ROBERT DE NIRO: The Hero Behind the Masks by Keith McKay

ROBERT DE NIRO: The Hero Behind the Masks

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A cut-and-paste bio, with little explanation of the actor's rise from the streets of New York's Little Italy to superstardom. De Niro, 42, the product of divorced artistic parents, had since an early age always wanted to act. Winner of two Oscars (The Godfather, Part Il; Raging Bull), with a track record of over 15 years in the movie industry, De Niro has been hailed as the Brando of his time, the symbol of the angry anti-hero of the volatile, uncertain 70's. The focus here is De Niro the actor, not the man--the consummate ""actor's actor."" Although painfully shy and a loner even as a child, nevertheless, at 16, he earned his first actor's paycheck, on a tour of high schools. In his early 20's, he inculcated the Stanislavsky acting techniques of Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, struggled in the New York Off Broadway circuit, and did a number of off-beat films (The Wedding Party, Greetings, Hi, Mom/, Bloody Mama). He soon developed an artistic relationship with Martin Scorsese that would lead to such films as Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, New York, New York and King of Comedy. Scorsese more than any other director has shaped and influenced De Niro's career, but McKay gives us little insight into the dynamics of their relationship. Hardworking, De Niro's obsessive need for authenticity in developing a role does emerge: he gained 55 pounds to play Jake La Motta in Raging Bull; lived in Sicily and perfected his dialect Italian to play Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II, and drove a cab in order to develop the role of Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle. In De Niro and his contemparies, Hollywood has experienced a new breed of star, dedicated to both craft and privacy, De Niro, more than any of his colleagues, has been Garboesque in his anti-media stance. But McKay doesn't come to grips with it, or with the curious dichotomy between the reticent, shy man resistant both to the public and the press and the alienated street punk that he portrays best. De Niro's off-beat, enigmatic presence seems to come to life only when he speaks of acting--""A cheap way to do things you wouldn't do in life."" The book fails to give us any insight into the man that Francis Ford Coppola calls ""a dark, strange figure,"" and ultimately is little more than a compilation of the actor's film roles. The reader will feel the author's failure as a biographer. He writes of the versatility in the films of De Niro the actor, but fails to explain De Niro, the person behind the persona. At book's end, his mask is still firmly in place.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's