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Too much Lipton, too little "Inside"
on October 25, 2007
This isn't really an inside look at "Inside the Actor's Studio." It's an inside look at James Lipton, with occasional tales about the show and the actors who've graced its stage.
On the tv show "Inside the Actor's Studio," James Lipton comes across as pompous and pedantic and far too impressed with himself. This impression is only reinforced by this book, where Lipton manages to quote Charles Dickens, Chaucer, Moby Dick, John Donne, Yeats, Coleridge, Robert DeNiro, Orson Welles, and Irving Berlin and refer to DW Griffith, Renoir, Eisenstein, Scorsese, Spielberg, W. C. Fields, James Bond, Fellini, Marcello Mastrioanni, Will Ferrell and more in just the first five pages. Lipton's linguistic showing off gets tiresome quickly. It doesn't support him as a story-teller; it just makes Lipton sound like he's trying much too hard to sound clever.
Which isn't to say that Lipton is not intelligent. As he goes through the history of acting theory and of the Actor's Studio, it's apparent that Lipton is thoughtful and insightful about his world. He sees common themes among different people, and he knows how to bring them together and display them in the context of the performing arts world. That ability -- one of the strengths of Inside the Actor's Studio -- is at work here, too. But this book would have been so much stronger if he'd gotten himself out of the way, even a bit.
Indeed, while promising that the book won't be about him as much as "the vibrant troop of other people who have quickened the most exciting adventures of my life," Lipton goes on at far too great a length about himself. As with Inside the Actor's Studio, the high points of this book are the words and stories told by guests on show -- their words, not Lipton's. The low points are Lipton's floridly written tales of his own life.
Still, if you can skim through (or skip over) those parts, the book is worth reading as a collection of reflections by some of the most talented actors of our time. Here, Lipton collects their comments thematically, which provides for interesting and enjoyable contrast. And, as on the tv show, hearing these artists talk about how they approach the art and craft in their work is fascinating and enlightening.