Home > Cinema, Documentaries, Film, Gail Levin, Hollywood, Movies, Nebraskans in Film, Oscar Winners, Pop culture, Writing > Long Live the Dude: Gail Levin Chronicles Jeff Bridges for “American Masters”

Long Live the Dude: Gail Levin Chronicles Jeff Bridges for “American Masters”


My friend and sometime subject, documentary filmmaker Gail Levin, has a new work premiering Jan. 12 on PBS for American Masters — a profile of Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges. Her film, Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides, comes just short of a year since the star accepted the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Bad Blake in Crazy Heart. He may well be in contention for the award again on the strength of his performance in the Coen brothers‘ remake of True Grit.  I interviewed Levin by phone during a break from her editing of the film in New York, where she lives.  I haven’s seen the film, except for a brief excerpt you can find yourself on the American Masters web site.  But I know her work very well, and she’s handled similar assignments profiling acting legends quite well.  I expect the same with this project.  Levin is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker whose work has appeared before on both American Masters and Great Performances.  On this blog site you can find some of my earlier stories about Gail and her films The Tall Ship Lindo, Making the Misfits, James Dean, Sense Memories, and Marilyn Monroe – Still Life.  My story on Levin and her Jeff Bridges film is published in The Reader (www.thereader.com).

 

 

 

NOTE: Now that I have seen Levin’s film — on the rebound in a late night reprise screening — I can now say that it one of the better profiles of an actor I have ever seen.  Even though Levin expressed frustration to me at not getting in as deep or close with Bridges as she would have liked, I feel like I now have an authentic appreciation for who he is and how he conducts himself in his life and in his art.  As I mentioned to Levin when we spoke about the project, I have always felt that Bridges was hugely unappreciated and I think her film will be part of an ongoing reevaluation of his work and his career that will recognize him as one of the masters of his craft.

Long Live the Dude: Gail Levin Chronicles Jeff Bridges for “American Masters”

©by Leo Adam Biga

Author of Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film

Published in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Omaha native and Emmy Award-winning documentarian Gail Levin profiles actor Jeff Bridges in a new film kicking off the 25th season of American Masters, a series produced for PBS by New York Public Media THIRTEEN in association with WNET.

Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides premieres Jan. 12, showing locally on NET at 9 p.m.

 

Susan Lacy, Jeff Bridges, Gail Levin

 

 

 

Levin, an Omaha Central High graduate long based in Manhattan, says the project has been on quick turnaround to parlay the heat surrounding Bridges. A year ago he won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as country musician Bad Blake in Crazy Heart. Oddsmakers predict a nomination for his rendition of lawman Rooster Cogburn in the Coen brothers’ True Grit.

“We’re really trying to take advantage of all the energy and buzz of everything that’s going on with him,” says Levin (Making the Misfits, James Dean: Sense Memories).

Her film reveals Bridges as a multi-faceted creative. In addition to acting he’s a musician. He performs with his band The Abiders. He’s also a photographer, painter, potter,  and vintner. Performing his own music in Crazy Heart surprised many, but it was simply an extension of what he’s always done.

“His great love is music, and it has been all throughout his life,” she says. “He’s now really playing a lot of music, doing gigs. We’ve got a lot of footage of him. We shot at this funny little place he played in Niagara Falls.”

She also captured him at a Zen symposium.

“I don’t know that he would call himself a Buddhist, but he’s certainly in that ether at the moment. He’s very involved with a group called Zen Peacemakers.”

Levin was struck by a passage Bridges wrote in the intro to his book Pictures, a sampling of images the actor takes on movie sets and gifts as photo albums to cast and crew. In describing why he prefers the panoramic Widelux still camera, he offers a key to his creative method:

“…it has an arbitrariness to it, a capricious quality. I like that. It’s something I aspire to in all my work — a lack of preciousness that makes things more human and honest, a willingness to receive what’s there in the moment, and to let go of the result. Getting out of the way seems to be one of the main tasks for me as an artist.”

For Levin, the insight helps explain what makes Bridges a durable star 40 years since his feature breakthrough in The Last Picture Show.

 

AMERICAN MASTERS "Jeff Bridges: The Dude Abides" - Gail Levin | by PBS PressRoom

 

In her interviews with him, his family and colleagues Levin found he’s more complex than his public Everyman-Next-Door, laid-back Dude persona.

“The interesting truth about him is that he’s rather tortured all the time. He says in the film he’s rather reluctant to all of this (film career). I think he came to it obviously through the legacy of his father (the late actor Lloyd Bridges) and his older brother Beau, But he even says he’s a little bit lazy, he’s got a little of the Dude in him, and it’s always kind of hard for him to kind of gear himself up again.”

This “drag me to the party” resistance and ambivalence is how he moves through life. She says some Bridges collaborators, such as Terry Gilliam and John Goodman, speak to his cautious approach.

“He’s not a spontaneous, improvisational actor,” says Levin. “He really needs to know what and where. He has guides who school him in being a junkie or a drunk. He takes that all very seriously and seems to form close relationships with these people who sort of become his models for how to play various parts.

“I think he’s very particular about the kinds of things he chooses. I think he picks films that have some intrigue for him and not necessarily what are going to be the biggest blockbusters. He’s a very individual star. I think he’s really on his own path.”

While Levin enjoyed “amazing access” to Bridges and Co., she found his well-protected veneer hard to penetrate:

“You’ll see in this film there’s a much darker side to Jeff than people realize, and this kind of push-me, pull-you about the acting is really a great revelation. People think he’s easy going about it, and he’s really not. But he doesn’t divulge dark disappointments and things like that. Others say it.”

She says if there are secrets to pry loose, “you gotta be long and deep with him,” adding she didn’t establish a rapport that might have led to such intimacies.

As for Bridges being an American Master, she says, “He’s worked with remarkable directors, he has an extraordinary body of work. He’s an amazing amalgam. He’s an artist on many, many levels.”

Related Articles

Advertisements
  1. Edward Michaels
    January 8, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    Wow, I didn’t even recognize who Jeff Bridges was until I looked him up on Wikipedia. He’s done a bunch of different and interesting roles (he was great in the 3D Tron movie) and I’ve always enjoyed his characters, but I never really took the time to familiarize myself with his name. I really feel like going back and watching The Last Picture Show, now, which I’ll probably do.

    That aside, splendid blog. Lots of interesting stuff conglomerated here. I’ll be following you and commenting accordingly.

    Like

  2. August 12, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Hi Leo,
    Great article about an amazing actor! I was involved in the documentary that Gail shot on board the Lindo in 1980 and have lost contact with her. We became very good freinds way back then and would ask if its possible to pass on my e mail address. That way if she doesnt want to contact me it will be her choice, but i’m sure she will thank you for my details..

    thanks in advance!!!

    Like

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: