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Pinsent better at looking forward than back in second memoir

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CANADIAN acting icon Gordon Pinsent begins his new memoir well.

First line: "I am in bed with Julie Christie." Is there any red-blooded male out there who wouldn't like to have that memory?

The anecdote is from Away from Her, a heart-breaking film featuring Pinsent's best all-time performance as a forlorn husband watching his wife, afflicted by Alzheimer's disease, grow distant from him and attached to a fellow resident of her care home.

Next, however, doesn't quite live up to the standards Pinsent set for himself in his first memoir, By the Way, 20 years ago. How could it?

That book is a marvellous collection of self-enclosed short stories about significant moments in his life, complete with long stretches of wonderful dialogue that seem more constructed than remembered but are all the better for it.

He's packed a lot of activity into the intervening years. And he chooses to go back over his entire life and career rather than simply starting fresh from the year 1992.

As a result Next is more abridged and superficial. Unlike By the Way, it doesn't have the tangy flavour of a born raconteur regaling us with his version of "stories we like to tell about ourselves."

An actor for 60 years, Pinsent is an institution -- at least as much as a Canadian can become one.

Very few other Canadian actors circulate in the same lofty orbit. Christopher Plummer. William Shatner. Len Cariou. Maybe Donald Sutherland.

Pinsent has appeared in leading roles on stages across this country -- from Rainbow Stage and Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg, to his native Newfoundland, the Vancouver Playhouse, and the Shakespeare Festival stage in Stratford, Ont.

He's been on TV in the U.S. and Canada, in movies made in Hollywood, Europe and Canada, in documentaries, in cartoons, at awards shows and benefits. He's even got awards and benefit shows named after him.

The "Selected Performance History" at the end of Next, is 11 pages long and contains over 250 entries. Whew!

And that's not counting his novels, his poetry, his screenwriting, his singing and songwriting, his sketches or his other artwork. At 82, he's had a full career.

If Next starts with Julie Christie, its core is devoted to his wife, soul-mate, and fellow actor Charmion King.

King died in 2007 after almost 45 years of marriage. Pinsent's grief at her passing is almost palpable.

About two-thirds of the way through Next he abandons memoir for a short story about her death and his reaction to it. It's the most moving part of the book.

He continues to talk to "Charm" and write letters to her. A couple of them are included, and they are heartfelt and touching.

Pinsent, famously, got his start in Winnipeg. Abbreviated versions of his days here in the 1950s appear in Next, but his earlier accounts in By the Way are much better.

Discharged from the military in Winnipeg ("one of my favourite cities") and completely untutored, he bluffed his way onstage. His timing couldn't have been better.

He started with the Winnipeg Little Theatre and latched onto Manitoba Theatre Centre just when John Hirsch and Tom Hendry were getting it going. From there it was an easy move into CBC-TV dramas. And his career was on its way.

Pinsent is not very introspective. He attributes his success to an inability to say no to anything offered and an acute anxiety about offers drying up.

Next is not just a curt book title, it's his motto. Like him the book is charming, amusing, emotional, and insightful, if a bit breathless. He now seems better at looking forward than looking back.

 

Gene Walz is a retired University of Manitoba film professor.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2012 J9

History

Updated on Saturday, October 27, 2012 at 12:33 PM CDT: adds fact box

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