognition from us. While this may not make for an actual full recovery, that Wilder is aware of, it makes him all the more human and vulnerable. I was almost disappointed when he dropped the therapy set-up, but then he was also moving into a different part of his life where he fully recovered from a marriage he entered because he was expected to, to a marriage he entered just because he loved a woman (and wanted to be a father to her daughter) and finally to the part where he recognized he loved and wanted to be married to Gilda Radner.

The therapy device almost reads a bit like schtick, but not in an over-the-top manner, more it makes all the ridiculous things that Wilder recounts to us seem less out of place and less over-the-top than they might otherwise. Certainly there are moments where I would step back and say, "This guy is crazy," but the fact that he was in treatment made that both obvious and somehow not as insane as it could have been. So while my mother (who read this book after me), had trouble accepting that Wilder sometimes acts like a douche bag (he cheats on his first wife, although the marriage had ended, and chastises Gilda when she's sick for being short tempered), I can be more forgiving because I saw that as an extension of his own illness and his inability to create a healthy relationship due to said illness.

Have you known someone who you admired and later discovered they had a mental illness? Did it change your perceptions of them or explain some of their Mad Brilliant behavior?

As always, I enjoyed the review at Kirkus Reviews. My mom also read this book and said she thought less of Gene Wilder, apparently this is also the feeling the review at Reading: It's All Good had as well.
LibsNote: Library Copy.

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