When I was offered the opportunity to read this memoir, I was extremely excited. I’ve always loved movies and this love is something my husband and I share in common. Danny studied to work in film during college, where he worked very hard to create and direct his senior project. I believe that if my husband were to ever write a memoir it would be a combination of Admit One and Love is a Mix Tape (hopefully without the widower connection). Knowing that my husband and James shared a similar passion made this book a must read for me.
Admit One details the childhood and early acting career of Emmett James as framed by the films that have impacted his life. A different movie provides the backdrop of each of the 22 stories making up this book. From The Jungle Book to It’s a Wonderful Life, James shares his memories and what he learned about life in both Croydon, South London and Los Angeles, CA. If you are a film lover, you will appreciate that James writes about the way this medium can interweave with our lives and shape our perspective on what it means to live.
Reading this memoir brought back a lot of wonderful memories for me. I believe that almost everyone has tried to dig to China or Australia (or vice versa) during childhood. It was the first thing Emmett James did after seeing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. At first his dig started out as an archaeological excursion in search of some Indy-worthy treasures. After coming up empty, he changed his motivation entirely and that made this chapter came alive for me. There is something about watching dramatic representations of other people that can drive both the young and old take on the characteristics of heroes or even glamorous villains if only in our imaginations. That is the true beauty and worth of film.
Unlike for the James family, a trip to the movie theater was an infrequent yet beloved treat in our household. It was a reward for a semester’s good grades, or more often an excuse for my father to see an adventure film. Being of a similar age to the author, my childhood was likewise shaped by E.T., the original Star Wars trilogy, The Karate Kid, The Wizard of Oz, and Ghostbusters. Although our backgrounds are extremely different, we could most certainly communicate clearly and concisely using the language of movies. Reliving my life through each of these films, among others, was the best part of reading this book.
Whereas film has brought a great deal of joy to the author’s life and ultimately brought him to Hollywood’s door, this memoir isn’t entirely happy. James’ relationship to his family is distant and even a little cold. In the same section where he is dreaming of uncovering precious artifacts, James reminisces about the last time his family went to a movie together. He wishes he could recapture that experience once again, but the rest of his story is about moving further and further away – first emotionally, and then physically. When he writes that “movies have always meant everything to [him],” I believe that they have become his family in a way that his flesh and blood family never did. I can’t help but feel saddened by that.
In addition to weaving film throughout his stories, I enjoyed this peek at what life was like for a young boy growing up in a working to middle class neighborhood in South London. Once James left England and became acclimated to Hollywood, I felt that the book started to lose its direction. While he did learn about himself and what he wanted out of life working on the set of Lap Dancing, I’m not it was deserving of an entire chapter. It could have been tightened up and combined with Honeymoon in Vegas. I was also surprised by what he chose to write about when discussing Titanic, I eagerly anticipated reading about being directed by James Cameron or acting opposite Kathy Bates. Instead, he describes both the poverty of Mexico and an odd and somewhat alarming experience with a cab driver. As a result, those chapters lack the cohesion I felt throughout the rest of the memoir.
At its heart, Admit One is a love letter to film. The author rightly points out that movies can have a powerful effect on viewers. They can serve as entertainment, promote wonder and imagination, educate, help us communicate with one another, and challenge us. In addition to being a lover of film, James has the added pleasure of being a working actor in Hollywood. It is his passion for his life’s work that made this book a reality, and I was not disappointed. If you ever wanted to ride your BMX through the sky or fight storm troopers with your very own light saber, this is the book for you.
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